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Meeting the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts: Argument Writing

In this investigation, we’ll explore what you can do to support students’ argument writing and learn to integrate key aspects of argument into their writing as this student has done. You’ll see that working on argument writing with students relies on an inquiry approach to teaching social studies as well as an emphasis on literacy. As a result, working on argument writing in social studies classrooms also integrates the expectations of the C3 Framework—specifically the emphasis on an inquiry approach to learning social studies and communicating conclusions as outlined in Dimension 4.  

As a result of participating in this Investigation, you will become familiar with  
  • The CCSS argument writing standards and what argument writing involves in the context of social studies.
  • The ways in which the C3 Framework supports argument writing.
  • Key teaching practices that support students’ growth in writing social studies arguments.  
This investigation has three parts: Investigate, Create and Connect. Please be sure to do all three sections.
Common Activity One: An Overview of Teaching Argument Writing
Teaching argument writing is a process that plays out across a unit of instruction. It involves not just assigning writing, but engaging students in questioning and analysis, supporting their thinking and reading, and teaching writing explicitly. Teaching argument writing is not just something that happens at the end of a period; rather, it relies on an overall inquiry approach to teaching social studies combined with explicit instruction in literacy practices. Teaching argument writing requires sustained, systematic effort. The results are worth it.
This investigation will focus on 3 aspects of practice that support students’ growth as argument writers. Each aspect is accompanied with practical tools for putting these strategies into instructional practice.
  1. Set up students to “Do” history
  2. Help students analyze, sort and organize evidence
  3. Teach writing explicitly
Watch the Web seminar: Teaching Argument Writing in the Social Studies Classroom  (length: 1:08) presented by the author of this Investigation, Chauncey Monte-Sano, Associate Professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Education.  
Videos included in the Web seminar:

Access the Web seminar PowerPoint here.  

Reflect and Discuss:
Use the "After Viewing the Web Seminar" reflection questions in Handout #1 to guide your team's shared conversation and reflections.
Common Activity Two: Getting Familiar with the Common Core and C3 Framework
 Read Take a closer look at the Common Core standards for argument writing. The writing standards for history/social studies, science, and other technical subjects in grades 6-12 are on pages 63-66 of the CCSS. The writing standards for grades K-5 are on pages 18-21. The K-5 writing standards refer to argument writing as opinion writing. Kindergartners are asked to express an opinion, but at all other grade levels students are asked to support their opinion or claim. In grades 1-3, students support opinions with reasons, in grades 4-5 students support opinions with facts and details, and in grades 6-12 students support claims with evidence and reasoning. We’ll focus here on grades 6-12 (pages 63-66).

 Read Let’s take a closer look at the “Evaluating Sources and Using Evidence” benchmarks in Dimension 3 of the C3 Framework on pages 54-55. Then, look at the “Communicating Conclusions” benchmarks in Dimension 4 of the C3 Framework on pages 60-61. 
Reflect and Discuss:

Use the three sets of "Common Activity Two" reflection questions in Handout #1 to guide your team's shared conversation and reflections.

Common Activity Three: Your Students’ Argument Writing in Light of the Common Core & C3
One important way of working on writing is reflecting on student work and using that work to develop learning goals. We started by looking at “Student A’s” paper from the Rosa Parks investigation on the Historical Thinking Matters website  (see slides 2-4 from the Web seminar PowerPoint). Now, collect your own students’ writing and analyze it.
Collect and Read
Take some time to gather some examples of your students’ writing (preferably their argument writing) and read through them. Compare your students’ writing to the CCSS standards and Dimensions 3 & 4 of the C3 Framework (pull these up in front of you as you look at student work). If you do not have student writing samples, look at a colleague’s or assign a brief writing task to your students. If that doesn’t work, take a look at the examples of argument writing in Appendix C of the Common Core (This is not ideal as most of these essays are not focused on social studies; however, it will give you practice in looking at student work and thinking about possible goals for students as well as how student writing might vary by grade level).
Reflect and Discuss:

Use the "Common Activity Three" reflection questions in Handout #1 to guide your team's shared conversation and reflections.

