I’ve noticed a trend here at Hart High. More and more teachers are talking about argument. NGSS uses terms like “claims, evidence, and reasoning/justification,” prompting students to think like scientists. Compare the NGSS terms to the language in Common Core Anchor Writing Standard #1: “Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence” and to the language of Math Practice Standard #3: “Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.” Now that you are in on the trend, let’s look at some frustrations that have come up as we teach students to write effective arguments.
Lesson Study Focus Last Spring
Last spring we did a lesson study that focused on ways to improve student writing in science and in English. How could we lead students to write stronger claims, evidence and justification? In both Erica Hardbarger’s Biology class and Tara Holloway’s English 9 class, we found that showing students data ahead of time to determine need and create some urgency (85% of you are not choosing strong evidence!) helped students to focus in on the task. Of course, modeling strong writing and providing many examples were also important. We laughed at the end of our lesson study because we concluded that explicitly teaching what we wanted students to do in terms of their writing yielded the best results (duh!). Yet, the same problem persisted the next time the students wrote. Darn! And, as you will see, the issue has come up again-students can write claims and choose evidence, but they don’t know what to do from there.
English Department Goal for 2016-2017
This is such an issue that the English Dept created a goal this year to help students improve in the area of “Evidence and Elaboration” on the CAASPP writing rubric. We have found that students have a hard time linking their evidence to their claims. They stop at providing evidence and think the reader will magically understand why they included the details they did.
Brandon Duran invited me into his classroom two weeks ago to observe the conclusion of a lab about density. As I walked around to the groups huddled over their lab tables I experienced a moment of Déjà vu… On each black table in neon marker three words stood out: “Claim- Evidence- Justification.”
Brandon reminded them about the different between evidence and justification. He referred them to their notes. He asked groups to look at their claims and determine if they were really claims at all. Students analyzed data and wrote their conclusions in groups of four. After they finished Brandon had them rotate around to read and critique what other groups had written.
When we spoke about the lesson after class he said his goal was to introduce students to how to write a conclusion for a lab. This was quickly followed by, “The students also have such a hard time writing strong justification every year so I wanted them to see what others have written.” There it is…the same frustration we all seem to be experiencing when it comes to argument writing. Kudos to Brandon for designing lessons early in the semester to address this area of weakness!
Upcoming Lesson Study
Last week a group of science and English teachers approached me about doing a lesson study. Guess what they want to focus on? Yup! Claims, evidence, and justification. I will share more once we plan the lesson! If you are interested in being part of the lesson study, please let me know!
Remember the data tree you completed with Christine Colton on our first day of PD? Using a data tree is one way to help students gather evidence and then later make conclusions about that evidence.
Starting with data and teaching students how to make conclusions about their findings is one way to help students learn to write effective claims. What argument activities are you working on this year? I would love to share our ideas with one another… Let me know and I will drop by!