Friday, April 26, 2013

Persuasion OUT Argumentation IN

Historically, teachers in upper elementary and middle schools have focused on teaching students three types of writing: expository, narrative, and persuasive.  With the adoption of Common Core State Standards, teachers will be making some major changes in how we teach writing to students.  One of those changes for me was to forget about teaching persuasion and to start teaching argumentation.

This week, my students delved into their first piece of argumentative writing.  Augmentative writing requires logic and reasoning as opposed to persuasive writing which relies on an emotional appeal.  In order to get my students to understand this distinction, I gave them a writing assignment on an authentic and relevant topic.  Students wrote about the impact of learning a second language.  (The foreign language teachers at my school can thank me later.)  Students were not writing to persuade the reader to think a certain way about learning a second language.  Instead, they were writing to inform the reader about the impact that learning a second language has on students.  

What I witnessed was amazing!  Students were elbow-deep in articles about modern foreign language education, digging for evidence to support their claims.  Students began the assignment by analyzing a variety of texts so that they could evaluate whether or not the information would be useful in their writing.   Some students even tossed out articles littered by opinions and unsupported facts because they were taught to include concrete evidence to support their claims.  Students were actually excited about their research!

Writing research-based arguments is exactly what these students will be expected to do in college, and I have really enjoyed introducing this important skill to my students. This is just one example of the many shifts that will take place as a result of the Common Core.  What are your thoughts about how the Common Core State Standards will affect teaching and learning in our schools?

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Lost Art of Letter-Writing

Last week, my students spent some time learning about letter-writing.  While many of my students have experience writing friendly letters home from summer camp or writing emails to their friends, it should come as no surprise to us that their experience in letter writing is quite limited.  That's what you would expect of our digital natives, right?

What began as a simple review of "how to write a letter" turned into lessons that may stick with some of my students for years to come.  (I can only hope!)  As they began to write their letters, many of my students learned the following:

  • How to write a letter of appreciation to a friend, family member or teacher
  • How to write a letter of complaint when you are disappointed by a product or service 
  • How to write a letter of sympathy to someone struggling with an illness or loss
  • How to write a letter of thanks to an individual who has helped you, your community or your country 
  • How to write a letter to your teacher to give feedback in a respectful, tactful manner 
  • How to address an envelope  (Apparently, there are many 6th graders who have never addressed their own envelopes  until now.)

I was astonished by all of the lessons that grew from a little lesson on letter-writing. It reminded me that letter-writing truly is a lost art, and even though we have electronic means to communicate, we always need to know how to write a letter for a variety of purposes.

What do you think about the value of letter-writing with today's generation of learners?