Why Professionals Need to Disagree and Disagree Well

In a school system, there’s a lot of stuff with which teachers justifiably disagree—the emphasis on tests in coursework, expectations versus remuneration, attitudes of (some) students and (some) parents, general disrespect, just to name a few.  We are absolutely right to throw in the penalty flag of disagreement in any of these instances. 

However, how and when we disagree makes a huge difference on the outcome of that disagreement.   
For example, let’s say you’re in a large faculty meeting.  Automatically disagreeing with a newly-implemented policy is just not the best course of action. Policies on a school or district-wide scale are generally (not always, granted) taken under some sort of advisement prior to implementation.  The goals are generally laudable and designed with the hopes of improving something.

Wait just a few moments before jumping in to say why this policy won’t work. More than likely, you’ll be provided with who established the policy, why it was established, when it goes into effect, and how you’ll be expected to uphold it.   

Then, if you have a disagreement about who established it, why, when, or how, consider politely asking a pertinent question as opposed to making a statement of disagreement.  

Your questions should reflect the most important variables:  the viability and/or validity of the policy.  

Have any other schools experienced success with this policy? What literature did the committee review to back up this approach? 

If you’re provided with research-based strategies and a successful model, hold off on your disagreement until you’ve given it a shot.  See what works and what doesn’t. Then, you’ll be able to help administration streamline the policy, using the steps below, with more specific information on where the issue lies. 

However, if the answers to your questions above are “No. None.” Stop there.  Don’t do anything else until you’ve done your research.

Yup. You’ve got enough on your plate, I know.  Right, it’s not your job, technically.  However, by taking a few minutes at this point, you’ll save yourself and scores of others.

What you’ll be doing, by taking this proactive step, is making sure your disagreement doesn’t fester into resentment.  Complaining, especially to your peers, is passive-aggressive and accomplishes nothing except to lower everyone’s morale, including your own.  If you hear someone else complaining, walk away by saying, “I’ve got an idea I want to look into. I’ll let you know what I find!”

My guess is that many teachers would stop here, out of fear. However, if the policy (or a portion of it) is just dead-out wrong, disagreeing with it and stepping forward with research as support is the professional thing to do. As long as you maintain professionalism, you stand a greater chance of making an actual difference and helping to set things right.  

Another thing that may stop us is the “Why me?” thinking.  Counter with “Why not me?”  Professionals disagree when it is appropriate to do so, and your gut is telling you something. Listen to it!

It’s difficult for anyone to argue with someone who conveys professionalism or who supports an altruistic objective.  What can be argued, however—and this we see in our classrooms—is the attitude with which we present our thoughts.  No matter how good your idea is or how good your intention, if you say it negatively, impulsively, or nastily, it will neither be heard nor heeded.

Approaching Your Administrator

Politely request an informal chat:  “I’d like to talk to you about the new policy, Mr./Ms. ___.  When’s a good time?”  (Be prepared for now, in x minutes, or after ___ lunch, first period, etc.)

Start out by expressing what’s “good” about the policy:  “I think that our objective for blah blah is very powerful, and we’re on the right track with implementing blah blah…”

Clarify the “linchpin” that needs changing, based on your research: “We might consider taking this approach I found in this article (provide link/copy). It’s awesome because it would blah blah…” 


“Since we’ve started the policy, I’ve found that by blah blah instead of blah blah, I get better results.”

Use professional courtesy: “I know you’re busy, so when you get a chance, take a look and let me know what you think!” 

One of several things may happen:  1) you’ll be thanked, 2) you’ll be thanked with a promise (diligently follow up on this by repeating the steps), or 3) he/she will want to keep talking about it right then and there.

In all of these instances, as long as you are polite, professional, and students’ well-being is the objective, everyone’s dignity remains intact. It’s the dignity and pride thing that gets us in trouble, isn’t it?  Being professional in the manner presented above doesn’t step on toes. It doesn’t “get you in trouble.” 

The key to all of this is that you’ve done the right thing in a professional way. If your research and/or reasoning is sound as opposed to impulsive and emotional, your change will mostly likely be implemented. Whether that means you can keep doing what you’re doing, share it with others, or invoke change, something will probably happen. 

