Not every meal we prepare (or eat) at home is elaborately planned, prepared, and presented. Sometimes we cook “quick & easy” meals, but even these we generally aspire to make nutritious, balanced, and appetizing, too. Similarly with our classrooms: though we strive to be planned, ready, and prepared every day, we are not always implementing finely wrought, meticulously developed curriculum. But we should make these lessons college-directed and academically nourishing, too. What follows is an example of just such a “quick & easy” piece of curriculum, argumentalized.
One of our partner high schools recently took students to see the wonderful production of A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theater in Chicago. So I suggested an easy-prep argument-based seminar on the day after the trip (with possibly some de-brief and short writing for follow-up the next day).
Vivian Leventis is an expert middle school teacher at one of our partner schools, the Helen C. Peirce School of International Studies. She developed a social studies unit called “Kids on Strike” that is being implemented at the school this fall. The unit is built around Susan Bartoletti’s 2003 study of the largely forgotten history of the extensive child industrial labor in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (at its height, more than 2 million children worked in manufacturing jobs), and the movement to organize child labor to protect kids’ rights, health, and safety.
One of our partner school’s English classes are using informational texts right now to conduct classroom debates on transgender troops and North Korean nuclearization. In a lesson modeling arguments to support positions on these issues, a student built an argument that banning transgender troops would weaken the U.S. military by shrinking it. The student had evidence from the New York Times Upfront Magazine on the number of transgender troops currently serving. She didn’t have much in the way of reasoning in her model. So we had all the students perform a quick-write to supply the missing reasoning. We looked at a couple of student samples, using a document camera, comparing their strengths and weaknesses, and ending with a synthesized model of reasoning.
About five years ago, when we got started with the work we are doing now – first calling it curricular debate, then argument-centered instruction – partner school teachers and administrators asked us two simple but important questions: what are the specific professional capacities that Argument-Centered Education will develop and how will we know that they have, indeed, developed? We undertook the kind of inquiry-driven, analytical process that we try to build into the curriculum that we design with partners on our own argument pedagogy, and we produced the Observation of Argument-Centered Instructional Capacity (OACIC) Inventory.
Teachers and administrators from Argument-Centered Education partner schools have made an important request over the past couple of years: since we cannot expect students to learn the difficult skills of academic argumentation all at once, how can these skills be taught and built in sequence?