Academic journal article English Journal

Teaching Informed Argument for Solution-Oriented Citizenship

Academic journal article English Journal

Teaching Informed Argument for Solution-Oriented Citizenship

Article excerpt

Recently, one of my students asked her peers in conversation, "Why is it that when I vent on Facebook about my frustrations with our school's dress code, everyone else thinks they need to chime in with what they think?" There was a pause at the table. Then another student said, "Um, because it's Facebook?" I chuckled when I heard that from across the classroom. But the exchange also revealed something about this social media culture to which my students and I belong. Much of what is shared on social media is biased rant or toxic vitriol about problems, real and imagined. Seldom do we find helpful solutions to society's complex issues in our social media feeds.

Like my students, I belong to a social media culture that keeps me connected with friends and family where we share photos of each other, our travels, and the goofy things we do. But there's another side to that culture where memes and opinion-driven posts present points of view that are not always supported by credible evidence. The algorithms behind social media platforms can push us into camps where we become surrounded by only those with whom we agree, creating an us versus them dynamic that drives us further apart (Hess). Fittingly, the contemporary commonplace definition of argument involves angry people shaking their fists at one another.

These are complex times when it comes to the literacy skills demanded of students. Responsible instruction teaches students to navigate digital news and social media spaces that barrage and overwhelm many of them. In truth, it overwhelms many adults. But ELA classrooms are uniquely positioned to curtail this trend by teaching students the value of informed citizenship and compelling argument. This understanding of argument writing as part and parcel of citizenship conceptualizes argument as a set of "social practices" (Newell et al. 1) where students inquire, build knowledge, develop a claim, perhaps change their minds, and ultimately choose to deliberate with others about a mutual issue or concern.

Traditional classroom approaches to persuasive writing that emphasize ethos, pathos, and logos may exacerbate the problem by ignoring whether evidence supports the student's position or whether the student can evaluate the credibility of that evidence. Instead, students are often encouraged to persuade us with emotion, force, and conviction that their opinions are to be believed. Traditional practices also seem fixated on pro-con debates and writing prompts that push students into binary understandings of how arguments function. Wellreasoned arguments and credible evidence are necessary for an informed democracy, and experience sorting through multiple perspectives is necessary to make sense of the complex world.

When students experience a solution-oriented culture in the classroom, they learn important critical literacy lessons, in both their reading and their writing. Our classrooms can provide experience solving problems students care about, so that students know, no matter who they are or where they're from, their voices matter. Students need to know that their reason and their spirit can solve the seemingly unsolvable (Kennedy). Our classrooms are the real world. When we acknowledge this fact, we communicate that we respect and honor each student's place in that world. That acknowledgment is distinctly important in communities where students feel isolated from spheres of influence and political power.

A well-rounded education must provide genuine learning opportunities that teach students to curate their own sources of information, find solutions to the issues they encounter in that information, and make compelling arguments for those solutions. To create these opportunities, students must develop understandings and skills that change the way they experience the conversations that surround them.

Routine Practice

The National Writing Project (NWP) recently developed the College, Career and Community Writers Program (or C3WP), an approach to teaching source-based argument writing in grades 6-12. …

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