Because you’ve taken these steps, you will feel better about yourself and your job.

Mindy and some of her former students recently published Transparent Teaching of Adolescents, a discussion of effective teaching strategies for high school. Join the conversation! 


Teaching with Passion (in spite of the echinoderms)

In a guest blogpost, a student compares her experience at a public school with her experience at a private school.  At the private school, the teacher pulls out all the stops with a beautiful, creative assignment in Classical Mythology. Compared to her English class at the public school, which focused on the taking of a test, the student obviously finds the former more compelling and ideal. Who wouldn’t? 

One teacher responded to the post with this comment:

“[Students] don't see that dedicated, engaged, passionate, eager-to-help teachers often hit a dead end and are forced to do what they know is not best for kids due to inane gov regs and requirements.”

I take issue with this statement, not because it doesn’t have a ring of truth to it, but because of the faulty correlation drawn. Teachers do hit dead ends, and sometimes, administration requires that they teach specifically to the test, which is in no way the best thing to do for students. Agreed.
But dead-ends and government regulations/requirements cannot squelch passion and dedication. They might suppress choices and to some degree, restrain originality, but they can’t disrupt my passion.  They won’t tarnish my dedication. I simply won’t let them.

Our school required us to teach a certain state test-based exercise every day. I don’t think they could have found more boring, less enticing reading passages. Two pages of hell per day. One of them, our infamous “Lifestyles of the Sea Cucumber” stood out, though.  

(For the record, I completely disagree with students being required to read something so out of context in an English class. It was just…jarring.) 

Our instructions were to have students: 1) read the passage and 2) answer the questions. Then, we were 3) to “go over” the answers. One inane, required assignment, coming up. If you’ve fallen asleep, wake up.

So, knowing that the passage was the most boring thing ever, and knowing that pretty much every test passage was going to be at least as boring if not more so, our class discussed strategies for reading boring passages BEFORE we tackled this one.

We talked about the voices in our heads. We talked about our favorite actors. We talked about having our favorite actors read this passage to us in our heads. Then, something wonderful happened.

One kid piped up, in this wonderful Steve Irwin (The Crocodile Hunter) accent:  “Crikey! Looka this beauty!” 

That’s all it took. Steve Irwin read the passage to us, in our heads.  I watched students giggle and chortle their way through the whole passage. I watched them gleefully answer the test questions. Then, we checked the answers. 

While they certainly didn’t get them all correct, they did quite well because they made it all the way through the darned thing. We enjoyed ourselves, learning a little bit about a sea creature, but learning more about how to read for comprehension, which was the goal. 

From then on, our strategy for reading any boring science-type passages was that they be read to us by the Steve Irwin in our heads. Students carried this strategy into the test, thanking me later for it.

When teachers hit that dead end, when we have to work through inane exercises, we must do all we can to retain the passion and dedication. It’s difficult but do-able.

Fight those political, regulation, government policy battles outside of the classroom with all you’ve got.
We need to end the inanity.   

However, while we wait for the system to catch up and catch on, inside the classroom, we must fight with creativity--the strongest weapon of passion and dedication. 



A Common Core Issue: Student Disrespect of Teachers

At the end of the month, I’m scheduled to present a short seminar on behavior management at one of the upper schools nearby.  (I should clarify—I’m in Cyprus, a beautiful island in the Mediterranean. That picture of the natural land bridge, up there? I took that. ) As someone who last taught in a Title I Urban school in Florida, I was curious about some of their specific issues, and my initial meeting with the headmaster and conversations with others in state schools gave me some valuable insights.

Parent involvement? No problem (unless too much involvement can be considered a problem).  Remedial or below-grade-level students? None.  High student-teacher ratio? 20:1. Number of students in poverty/low-income? None.  Students not doing homework? Most students do their homework

Violent, gang-related behavior? No.  Lack of supplies/textbooks? Every student is provided with textbooks for class and a laptop, if he/she doesn’t have one.  High stakes tests causing too much stress on everybody? No, O-levels, A-levels, and proficiency exams are large part of the educational culture.
The biggest issue is the students’ disrespect of teachers.

