Academic journal article English Journal

Teaming Up: Teaching Analysis and Research through Sports Controversies

Academic journal article English Journal

Teaming Up: Teaching Analysis and Research through Sports Controversies

Article excerpt

Athletes dominate the headlines about everything from dog fighting to domestic violence. Recent dis- putes related to team sports spark debate over issues such as concussions and steroid use. Sporting events such as the Olympic Games bring a unique set of international cultural and po- litical issues to media and social networking. And controversies don't always mean an athlete or team has done something wrong: take, for example, the firestorms created over the praying Tim Tebow and the sexy Danica Patrick.

Simply put, sports create controversy. And controversy creates arguments, opportunities for analysis, sources to research, and contexts to teach media awareness and information literacy. Sports controversies are appropriate material for teach- ing rhetorical analysis and research because of their relevance to and impact on students' lives and on popular culture. Students learn to read criti- cally, research scrupulously, and write analytically about many topics, but sports controversies pro- vide a comfortable familiarity. Because sports are so prevalent, controversies are complex and sources are plentiful; students even read sports opinion and news on their phone apps and via Twitter.

Familiarity and cultural significance apply to teachers as well, and practically speaking, sports controversies allow teachers to teach skills neces- sitated by the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts. By researching and analyz- ing sports controversies, students encounter various genres and improve information literacy, and they learn to evaluate sources and determine what con- stitutes "evidence" in various contexts. Analyzing the rhetoric of a controversy rather than arguing about the topic itself enables students to write an authentic and informed argument about a substan- tive topic like sports.

Training Camp: Teaching Analysis

Though sports controversies are appropriate ma- terial for many reading and writing assignments, I will focus here on a research essay that requires rhetorical analysis and synthesis rather than the student's opinion or position on the topic. The as- signment begins with these instructions: "You are to write a researched essay in which you identify and analyze the stakeholders, positions, audiences, messages, opposing viewpoints, and issues of con- tention in a sports controversy of your choice. The goal of this assignment is for you to give a com- prehensive analysis (not just report) of the existing controversy and its rhetoric."

Unlike the traditional opinion-based re- search essay, the focus of this assignment requires additional clarification and instruction in analysis. The assignment therefore explains that "This is not a 'traditional' research essay. That is, it's not your argument about an issue, supported by sources. In- stead, the claims that you are making are about what is significant, important, surprising, effec- tive, and/or troubling about the controversy itself, not how you feel about the issue/topic that you are researching." This isn't an easy task for students. That's why lesson plans early in the unit introduce or reinforce students' knowledge of and proficiency with analysis before they begin to learn the research process.

Many sources exist for teaching the founda- tions of rhetoric and rhetorical analysis. An ex- planation of ethos, pathos, and logos is necessary because I do not want students to toss around terms without fully understanding the impact of rhetoric-particularly because rhetoric associated with controversy is usually biased and always mul- tifaceted. I also want students to focus more on the analysis of multiple perspectives of the controversy rather than on analyzing individual sources (as they might in a focused rhetorical analysis essay). There- fore, I provide opportunities for students to practice recognizing and discussing rhetorical appeals with- out using the jargon of "ethos, pathos, and logos."

One introductory source for teaching rhetoric is the website American Rhetoric (http://american rhetoric. …

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