Book Review: ‘Academic Moves for College and Career Readiness’ (Corwin Literacy, 2015), by Jim Burke and Barry Gilmore
From the Outset
Renowned educators and education writers Jim Burke and Barry Gilmore have put together an eminently useful resource binder for teaching what they identify as the most essential “academic moves” in K-12 education: Academic Moves for College and Career Readiness. This study and collection of resources on the “15 must-have skills every student needs to achieve” germinated from the authors’ day-to-day opportunity, they tell us, for reading and reflecting on the problems and prompts handed out to students by their teacher colleagues.
What are we actually asking our students to do in classrooms across disciplines? How do these directions interact with the requirements of current standards such as the Common Core or the new SAT? And how can teachers be assisted in becoming more intentional about teaching the precise academic skills their assignments and assessments demonstrate that they most value? These were the generative questions of the book. Burke and Gilmore wish to bring “consistency and clarity to the language” of school work, “the language of learning.” They quote Argument-Centered Education founding advisers Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein in saying that they intend for their resource binder to lay bare the “‘deep, underlying structure, [the] internal DNA’ common to the academic and cognitive moves” that students must learn to make, across all subject areas.
On first blush, you wouldn’t think that Sid Fleischman’s 2006 biography of Harry Houdini, Escape!, would be ripe for debatification, particularly as the centerpiece of middle school reading unit. But it turns out to present a solid demonstration that argument can productively organize curriculum far beyond obvious controversial issues.
Argument-Centered Education worked with a middle school partner to argumentalize its five-week unit on Escape! for its English language arts classes, using the five steps.
Student-Generated Questions: A Simple Technique to Increase Engagement, Critical Thinking, and Academic Argumentation
by Karen Sheehan
Kids love to argue. Compelling students to argue in an academic way is the challenge. Fortunately, there is a simple solution: asking questions. The ability to ask well-conceived questions is the foundation for the ability to formulate well-conceived answers, which is the cornerstone of argument. Teachers who do not regularly require students to generate questions are missing out on an effortless opportunity for engagement and higher order thinking in an environment that fosters academic argumentation.
by Mike Schmoker and Carol Jago
Simplifying and De-Mystifying Instruction
The English Language Arts Common Core could have no less than a transformational effect on American education. But this will only occur if (ironically) we recognize that the actual lists of standards themselves are the weakest portion of the Common Core documents. Done right, the ELA Common Core has the potential to right the ship of literacy, to facilitate, at long last, the creation of coherent curriculum in every course and to rescue us from the fads and pseudo-‐literacies of recent decades. This would thus eventuate in the greatest proportion of college and career-‐ready students in our history. The keys to its success are clarity and simplicity.
As many are beginning to recognize, the true strength of the (still-‐evolving) Common Core is found in the ancillary documents and appendices that accompany the standards. Imperfections notwithstanding, the general emphases contained in these documents describe authentic, traditional literacy far better than their state-‐level predecessors. Despite some occasional over-‐reach, the appendices go a long way toward clarifying what students need most and have always needed: abundant opportunities to engage in close reading of large amounts of high quality, complex text, combined with opportunities to engage in discussion and writing grounded in text.
Posters have gone out to schools and districts near and far identifying the five universal steps to argumentalzing instruction — though some posters remain, if you haven’t gotten yours. Previous articles in The Debatifier have (in parts 1 and 2) described criteria and analyzed the process for effectively formulating a debatable issue: the first step in the five-step argumentalization process.
It’s time to take a closer look at the second step to argumentalizing instruction: teaching content through arguments. Students’ obtaining content knowledge and understanding is not only required to meet specific academic objectives across disciplines, it is also (as we see time and again) essential to their ability to make convincing, college-directed academic arguments.