Ironic, isn’t it?  Over here in Eastern Europe, society actually holds teachers in pretty high esteem. The careers are competitive, and some have to wait for years before they can become educators. Thus, the students aren’t acting on something they’ve heard at home or in the media.  

All of the issues that I was used to dealing with simply don’t exist here.  However, their core problem is the same. 

Of course, this got me to thinkin’ about home and US schools:  When all of those reasons that we hold out as to why we have difficulty teaching students is “fixed” or “resolved”, what’s left?  What do we do when they’re still disrespectful and apathetic? What do we do when calling (albeit sympathetic) parents, who actually do dole out consequences (instead of threatening to sue us), is a futile course of action? What then?

I know that how I carry myself (emotionally and physically) has a lot to do with managing classes—some of mine were at 40+ students.  Dressing as a professional teacher in professional business dress may be something we discuss, especially since the “island” look may be part of the problem.  We may also talk about posture and body language. 

I also know that at 5’3” tall, my voice is my most effective behavioral management instrument, so how I choose to use it, or not use it, makes a huge difference.  We’ll probably talk about how to convey authority more simply and authentically with the voice. Shouting equates to neither power nor authority.  A simple question can verify that—“How’s that working for you?” 

Much of my success with students had to do with how I treated them (they said), so we may talk about their perceptions of students as people.  Do they see them as “the class”, or do they see Maria, James, and Giorgio?  Do they know a little bit about each student, enough to carry on a personal conversation?  Do they “see” them as individuals or abstracts? Are they too chummy or “pally-pally”?  We might talk about making the distinction between mentor and friend.

We might also brainstorm a little on the concepts of control, power, respect, authority, leadership, because these terms don’t necessarily work in tandem.   

Simple things to do and think about, really, for this shared issue on both sides of the Atlantic. Things we can do no matter the state of the economy, the media’s perspective, the parents, the tests, the DOE, or the academic level of student.  

Things that might make a huge difference in how and what students learn from our classes. 


From One Bob to Another: Teacher Professionalism

Auto mechanic is not the first career that comes to mind when discussing the term professional.  After all, it’s a dirty job, lots of grease, grime, and noise. Somehow, though, my father managed to raise the bar of expectation of a mechanic to that of a professional in his self-owned business:  Bob's Auto Air.

His education was minimal (he made it through 8th grade because he joined the Navy in WWII), but he came up with solid strategy:  he based his professionalism on how he didn’t want to be perceived as a mechanic: dirty, inconsiderate, and incompetent.  

He despised mechanics’ shops that didn’t have a “clean” waiting area, making sure that his shop had a customer area that was free from the grime. Although the grease was something HE had to deal with, his customers did not. 

He also knew that women were often the clientele, so he took this approach one step further by having my mother help him create a pleasant atmosphere, complete with plants, comfortable furniture, and vintage auto décor.  

Of course, this strategy is a bit more familiar, today. However, in the 60's, 70’s, and 80’s, you’d be hard-pressed to find a mechanic’s garage like that. His peers considered his approach superfluous.  That, along with his insistence of keeping the customer’s car clean by virtue of large shop towels, and giving each person a free car freshener (with his logo, of course), set him apart from his competitors. He wouldn’t even shake someone’s hand until he’d used that gooey orange stuff and washed up with Lava soap. 

Further, he knew his stuff. When something new came along in his many decades in the business (such as Metric tools and an understanding of computerized systems), he mastered it, making it part of his knowledge base. He didn’t like that "damned metric system” (had to buy a whole separate set of tools!) or "those stupid computers" (had to learn how to use one!) invading his world, mind you.  

However, he knew that to be competitive, he’d have to get with the game and learn how to cope with those “foreign” models. He retired as a well-regarded and highly-recommended professional after over forty years in this field.  

In the article, "A Great Reason for Appreciating High School Teachers", Bob Lenz poses this thoughtful question on teacher professionalism:   

     If you are a teacher, what do you need to make your job more professional? 

