Common Core Standards & Writing Arguments
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Argument and Assessment

Argument and Assessment | Common Core Standards & Writing Arguments |

Although I’ve posted entries that deal only with arguments in two career paths – Advertising & Journalism – I think that this writing feature exists in many other kinds of workplaces.  For example, a teacher could easily incorporate clips from a presidential debate into the classroom and analyze arguments made by politicians.  This could launch a discussion on how argument functions in the realm of politics.  It could even lead to a more macro discussion in which students understand that being able to parse an argument and seek out other outlets of information make them a better informed citizen.


In the interest of time, I’d like to turn the focus of this Scoop It Inquiry into a slightly different direction.  Before doing so, however, I’d like to recap what I’ve done thus far.


This Scoop It Inquiry opened by asking why argument was being stressed in the Common Core Standards.  It seems that the authors believe this skill is essential to contributing to a student’s college & career readiness.  While the Common Core adequately demonstrated how argument functions in the college sphere – it did little to explain the way argument functions in the workplace.  I explored various viewpoints of just how important argument is to career readiness, and found a compelling case to be made for the idea that argument is an integral skill to many an occupation.  I looked at the way in which argument was taught in the classroom – and the way that could be used as a framework for exploring argument in various career paths – particularly advertising and journalism.  By developing lesson plans that incorporate some real life examples from these fields, I realized students would be learning not only about argument, but about technology, texts as texts, and the role of the informed citizen as well.


However, one topic that I have not addressed that I’d like to touch upon briefly is assessment.

This PBS piece explores this very theme in the context of a school in the Bronx.  The PBS video asks, “based on its reading scores the school is failing but in person it seems to be thriving.  There may be a lot of schools like PS 1.  Is a good school or bad school?  How should they be judged?  Do you believe what you read or see?  Could education quality be like beauty – in the eye of the beholder – or does the test score say it all?”


How will the Common Core assess how students have mastered the art of argument?  Is it fair to use testing as the solitary measure of achievement?  If so – what kind of test would measure this?  We’ve shown that argument functions in both a visual and text-based way in various career paths.  Would a test allow for assessment in more than one way?  And if not a test to evaluate a student’s career readiness when it comes to argument – then what?  Could a student elect to do some sort of internship one summer and be judged by their performance in an actual career setting?  Could a student who works part time chose to do a presentation on how argument has served him well in his own career? 


Because the Common Core Standards choose to focus on the importance of argument in readying a student for college and careers, it might serve the Standards well to think of an assessment that achieves this aim as well.

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Arguments in Advertising

Advertising is one such career that relies upon argument.  Through print ads, television commercials, and online ads among other forms, the advertiser is making a claim to a consumer about why he needs this particular product.


Although the emphasis in the Common Core Standards is on writing an argument, I think an interesting classroom activity could be to diagram a television commercial using Toulmin’s elements of the argument.  Not only would it be a visual representation of an argument, but it would show kids how learning about arguments is important in one line of work.


The above Bounty commercial contains some, although not all, elements of an argument as outlined by Toulmin.  It might be interesting, after introducing the elements of an argument, to have kids identify what elements were employed in this particular commercial.


For example – the claim is that Bounty “cleans the mess with less.”  Bounty follows up this claim by providing evidence:  it “has 25% thicker quilts” and “absorbs 2x as much as the bargain brand.”  The warrant is trickier – and perhaps less explicit.  I think in this case the warrant is that consumers want thick, absorbent paper towels.


Students, after identifying these elements, can figure out other aspects that were left out.  Perhaps, too, they could offer up suggestions on how this could be a more effective argument/commercial.  Additionally, they might compare and contrast a few different commercials and explain which utilizes the elements of argument most effectively.  In all the activities, students would be identifying the parts of an argument with real life examples – examples from one career path.


I found another resource that does something similar with a teeth whitening commercial and I’m providing a link just as a further example of the role of argument in advertising and how it can be transferred into the classroom:

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Arguing in favor of argument in the workplace

Arguing in favor of argument in the workplace | Common Core Standards & Writing Arguments |

NOTE:  For those without a subscription, the full text of this source is assessable though the NYU Library System.


This next Scoop It post is an opinion piece from Education Week that maintains that argument is an essential skill that one must acquire to be successful not only in school, but in the workforce as well.


