Monday, April 27, 2015

Blue Ribbon Writing Session

          I attended the Blue Ribbon Conference in our district last week. One session I especially enjoyed was the first session of the conference on Thursday afternoon. The title was Procedures and Protocols that Fast Track Argument Writing. It was led by Tricia Stodden, an elementary school teacher, and Laura Warren, a middle school teacher, both from Reading Public Schools. It was helpful to hear what this approach looks like with fifth graders compared to middle school students.

The Argument Talk Protocol was created by educators at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project/ Lucy Calkins. The first step is to name the argument. In this case, for simulation purposes, it was “Should there be competitive sports for children?” Laura Warren started by reading a piece of one of the articles to us and she modeled how to take notes with a t-chart with pros and cons. There was a third column for “other information.” I am not sure that would be necessary for my fifth graders. I want them to focus on the pros and cons and not misunderstand and fill in random facts in the third column. The students finish up reading the articles and writing their notes showing the pros and cons. We were given two New York Times articles to read. One was about how great competitive sports are in promoting healthy weight in teenagers. The other was about young children getting head injuries when playing competitive sports like football. They seemed appropriate to use with fifth graders, and I plan on using them after starting with easier articles first to get them used to the protocol.

Once the students have read the articles and taken their notes, they get with other students and discuss their notes, adding things they missed, finding good quotes and statistics for both sides. They should be able to argue either side after meeting with this group. Then the students find a partner, and one partner will be A and the other is B. The teacher then announces which side is A and which side is B. This forces students to sometimes argue the opposite side of what they believe.

Then all the As get together and form smaller groups to analyze their best evidence that supports their side. Same with the Bs. They also rehearse their argument out loud. After about ten minutes, it is time for the face off! The students stand in line across from their partner and present their argument. Then they listen as their partner presents. They each have a minute to state their side. A repeats back to B what the best part of their argument was and visa versa.

After this part of the protocol, students get back into their caucus groups to plan their rebuttal to what their partner said. The students need to analyze what was the opposition’s strongest argument/s and how can our side rebut? It is important for students to learn that a rebuttal is not just a restatement of your initial argument. Once ready, they line up again across from their partner and share their rebuttal for a minute each.

Finally, each student chooses a side and sits and writes a flash draft using all the notes and information gained from the protocol. Tricia Stodden said she was able to do one of these each day for a few days as a type of argument writing boot camp. That is my plan as well. Immersing them in the process and having them flash draft afterwards is extremely valuable. Built into this protocol is collaboration with peers which is vital to any workshop lesson. The presenters provided us with packets that they give the students with language for arguments: When you want to state a position…When you want to give reasons…When you want to offer evidence… etc. In addition, they gave us a “Boxes and Bullets Argument Essay Structure.” I will tweak this document to include some writing stems from the Empowering Writers persuasive unit for more guidance through the drafting process. When I am done with my informational writing unit in a few weeks, we will jump right into argument writing boot camp!

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