Before we can determine what we’d need, we might want to figure out how we do not wish to be perceived, and through that negation, determine what a professional teacher is

My father determined through negation that a truly professional mechanic (despite the necessary evil of grease and dirt) was clean, considerate, and competent.  So, what’s at the top of our list?   

We’d probably all agree that we don’t want to be perceived as incompetent, so anything that would help us to be competent, capable, experienced, or more proficient would be helpful.  

Are we effectively trained? Are we provided the opportunity to master tried-tested-valid-credible-reliable methodologies (as opposed to the newest, "bestest"ones) each year?  Are we evaluated by master teachers

From here, though, the professional components of how we don’t want to be perceived may vary, depending on the individual.  However, the same approach works. 

For example, if I don’t want to be perceived as apathetic—which I consider to be unprofessional for a teacher— then I will want to do all I can to be warm and enthusiastic. Thus, my question would be:

What do I need from my administration, school, district, and/or state to help me be (more) warm and enthusiastic? 

Using this strategy, we can work through any component of professionalism

I don’t want to be perceived as _____.  (providing low-quality work, not working well with peers, being dishonest, being unethical)

What do I need in order to_____? (provide high-quality work, work well with my peers, be honest, be ethical)

I hope my father’s framework can help us answer Mr. Lenz’s question.   

Mindy and some of her former students recently published Transparent Teaching of Adolescents, a discussion of effective teaching strategies for high school. Join the conversation!  


CCS Narrative Essays: Going in "Cold" 9th -12th

Analysis of the CCSS for 9th-12th narrative writing reveals a strong emphasis on structure and reflection. While the majority of students have written a narrative essay, with the understanding of how to “tell a story,” what they haven’t experienced, probably, is creating a purposeful design that expresses a reflective insight.

We can help students reach these goals by emphasizing that the choice of experience for the narrative can be construed as an argument or message to the reader. Thus, the impulsive drive to make the narrative “exciting” (which generally falls flat) is set aside in favor of a more profound, purposeful telling, towards which the standards point.
The prompt for a narrative assignment should call for reflection. Consider something along these lines:

Describe an experience in which you gained new insight into yourself, another person, people, or life.

Students don’t realize that what they consider to be the smallest of experiences can resonate with readers. Often, they’ll say, “Nothing’s happened to me,” or “It’s stupid.” They really don’t get that small things contain very powerful messages.

I once read a freshman comp essay about a young lady recalling the experience of taking care of a cow that she despised. The cow eventually got very sick, and by the end, she’d had a complete turn-around, desperately trying to save it. The poor animal died, but the insight she’d gained from the experience—which I could barely read through my tears—was absolutely wonderful.

Once we help students tap into the emotions under the experience, we find gold, so we must push them “deeper” into that experience to help them find the message or argument. 

The standards are multi-layered with many options, so we can use those options to our advantage by  constructing a more purposeful movement through them. 

Students may find it helpful to work through one experience, changing the approach to that experience each time. By having them stick to that one experience, we'll not only reinforce the standard's goal of purposeful design--same story, different ways--but we'll also reinforce the recursive nature of the writing process.     
Stage I:  First-person p.o.v. focus on progression of a single experience and pacing, description, reflection. Sequence: chronological.
Stage II: First-person p.o.v with a distinction between narrator and characters in the experience. Incorporation of dialogue. Chronological sequence, incorporating foreshadowing.

Stage III: Third-person limited omniscient, structured in  medias res. 

Stage IV: Third-person omniscient, sequenced in flashback, beginning with conclusion/reflection on the experience.

Stage V (optional):  Imagined experience in the structure of their choosing.

What works nicely with these stages is that you can evenly disperse them throughout a school year (one paper per nine weeks) with the optional final stage for those students who desire the challenge. Or, they could be dispersed by grade.  

The emphasis on the revisions of the work (either by year or grade) would allow for greater mastery of the skills as opposed to assigning several different prompts throughout the year. 

Using this approach, for example, Freshmen would work through one prompt in Stage I, providing several revisions of that same paper. 

