Pam Muñoz Ryan’s young adult novel Esperanza Rising, published in 2000, tells the title character’s story, a 14 year old Mexican girl, who with her mother lose their large estate in Aguascalientes and emigrate to southern California in the 1930s, like tens of thousands of Mexicans did. Esperanza is thrust from an upper-class privileged life into a working class, meager existence, and the servants that she had in Mexico (who make the trip to the United States to re-locate with her) are now her peers.
A significant portion of all of the argumentation done in K-12 education today is rooted in the Toulmin model of argument. Every time you see claim – evidence – reasoning in the curriculum, in any of its multifarious guises, you are in the presence of a descendant of Toulmin. Few curriculum writers or teachers – and even fewer students – have a grounding in Toulmin’s argumentative theory. Because Argument-Centered Education draws on his thinking in our argument-centered resources and pedagogy we believe that it is important to dig a little deeper here.
A justly popular way to cap a research paper unit is to have students present their discoveries and their arguments to their peers. Some of our partner schools, though, have wanted to do more than offer students an opportunity to exercise and demonstrate their communication and presentation skills; so we have worked with them to incorporate a final critical component, modeled on an academic conference paper presentation, respondent comments, and rejoinder.
The Respondent and Rejoinder Activity complements and culminates the argumentation the students do in their extended research and writing project. Results so far have been salutary: students think harder when presenting, and use their research to engage in inquiry and argument that is social.
This is an argument-based project on Lois Lowry’s 1989 young adult novel on the Nazi occupation of Denmark and its impact on a gentile and Jewish family of friends. It asks students to study the novel in relation to debatable issues related to the central motif of bravery in the book, and then has students write a persuasive letter from the protagonist, Annemarie Johansen, to her Jewish friend in exile, Ellen Rosen, answering a question that gets to the heart of the question that the book asks: does the young Annemarie act courageously, and if so how courageously?
Templates can help students master the format, linguistic constructs, and conceptual structure of the more difficult aspects of argument writing. Refutation of counter-arguments certainly falls into the “difficult aspects” category. Through practice with the scaffolding device of the writing template, students can assimilate the formal aspects of written refutation so that they can cultivate the even more higher-order quality of thinking hard about why it is that the best counter-arguments against their position aren’t reasons to abandon their original position, even if they necessitate some concession and adjustment.