Williams Prep (Chicago, IL) Building Wall-to-Wall Argument-Based Curriculum
Daniel Hale Williams Prep School of Medicine is the latest school to forge a substantial partnership (sealed in November) with Argument-Centered Education in school year 2016. In the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago’s south side, Williams Prep’s slogan is that it is “The Pipeline for the College Bound,” and its commitment to incorporating academic argument throughout its curriculum and instruction demonstrates that this far more than simply a label.
“We are committed at Williams to preparing our students for access not only to college, but to selective institutions,” according to Principal Jullanar Naselli. “Bringing on Argument-Centered Education to help us infuse academic argument across disciplines is helping us walk the talk. We’re excited by this partnership and what it’s bringing to our culture and classrooms.”
The Williams Argument-Centered Education Program involves 8 educators, including both the principal and Assistant Principal Christopher Van Dyken. One Williams teacher who is not in the cohort, but is enthusiastic about what it will bring to the school as a whole, is English teacher Kathleen Ryan. “I got to know Les Lynn [the founder and leader of ACE] when I coached the competitive debate team here for several years. It’s great to have his skills in working with teachers, and building their capacity to use truly rigorous argumentation strategies professionally, right here at our school with its wonderful and deserving neighborhood kids. He significantly strengthens our already solid team.”
Classroom argument-centered instructional projects are in full swing at Williams. Nhora Gomez, in her U.S. History classes, has already conducted a classroom debate on whether the American revolutionaries were legally and politically justified in breaking from the Great Britain, and she is now working with ACE to develop argument-based activities to teach content to prepare her 10th graders for the Constitution Test. Algebra teacher David Amundson is conducting the argument-based project Algebraic Shark Tank in his classes. Chiffon Miller is having students take part in Refutation Two-Chance, exercising her students’ skills at counter-argument and responding to counter-arguments in a unit in her world history course in which students are studying the question as to whether European countries are justified in banning wearing of the naqib (Islamic head and facial covering) in public places. These are only a few of the activities underway, in the early stages of the program.
Chicago schools, like many others around the country, are being buffeted by forces less than conducive to learning. But amidst the challenges, Williams Prep is staying focused on achieving its mission “to involve all students in rigorous and engaging coursework that prepares them for college [and] assisting all students in becoming critical thinkers in reading, writing and problem-solving.” Williams teachers are in the midst of becoming measurably more skillful professionals in organizing their instruction around argumentation on the key issues in their subject areas to ensure that their school realizes its goals.