For More Information/Additional Activities
Deeper Dive Activity 1: SET UP STUDENTS TO “DO” HISTORY. 
Set your students up to DO history. Go to websites to find a central question and document set that would set the stage for argument writing in your classroom. Students need an opportunity to make an argument; therefore it’s important to have a central question with multiple possible responses. Students need to develop their arguments based on evidence and need to cite evidence to support their claims; therefore, it’s important to provide document sets. Use the guidelines for creating or selecting central questions and document sets in Handout #4. Go to the following sites to select a set of lesson materials or to create your own:
Learn more about facilitating discussion with particular strategies for discussion and using graphic organizers to help students sort through ideas. Read about Structured Academic Controversy and Inquiry discussions on the Teaching History Clearinghouse website. Notice the sample graphic organizers included in the materials (see links embedded) to help students organize and sort their thoughts. Choose one approach to discussion and a graphic organizer format to help students think through a central question and document set. Plan out a lesson that involves discussion and sorting through ideas using a graphic organizer with a colleague. Visit each other while teaching it and debrief what went well and what could be improved after you’ve taught the lesson. (Access C3 Framework Lesson Templates here.)
Deeper Dive Activity 3: READ THE WRITING NEXT REPORT to the Carnegie Corporation by Steven Graham and Dolores Perin. Use the questions below to guide group conversations and reflections.  See "Activity 3: Read the Writing Next Report" section in Handout #1 for  reflection questions to discuss as a group. 


(1) Talk to Your Colleagues Who Teach Writing:
Before you go further, work with colleagues at your school to clarify your goals for students’ argument writing. Talk to colleagues in the English department or other teachers who focus on writing at your school and find out what expectations they have for students’ argument writing and how they communicate those expectations to students. 
Reflect and Discuss:

Use the "Create Activity: Talk to Your Colleagues" reflection questions in Handout #1 to guide your team's shared conversation and reflections.

(2) Read: One way teachers convey expectations is through rubrics. Read examples of content-neutral argument writing rubrics at the Reading and Writing Project created by Lucy Calkins. Within the “resources” section, go to “reading and writing performance assessments.” Then find a sample argument writing rubric—for example, see the “8th grade performance assessment rubric” within the 8th grade Fall folder. 
Then, read the brief article by Chauncey Monte-Sano, “What makes a good history essay?” in the November/December 2012 edition of Social Education to gather ideas about argument writing that are content-specific.
Reflect and discuss: Use the "Create Activity: Read Examples" reflection questions in Handout #1 to guide your team's shared conversation and reflections.

(3) Explain and Create: Rubrics and graphic representations of text structure are tools that serve several purposes: they can convey your expectations for writing to students, they can help you assess student work, and they can provide feedback for students.

  • Use Handout #2 to create a graphic representation of a text structure OR Handout #3 to create a rubric that you can use with your students to convey your expectations for argument writing.
  • Try it out: Use what you create with students, reflect on the experience as a team, and revise it after testing it.  
  • Create a blog post to share the item you created.  In the blog post describe the process you used for development of this tool and the context it's intended for (topic, grade-level, etc). Upload the tool as an attachment. Tag the post with the topic tag "C3 Argument Writing Tool." 
In this Investigation you had the opportunity to learn about
Now, spend some time thinking about your learning and start to develop some plans for action based upon the opportunities and context in your site.  Use the following questions to help you plan next steps (these are also found in Handout #1):
What? What now are my priority learning goals for students’ argument writing? What now am I going to try to do in my classroom to support students’ argument writing?
So What? What have I learned that would help me work with other educators to (a) reflect upon students’ argument writing in social studies? (b) share and discuss strategies to support students’ argument writing in social studies?
Now What? What do I need to implement some of the teaching strategies to support students’ argument writing in my classroom? 
Consider the following support mechanisms needed from:
  • Fellow teachers
  • School administrators
  • Parents and families
  • Community members
Summarizing Blog
At the conclusion of your study of this Investigation, post a summarizing blog of the main ideas from your group conversations.  You might choose to follow the What?/So what?/Now what? format directly above, or an alternate format option is to share:
  • Three lessons learned or key ideas that resonated with your group
  • Two things you will try
  • One question that your have
When creating your blog post, tag the post with the topic tag "Argument Writing Reflections."