Writing instruction in the age of Common Core

In Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards, the writers argue that there is a need to incorporate argumentative writing into the curriculum. Hillocks (2011) submitted that argument is at the heart of critical thinking and the process of working through an argument is the process of inquiry. As we prepare for quarter three, I will be training High School Thesis teachers on how to teach scholars to write arguments of probability. In this post, I share a portion of Appendix A from the Common Core State Standards.

Argument

Arguments are used for many purposes—to change the reader’s point of view, to bring about some 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. In English language arts, students make claims about the worth or meaning of a literary work or works. They defend their interpretations or judgments with evidence from the text(s) they are writing about. In history/social studies, students analyze evidence from multiple primary and secondary sources to advance a claim that is best supported by the evidence, and they argue for a historically or empirically situated interpretation. In science, students make claims in the form of statements or conclusions that answer questions or address problems. Using data in a scientifically acceptable form, students marshal evidence and draw on their understanding of scientific concepts to argue in support of their claims. Although young children are not able to produce fully developed logical arguments, they develop a variety of methods to extend and elaborate their work by providing examples, offering reasons for their assertions, and explaining cause and effect. These kinds of expository structures are steps on the road to argument. In grades K–5, the term “opinion” is used to refer to this developing form of argument.

 “Argument” and “Persuasion”

When writing to persuade, writers employ a variety of persuasive strategies. One common strategy is an appeal to the credibility, character, or authority of the writer (or speaker). When writers establish that they are knowledgeable and trustworthy, audiences are more likely to believe what they say. Another is an appeal to the audience’s self-interest, sense of identity, or emotions, any of which can sway an audience. A logical argument, on the other hand, convinces the audience because of the perceived merit and reasonableness of the claims and proofs offered rather than either the emotions the writing evokes in the audience or the character or credentials of the writer. The Standards place special emphasis on writing logical arguments as a particularly important form of college- and career-ready writing.

The Special Place of Argument in the Standards

The Common Core 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. English and education professor Gerald Graff (2003) writes that “argument literacy” is fundamental to being educated. The university is largely an “argument culture,” Graff contends; therefore, K–12 schools should “teach the conflicts” so that students are adept at understanding and engaging in argument (both oral and written) when they enter college. He claims that because argument is not standard in most school curricula, only 20 percent of those who enter college are prepared in this respect. Theorist and critic Neil Postman (1997) calls argument the soul of an education because argument forces a writer to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of multiple perspectives. When teachers ask students to consider two or more perspectives on a topic or issue, something far beyond surface knowledge is required: students must think critically and deeply, assess the validity of their own thinking, and anticipate counterclaims in opposition to their own assertions.

Reference:

Common Core State Standards, (2011). Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects Appendix A. Retrieved on January 21, 2012 from the Common Core website: www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_A.pdf

Hillocks, G. (2011), Teaching argument writing. Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH

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About Anitra Butler

Ms. Butler received her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Bowie State University, a Master’s degree in Reading Instruction from Bowie State University, and a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in Bilingual Special Education from The George Washington University. She has also finished her third Master's degree in Instructional Design for Online Learning at Capella University. Ms. Butler is pursuing doctoral studies in Language, Literacy, and Culture. Her research interests include comparative education and academic support, disciplinary literacy, sociolinguistics, and participatory program evaluation.
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