Saturday, February 4, 2017

Launching An Argument Unit

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I'm not going to lie...argument has never been one of my favorite units to teach. Maybe it is because I am not a "great debater?" Maybe it is because in 18 years, I could count on one hand the arguments I have won against my wonderful husband. Maybe it is because it seems weird to encourage kids to "argue." But, whatever my reason, I need to get over it, because It. Is Happening! And regardless of MY level of interest, the truth is...KIDS LOVE TO ARGUE! They love to debate and to question things!

This year, we have a new Teacher's College reading unit...Researching Debatable Issues. It does also tie well with their writing unit Writing an Argument Essay. Win-Win. The downside, is that the Teacher's College does not always provide the most open-ended opportunities for voice and choice in a personalized learning environment. I will say, that the new reading unit really has stepped it up. The online components of being a Teacher's College district were great for this unit! Lots of articles and resources to help you. Let's be honest, finding age-appropriate resources that connect to debatable issues isn't always easy. We are very fortunate to have these resources available to us in our district.

In our grade level PLC, as we began unpacking our units of study and working to develop a cross-curricular unit plan, we had some intense discussions about what topics would be appropriate for our kiddos. We are not in a place where we could just "take the lid off" and let kids tackle any debatable issue they wanted. There are many factors that play in to that, but the bottom line is that we have some unmovable "fence posts" in that area. However, we as a team are committed to personalizing the learning of our students as best as possible. The compromise we found was to provide our students a "limited menu" of options to choose from. While this isn't as personalized as we wish it could be, it was the best we could do with the strong fence posts we are functioning within this unit. The Teacher's College resources set the stage for a lot of it, but we also added a few PC topics of our own. Here is our "final" list:
So, to launch this unit, we read a wonderful book: I Wanna Iguana. It is a hilarious story told through letters between a boy and his mother about why he should get a pet iguana. Even as 5th graders, they loved it. Big kids still love picture books, and we try to incorporate them whenever we can!
Link to Amazon
Following the book, we discussed three essential questions when examining argument writing:
  1. What is the claim being made?
  2. What reasons are given to support that claim?
  3. What evidence is given to support those reasons?
We, then, examined the types of persuasion that is all around us. The conversations that came up surrounding these different types of products was fantastic!
"Wow! Look at that! Why are those words bigger? Where do they put sugary cereals on the store shelves? What commercials do they play in between cartoons? Why do you think they put those words there? What words are missing?"--and, of course, they got quite the hit out of "Everything tastes better in a bacon bowl!"

Then, it was time to "Take Our Own Stand"--literally! We had all the kids stand up. We put up choices on the board (example: soccer vs. football), and the kids had to move to either side of the room to take a stand. We did these with a few, then they had to find someone on the opposing side of the room and "convince" them that they were right! The buzz in our room was electric!
Once this fun and excitement was done, we put the kids into random groups of 5. Each group got a folder full of articles that took a stand on one side of a topic or another. There was at least one article for each of our list topics. With 50+ kiddos, organization is key in these types of situations. If we aren't organized, there will be articles EVERYWHERE in our space without any rhyme or reason. To help with this, we put each article set into a numbered manila folder. Each article in that folder shared the same number. Each random kid group was assigned a number and the responsibility of keeping track of their team's folder! It was beautiful! <My Type A Heart Is Singing> ;) was time to DIG IN! Kids devoured one article after the next! They couldn't help but discussing while they read. They voluntarily took notes on what they were reading. We just sat back and soaked in the amazing-ness all around us for a few minutes! Jumping into those initial small group conferences was energizing. It made ME enjoy argument! They were so engaged and excited!
In our space, we have the most amazing kids. Our room is full of so many diverse needs and backgrounds. We have multiple students identified as having disabilities. We also have even more students that receive ELL services. One of our students is even just starting to learn English for the very first time (He's now reading at a Level J...we're SOOO proud of his growth!). With the many needs, kids need different ways to access materials. We are fortunate to have Google Read & Write for all of our students in our district. This amazing tool allows for almost all websites and PDF's to be read out loud to kids! It also allows you to "simplify" texts from sites, creates pictures notes, and more amazing features...all connected to their Google Drives!

With the new updates to Google Classroom (it's about time, Google...), I am able to send websites and articles to individual students. This helps so much with the way that we personalize learning for our kiddos! Now, no matter what their ability or background, kids can access argument texts and have rich conversations with their peers! <I Heart Google!>
One of our students listening to an article using Google Read & Write!
Following an amazing immersive day, kids continued to become familiar with the topics within their folders. They debated (naturally) with each other, shared facts organically, and were truly fired up about what they were reading. Two days after this launch, we held a "grand conversation" about what we had learned so far. Kids led this, and they brought up the topics they learned about. What sides they were noticing. Some even were ready to declare their own claim about a topic. We took notes on all their great ideas. Then we provided them with a simple form to make a "final selection" on a debatable issue that they wanted to pursue further. 

Debate can be a tricky thing. There are so many topics in this world that may not be completely age appropriate for "littles", so we have to be a little protective. Heck, even we as adults are having some difficulty lately arguing and disagreeing respectfully. That being said, we still wanted to give our kids some freedom over their topic selection. Due to this, we added a selection in our form for "I have an idea I want to share with my teacher." We were floored with the amazing (age-appropriate) topics that they came up with. In addition to the list below, we now also have kids studying:
  • Whether or not kids should have caffeine
  • Reducing carbon emissions by increasing hybrid/electric car use
  • Why improving public education in America is important
  • Whether or not we should use nuclear power
  • And a few more that are digging into topics of interest to see if there is enough info out there to support a claim!

From here, we put the kids into "topic-alike" groups. Kids created shared documents to share digital resources (without being!). They took their own notes in graphic organizers. And, most importantly, are naturally forming opinions that they want to share with others.

So, what's next? We are going to allow the kiddos to learn more about their debatable issue. From there, we are going to conduct "flash debates" with others. We are going to talk about the importance of counter-claims. How understanding points that are different than yours can strengthen your own argument. Ultimately, they will write an argumentative essay aligning with the 5th grade writing standards.

I know I was a little unsure at first, but, as always, putting trust in the kids prevails. They have made me LOVE argument! Their energy, excitement, and passion are completely contagious. I can't wait to see where the rest of this unit goes!

What about you? How do you teach argument? Have you found any resources that have made a great impact on your units? We'd love to learn from you!

Happy Teaching!


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