Sophomores would work through Stages I and II that year, changing the prompt for 11th and 12th. Juniors would work through Stages I-III on the same prompt, changing the prompt for their senior year.  Seniors, would have it a little more rough, working through all four stages on the same prompt in the same year.

For those students coming into CCSS “cold”, this approach might help ease them into the expectations, and I hope that teachers will find the use of stages a bit less intimidating. Let me know what you think! :-)

Here are the CCSS, side by side:

Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences. 

9th/10th                                                           11th/12th
Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.


Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.


Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole.

Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole and build toward a particular tone and outcome (e.g., a sense of mystery, suspense, growth, or resolution).

Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.


Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.



Everthing's an Argument: Combining CCSS Reading and Writing Standards 9-12

One aspect of the CCSS for Reading and Writing that we might consider is how to create a cohesive connection between literary analysis and writing an argument paper. 

For a literary analysis, the goal should be an arguable thesis, supported by textual evidence from the given short story, poem, drama, or novel. Again, the Reading standards are somewhat similar for lower/upperclassmen, with 11th/12th  moving into greater depth:

  • RL.9-10.1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RL.11-12.1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

  • RL.9-10.2. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.11-12.2. Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.9-10.3. Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

  • RL.11-12.3. Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

To help them make the transition to this level of thinking (and for them to be able to determine a theme(s) on their own eventually) consider scaffolding them by first creating a thematic unit on a larger concept, such as Integrity, Revenge, Beauty, Love, or Evil.

Before reading the text selection, students marinate on the given theme. You can introduce it in any number of ways, but the goal is to have them convey their thoughts and opinions on the theme. We'll walk through a potential unit on Evil, which students seem to particularly enjoy.

It’s helpful to have them discuss with each other. Who is evil? What is evil? Why is evil? Where is evil? Then, after they've reached their conclusions, you  throw a wrench into their thinking with an assertion. 

(You can find any number of possibilities for an assertion searching by topic on a quotation site, such as Thinkexist.) My favorite assertion for Evil is:

“Evil is unspectacular and always human,
                                          And shares our bed and eats at our own table ....” 
~W.H. Auden

Students have already discussed what they think on the topic, so now, they analyze and argue the validity of Auden’s point about the topic. Aren’t serial killers the most evil of all? How can he be right in saying that Evil is right in our homes? My family isn’t evil. What does he mean?
Students will both agree and disagree, which is fine and should be encouraged. Let them know it’s okay for them to change their minds, too! The goal is the thinking.  

Most literary texts will incorporate some aspect of your proposed unit concept; it’s up to you how you “clump” them together. 

For example, in a 12th grade class, you might consider Othello, "My Last Duchess", Heart of Darkness, A Child Called It, or Frankenstein for Evil, providing a spectrum of texts. In an 11th grade class, you might consider The Great Gatsby, Trail of Tears, or Of Mice and Men, "Theme for English B", for Integrity. 10th graders might enjoy Antigone, "Dulce et Decorum Est", Night, or Lord of the Flies for Morality. (I’m sure you get the idea.) 

Each time the students read a text, they determine that text’s argument for the topic. For example: 

What argument does Shakespeare make about Evil in 

How does he make this argument (e.g. using symbolism, through the character of Iago, through the innocence of Desdemona)?  

Why does he make it? 

After students have written on that topic, you take it one step further (either in a separate assignment or tagged onto this one):

     Does Othello support or refute Auden’s assertion about Evil?
     Why do you think so?      

As they submitted their essays on the individual texts (I considered these informal, rough drafts), I might pinpoint a pattern of punctuation for them to work (such as comma usage), but the onus was on them to correct it once noted. If a pattern of error emerged that warranted a class explanation, we addressed it (such as semi-colon usage or use of second person p.o.v.). I concentrated on the fluency of these drafts, mostly.

It saved me a great deal of stress having them write only one formal paper. The goal was to help them with their thinking, first, so the emphasis of the preliminary essays was on reasoning, which the CCS emphasize and strive so diligently to accomplish. Then, and only then, did we concern ourselves with correctness on the formal papers. 

