Academic journal article English Journal

Teaching and Learning Argumentative Writing in High School English Language Arts Classrooms

Academic journal article English Journal

Teaching and Learning Argumentative Writing in High School English Language Arts Classrooms

Article excerpt

Teaching and Learning Argumentative Writing in High School English Language Arts Classrooms George E. Newell, David Bloome, and Alan Hirvela. Routledge, 2015.

Newell, Bloome, and Hirvela's study on the teaching and learning of argumentative writing is the product of four years of extensive research. The authors examine how English language arts (ELA) teachers with excellent reputations teach argumentative writing in secondary schools and how their instructional practices shape student learning relative to that skill.

Collecting qualitative and quantitative data, the authors worked alongside ELA teachers in grades 9-12, using questionnaires to gather data from 31 classes across culturally and economically diverse schools in central Ohio. The authors then chose five teachers and their classes for a qualitative case study that included classroom observations and interviews with teachers and students. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which mandate the teaching of argumentative writing at the secondary grade level, pushes high school teachers to spend more curricular time on argumentation.

While the authors agree that argumentation is an essential skill, they find fault with the oversimplification of argumentative writing as it is described in the CCSS. The standards describe argumentative writing in terms of its structural features, framing features of writing for a scoring rubric that can be used for testing purposes (3). The authors also note that the CCSS "ignore the social context" of argumentative writing, which should consider audience as an essential aspect (3). In contrast, the authors focus on argumentative writing as a social practice rather than as a structure or a set of components.

Argumentative Writing in Real Classrooms

The first chapter of the book defines argumentative writing as a social practice focused on readers as an important context of the writing. Defining argumentative writing as a social practice provides a lens through which the authors view various classroom practices. The authors found that high school students were eager to express their opinions but often lacked support and evidence. Understanding appropriate social practices for argumentation may result in acceptance or rejection of an argument, and providing evidence and support for opinions is essential.

In Chapter 2, the authors examine what teachers in the case study believe about argumentation, explaining that some teachers approached argumentative writing as a structure, while others saw argumentation as "ideational," focusing on evidence for ideas. A third group of teachers taught argumentative writing as a social process between writers and readers.

Having described these views of argumentation, the authors focus Chapter 3 on the instructional practices of teachers. Contrary to their original assumptions, they found that most teachers taught argumentative writing over an entire year, rather than as an isolated unit of study. One of their findings describes the "instructional chain" practice of teachers: the ways lessons build and reoccur over time as they are integrated throughout the curriculum. …

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