I find the definition of argument put forth in this piece to be more in line with that of the Common Core.  “To succeed, students can't simply amass information (as important as that is);'they must also weigh its value and use it to resolve conflicting opinions, offer solutions, and propose reasonable recommendations.”


Instead of thinking argument as a conflict – it’s outlined as a way to resolve conflict.  To reflect on argument in this way is new to me.  Argument not only becomes a process of reasoning – but it becomes a process of reasoning to lead to resolution of some kind, a goal.  I think that this becomes an even more central concept to the workplace now.  After all, doesn’t each company have some sort of goal in mind – whether it is making academic discoveries, earning profits, instituting policy change, increasing viewership, etc.?  How can a company achieve their goal without weighing different arguments, different options?


Argument functions in the “big picture” goals of a company.  I think argument operates, too, in more small scale day-to-day tasks, too.  I’ll explore in my next few posts the role of arguments in various career paths – and how we can translate some of these examples into the classroom. 

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The Search Continues: How does argument relate to career readiness?

In the last post I posed the question, how does argument relate to career readiness?

I found the Common Core Standards to inadequately explain this.  In researching the question a bit more, I found the video above from YouTube in which a man by the name of David Coleman is featured.  Before class on July 26, David Coleman would not have triggered any sort of recollection.  However, I remember talking in class about his role in the Common Core Standards.  Although not specifically an author, he seems to be someone involved in the planning and design of the CCS – an architect of sorts.


I imagined he might have much more to say on why focusing on writing an argument would play such a prominent role in readying a student for a career.   I was surprised that I found his rationalization just as vague as CCS.  Here is an excerpt of what he said:


“…We require that students not only show their creativity and precision in narrative writing… but equally in their command of argument and their ability to convey complex information.  And whether you’ve talked to any author  -- whether a writer of literature, a writer of polemics, a writer of clear informed pieces -- that precision & command of evidence is at the heart of their work and craft.  And it’s also at the heart of college and career readiness, and at the heart of these standards.”


Coleman explains that writers need to grasp the intricacies of writing an argument.  But what of other careers - careers in politics, advertising, and media?  Why is the written construction of an argument so crucial to these fields?  I think that argument is indeed critical to many career paths, but because I’ve been unable to find evidence of why that is so from the Common Core Standards, I’ll gather my own evidence in the next few posts.

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Arguments in Journalism

Arguments in Journalism | Common Core Standards & Writing Arguments |

Yet another career field in which arguments are featured prominently is in journalism.  Because in the previous example we looked at a visual representation of argument, I thought it would benefit us to look at a text-based style of argument.  It seems that opinion features in newspapers would be a logical place to start.


I was surprised to find during my research that the New York Times devoted one of their blogs, The Learning Network, specifically to discussing the way in which the paper can be used to teach the writing of an argument as defined by the Common Core Standards.


While the New York Times does a good job outlining the ways in which teachers can use the papers in classroom activities I think it is important to remember that teachers should also be sure to incorporate other papers into the classroom activity as to secure a variety of view points.  Perhaps a teacher can collect a variety of materials from different papers – Letters to the Editor, Editorials, Op-Ed pieces, Opinion Blogs – all on the same topic and compare what different formats in different papers are saying about the same topic.


I particularly like this activity because I think it also gives the teacher an opportunity to design the lesson so it extends out of the English classroom into other content area classrooms.  Collaboration with the history teacher on a current events topic currently being taught in that class could serve as a jumping off point for this English class activity.


Additionally, I think this activity also serves as a way to talk about these opinion pieces in how they operate as a text – much like we did with Kylene Beers’ book in our class.  How do features of the text vary across Letters to the Editor, Editorials and Opinion Blogs?  How did you manage those changes as a reader?


Finally, I think it is a way to talk about technology and how we as readers have to be informed consumers.  Teachers can speak with students about how opinion differs from fact, the role of bias an author can bring to a text, and how we as a reader can interpret these features and better understand a text as a result.

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How does a student write an argument?

My last post – an opinion piece featured in Education Week – corroborated a position from the Common Core Standards that argument is a tool that is essential in the workforce.  I’d like to examine ways in which argument function in various careers – and consider how teachers can use this to help with teaching argument writing in the classroom.  Before tackling this, though, it is important to examine how students are taught to write an argument.