This final paper was typed, in MLA format (all the bells and whistles), and it was their assessment for the unit. They were expected to use at least two, but no more than four, of the texts from the unit to argue the validity of Auden’s assertion. 

Essentially, they answered this question: Based on what you’ve read, why do you support (or refute) Auden’s assertion?

This is where you’d move back into CCS writing standards for argument, thus satisfying that standard with a purposeful use of the literature. (Of course, we followed a process of first draft, revision, editing, and polishing, the whole nine yards.) 

By the time students have 1) evaluated their opinions on the topic, 2) analyzed/argued other’s assertions, 3) analyzed a text, and 4) argued whether or not that text supports the general assertion, they’ve come a great distance in their critical thinking skills!  
Students don’t necessarily love reading, but when they have a purpose for doing so, they may be so inclined to actually do the reading. Further, since teenagers love arguing above all else, when they read with the idea that they’re going to make an argument about something, it’s a win for everyone. 

Let me know what you think!  

(Next up:  narrative as argument!)


Everything’s an Argument: Aligning to Common Core Standards for Argument essays 11th -12th Grades

Interestingly, the standards for 9th/10th and 11th/12th differ only slightly, distinguished by depth of response.  That is, the upperclassmen need to do the same thing as the underclassmen, just with a bit more “oomph”.  That makes sense if we are to move students forward systematically.  However, this year’s transitional students will need us to create a sort of combo-pack approach to the expectations for argument.  

Use an Engaging prompt: The best prompts to begin with are those closest to the student’s experience. (One of the best argument essays I ever read was a teenager arguing to be able to use the family car!) 

Find out what your students argue about. Consider a homework assignment that has them articulate what their controversies are. 

Is the class divided on a topic, such as the “best” musical artist or musical genre? Find something in their zone, particularly for the first argument essay.

Scaffold the components of the essay. Don’t assign the entire essay all at once. You’ll get the usual blasé material and drive yourself crazy in the grading of it! 

Assign the thesis. Only the thesis.  Have students discuss the reasons they’ve determined. What reasons are convincing, and what ones are not? Let them talk it out with each other. Before they can begin the outline, you’ll approve the thesis. 

A  model that meets the 9/10 CCS standards might be:

 Although many people dislike Lady Gaga, she takes a position on cultural issues, which makes her a good role model for teenagers. 

An 11/12 model might look like this:  

 Although many people find Lady Gaga a media-hungry culture icon, her ability to convey serious messages in her music and her adherence to her messages indicate that she is the best role model for teenagers, today.  

To make the thesis reach the necessary level of significance, the student has to “deepen the pot” of his/her original thesis.  Ask them to determine the "reasons why" behind their counter-claims and claims.

Roughly, this is what you’ll have to do with your upperclassmen. They’re going to hand in a 9th grade level thesis, which is a good start. Take them to the next step for revision!  

Helping students revise theses will take a fraction of the time it would take to grade an entire essay. After you approve the thesis revision, the student should be able to form a pretty solid outline. 

Question Outline:   Instead of having students present a traditional outline, have them work from a question outline.  Help them see that each point in the thesis implies a question that must be “answered” in the essay. It might look like this:

Discussion 1:  Why do people think Lady Gaga is just media-hype?

Why is their assessment of her invalid?

Discussion 2:   What messages does Gaga convey in her 

Why is her conveyance of messages a reason for her to be considered the best role model for teens, today

 Discussion 3:   What is significant about Gaga's adherence 
 to her messages? 

Why is her adherence to messages a reason why she should be considered the best role model for teens, today?

Students find this strategy helpful when brainstorming their discussions.  Help them see that they might be able to work through two paragraphs per discussion. Paragraphs work best when they answer one question. 

Review outlines for relevance and reasoning of the questions.   If the students have posed the right question, they'll have a better shot at crafting a paragraph that follows through with valid reasoning. 

In my line of work as an online writing instructor, I've found the use of the question strategy helps students more than any other.

