When I first started teaching, I was passionate and loved my subject area, but I was clueless when it came to classroom management. My teacher preparation program gave me no specific strategies, so I went into the classroom thinking that if I had a well-planned lesson, classroom management would take care of itself.
I, like many teachers, learned about classroom management the hard way, through trial and error. Now, after ten years in the classroom and five years coaching teachers, I want to share three things I wish I had known.
1. Teach Time-Saving Routines and Procedures
One morning during my first year of teaching, I was entering attendance at my desk. When I looked up, every student in my class had rotated their desks so they were all facing the wall. They continued working as if nothing had happened. It was bizarre and frustrating; if they were capable of doing this so efficiently, why did it take an eternity to get into reading groups or lined up for lunch? I didn’t think I needed to teach middle-schoolers how to enter a classroom — they’ve been doing this for years! It turns out I was wrong.
I hope my previous blog convinced you that teaching argument writing should be your number one priority. Recently, I’ve talked to teachers whose students are practicing more argument writing. They are finding that many of their students are having success and can lay out a claim and provide evidence to support it, but teachers are still finding that the arguments are choppy and read like lists. What’s missing from their writing?
When we look at their writing together, it’s lacking the “usual suspect”: an effective warrant. In an argument, the warrant explains how the evidence supports the claim and often applies a commonly accepted rule or principle. Warrants are a challenge, even for college students.
Five Reasons Why Warrants are a Tough Case to Solve
1. Under an Assumed Name
Defining a warrant can be confusing because there are many terms for the concept of warrant. Some teachers refer to warrants as the “explanation” portion of a P.E.E. (Point Evidence Explanation) essay. For others, it is the “Mean” in a “Tell- Show-Mean” structure. In a DBQ Project essay, the warrant is, oddly enough, called the “Argument.” In our science PLC, it’s the “Reasoning.” Is there any wonder why students find this confusing? We need to help them see that all of these writing devices serve the same purpose, despite their different names.
“If you can read everything your students write, you’re not assigning enough writing” – Doug Fisher.
Teachers tend to think about building fluency in terms of reading, but now more than ever, teachers should be helping their students build writing fluency as well. Readers who don’t read fluently devote much of their cognitive energy to decoding individual words and phrases, making it difficult for them to focus on the meaning of what they read. Similarly, students lacking writing fluency devote lots of cognitive energy to forming individual words or basic sentence structures, making it harder for them to focus on conveying their thoughts and feelings effectively.
CCSS Writing Anchor Standard 10 addresses the importance of students writing routinely over extended and shorter time frames for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences. Both the forthcoming PARCC assessment and the Smarter Balanced assessment require students to type at length on demand. They must respond to a complex prompt that necessitates reading and synthesis of multiple documents, including videos, articles, and graphs. They’re also often argument prompts (see my last blog on the importance of argument writing).
You probably don’t need me to tell you that argument writing is a hot topic in education — it has a special place in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and it is writing anchor standard number 1 for a reason. However, some teachers are asking if we really should no longer teach persuasive writing to our upper grade students.
I have many fond memories of teaching persuasive writing. Students love discussing and debating their point of view, and it has the capacity to pull in reluctant writers because most students don’t have trouble writing about their position on controversial issues. Also, persuasive writing has traditionally been required on high-stakes assessments such as the ACT. This is all good stuff, so why should we switch from persuasive to argument writing? Because, while persuasive writing may be a norm of the past, argument writing is the skill of the future.
Here are four reasons to make the switch from persuasive to argument writing for grades 6-12:
1. Argument focuses on evidence and clear reasoning
Argument writing is all about whether you have quality evidence and whether you can explain how your evidence supports your claim. The logical process of gathering evidence, coming up with a claim, and linking evidence to your claim is different than the passion of persuasive debates. Rather than ignoring contrasting points of view, different perspectives strengthen arguments by giving students the chance to test their claims with contrasting evidence and refine their positions. Introducing standards for accountable talk and argument frames is a great way to keep the discussion focused and academic in nature.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have raised the bar significantly for our students. For this blog I want to focus on CCSS Anchor Standard 10, as it demonstrates one way in particular that these standards have raised the bar. Standard 10 establishes a staircase of text complexity, and expects that by the end of each year students (beyond the primary grades) are reading on grade level texts independently and proficiently. (This is in response to research by ACT that shows the ability to read complex texts is what separates students who are college ready from those who are not.)
The authors of the CCSS call for all students to spend more time reading complex texts, even if they fall at a student’s “frustration” level. This has generated controversy because much of the literacy research and practice of the past 30 years has been focused on making reading easier for kids, by doing things like simplifying texts or matching students with texts that they can read independently. The idea of struggling in literacy has traditionally had a negative connotation, with readers who struggle being renamed as “striving” readers in recent years.
Is Struggle So Bad?
Literacy experts such as Tim Shanahan have recently begun to question the wisdom behind reducing opportunity for readers to struggle with complex texts. While it’s definitely possible to find a text that is simply too hard for a student, research indicates we’ve been going overboard. Before seeing what students can do with these texts, we have identified many as “frustration” level and off limits. We’ve been telling them what complex texts mean instead of helping them figure it out for themselves.