In researching online I found this book, Teaching Argument Writing, Grades 6-12 by George Hillocks Jr.  Although I have not read the book in its entirety, I was able to sample the first chapter online and read about the way in which the structure of an argument is taught.  Hillocks outlines the elements of an argument as conceived by Stephen Toulmin:


» a claim

» based  on evidence of some sort

» a warrant that explains how the evidence supports the claim

» backing supporting the warrants

» qualifications and rebuttals or counter arguments that refute competing claims.


In looking at the structure of an argument, it seems impossible to teach this without providing concrete examples.  Hillocks in his book uses a murder mystery as a way to get students thinking about evidence and rules.  While the activity is creative and engaging – it is not exactly teaching the writing of an argument with the long-term goal of preparing students for the workplace.


To achieve this, can teachers not use examples that are more related to various careers as to be more mindful of the Common Core’s goal to get students career ready?  For instance, I envision looking at advertising and then building a classroom activity around what elements of an argument are present in a TV commercial.  I’ll look to do that next.

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Arguing that argument doesn’t belong in the workplace

Arguing that argument doesn’t belong in the workplace | Common Core Standards & Writing Arguments |

My last Scoop It post postulated that the Common Core Standards does little to explain how argument writing leads to career readiness.  Therefore, my next step is to compile varying opinions on how important, if at all, the argument is in the workplace.


I turn first to a piece on the website “Burkins and Yaris” – which describes itself as a “think tank for 21st century literacy.”  The authors of the website, Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris, are both former educators turned consultants.  Do they have an agenda?  Perhaps.  Regardless, I found their case thought-provoking, if not flawed.


Burkins and Yaris set out to question the role of argument in career readiness, much like I did in my previous post:  “The UNIVERSITY is largely an argument culture. But “university” only represents one half of the central goal of the Common Core, the other is career readiness which begs the question, do most work environments thrive in an ‘argument culture?’”


The authors suggest that “argument is a word charged with negativity.”  Because of the negative connotations associated with the word argument, the authors conclude that “Most people feel more productive in a collaborative environment where people discuss, converse, and debate as a means of ‘getting to the bottom of things’ which makes us call into question argument’s ‘special place’ in the Common Core.  Do we believe in the larger goal of thinking deeply and critically? Yes. Will solid argumentative writing skills serve students well in college? Yes. Is argument what will nurture innovation and success in the workplace?  We tend to feel that persuasion, creativity, and collaboration might play a more important role in making that happen.”


I think the authors misrepresent the true definition of argument in the context of the Common Core Standards.  I wouldn’t contend the point that the word argument can conjure up negative images.  But I don’t think that is the definition of argument that the CCS had in mind.  I go back to my first Scoop It post in which I highlighted the CCS definition of argument as a “reasoned and logical” way to demonstrate the writer’s position.  Instead of thinking of an argument as a negative self-contained event -- a quarrel -- I think the CCS thinks of an argument as an ongoing process of reasoning.  I think that it is a process that can include collaboration – in gathering evidence to support your claim.  It’s also a process that includes creativity – in looking to unique or innovative sources that can enhance your claim.  And I think this is a hallmark of many a career.

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Going to the Source: The Common Core Standards and Argument

The Common Core Standards (CCS) places a particular importance on the ability to write an argument.  What is the justification for highlighting this form of writing over others?  What’s the evidence of this justification?  What does this mean for incorporating this type of writing in the classroom?  This Scoop It project will look to curate a variety of sources to shed light on these questions.  But before doing so, I think it is important to start at the source:  the Common Core Standards.  What is the definition of argument?  Why is it being stressed in the CCS?


We can discover that these very questions are answered in Appendix A, pages 23-25, of the Common Core Standards.    Argument is parsed out, in part, as follows:


"Arguments are used for many purposes—to change the reader’s point of view, to bring aboutsome action on the reader’s part, or to ask the reader to accept the writer’s explanation or evaluation of a concept, issue, or problem. An argument is a reasoned, logical way of demonstrating that the writer’s position, belief, or conclusion is valid."


And why the “special place” for the argument?


"While all three text types are important, the Standards put particular emphasis on students’ ability to write sound arguments on substantive topics and issues, as this ability is critical to college and career readiness."


Ah, so the argument leads to college and career readiness.  While the Common Core Standards does, I believe, go on to quote various sources and make a convincing case that college indeed values the argument, I find it rather lacking in defining how argument contributes to college readiness.  I will explore another Scoop It post to see if I can find any more insight into this.

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