Thinking like an attorney:  Most students have a good idea about what evidence is and what “proving” a case looks like. Using this analogy will help them understand how to determine the best evidence for each of their claims and counterclaims. 

Likewise, when they work through their intended audience's thinking, you can use the analogy of a jury. In this case, the “jury” is the class. 

Have them look around at their classmates and predict what arguments so-and-so may have. Who is the most difficult person they have to convince? Have them choose their evidence, based on that person.  You’ll want to model the strategy, and let them begin their paragraphs in-class. That way, you’ll be on hand for spot-checks of their reasoning.

From here, students should work through their rough drafts and revisions. This is familiar territory!  However, you will have given them solid practice for reasoning. 

Here are the expectations of the two, side-by-side. 

       9th /10th CCS                                      11th/12th CCS

Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

  • Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  • Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level and concerns.

  • Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.

  • Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.

  • Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.

  • Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.

  • same
  • Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.

  • same

 Next up, we'll tackle literary analysis as an argument! : )



Twice Beckoned*

Whilst undergoing my daily meditation (okay, so I was "mindfully" washing dishes and listening to a Paul Collier playlist on YouTube, but still, it was very Zen)—I pondered the implications and opportunities within the recent Kenneth Cole billboard hoopla and how it could be used in a class.

I see a powerful lesson on visual rhetorical analysis for high school students, here.  Visual literacy is often completely over-looked, but it comprises a significant amount of today’s rhetoric, whether in the guise of static images, cartoons, or commercials. Their coercive subtlety is belied by the hugeness of the message, and students can unknowingly perpetuate a problem if they don't understand how to analyze visual rhetoric. 

As a context, before students even look at the image, they may need help understanding the distinctions between concepts such as group libel, bashing, and free speech. Once they determine their definitions of these terms, we could then move to an analysis of the image and the lesson in Visual Rhetoric. 


What specific argument does this billboard make? (What does it say about education, teachers, and/or students?)

How does it make the argument?  (Thinking in terms of graphics: the image of the model, use of color, visual format, font distinction, and text: implications of wordplay, use of pun, diction, and tone)

Why is the argument significant or exigent? (Connection to current events, zeitgeist)

How well does it make the argument? (Who is the target audience, based on the sponsor and image? How well does it reach this group?)

What seems to be the purpose of the billboard? (Ultimately, what did Kenneth Cole desire to do? Sell clothes? Send people to website?  Motivate for change?)

After students have determined the ins and outs of what Kenneth Cole strives to do and how well they do it, we could let them know what occurred as a result of this billboard—the overwhelming demand by teachers (mostly) to have it removed and the tweeted concession of the company: 

“We misrepresented the issue – one too complex for a  
billboard – and are taking it down.”

Have students evaluate the response of the educators to the billboard and the response of the company to the educators.  They could consider, amongst other appropriate responses that you would find for the lesson, this NY teacher’s analysis:  “the billboard’s effect was to ‘trash’ the teaching profession.”  Determining the validity of his/her point may also prove fruitful for analysis. 

Ask them how they might respond were they in either pair of shoes (those of the company, those of the teachers).  A nifty homework assignment might be the creation of a billboard in response, either in support or opposition to the argument Cole presented and the actions taken.

As Sabrina Stevens notes in her article on the same topic, “this is just one small victory in a much larger battle.”  (The victory being the removal of the billboard.)

Agreed. It was a small victory, and there is a larger battle. However, had we taken a moment to avoid the impulse to remove it and instead considered using it as a means for authentic discourse, we may have made greater strides in winning the battle.  

If teachers are to actually change perceptions as opposed to simply reacting to them, we’ll need to willingly open the discussion, not close it down. 

As the company notes, they’ve misrepresented the issue—the issue they have doesn’t go away because they’ve taken down their billboard. They didn’t say they were “wrong” on their issue, only that they screwed up in how (and by implication, how well) they presented it.   

We can fight with reason or might. However, by fighting with reason and understanding, we might more closely heed Dale Carnegie’s admonition that "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." 

We might win the battle.

*Opportunity is often difficult to recognize; we usually expect it to beckon us with beepers and billboards." ~ William Arthur Ward