A Look Back at the TCRWP Argument Institute

In December 2013, the TCRWP hosted its first institute on argumentation. The week was kicked off at Teachers College, beginning with words from Lucy, followed by a keynote from Doug Reeves. During initial sessions, participants learned about the Project’s collaboration with the Educational Testing Service (ETS). In 2012, a group of staff developers from the TCRWP, a group of researchers from CBAL – the research arm of ETS, and a cadre of K-8 New York City classroom teachers and literacy coaches began a think tank in order to explore learning progressions in argumentation and ways to strengthen the argument writing and reading of elementary and middle school students. This institute, then, served as an opportunity for the TCRWP to share its current thinking about debate and argument within reading and writing workshop classrooms that has been developed as a result of the shared collaboration with CBAL, piloting and trying out argumentation work in schools as well as through the work of study groups and advanced summer Institute sections over the past years.

After learning about this collaboration, participants then tried the argument protocol developed by the think tank. In this case, participants studied Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, asking, “Is the Giving Tree strong or weak?” During this debate role play, participants were asked to suspend judgment, gather evidence on both sides, and then enter the debate ready to present their claim and rebut the counter-claim. The protocol ended with participants flash drafting argument essays. As they experienced this protocol, teachers, administrators and literacy leaders got a felt sense for the work that students are now doing as they strive to meet the demands of the Common Core State Standards.

argumentationAfter a day at Teachers College, participants traveled to New York City schools where they watched staff developers lead this work with students in upper grade classrooms. Using a text set that included excerpts from Albert Marin’s Oh, Rats!, students in grades 3-8, researched rats, asking, “Are rats helpful or harmful?” While many students were at first unsure of the ways rats could be helpful, through research they soon discovered several potential benefits. Rats could cure world hunger, help humans detect land mines after wars have been fought, and have been instrumental in medical research.

Realizing the debate is more complex than originally anticipated, students were nudged to create more nuanced claims on the third day of the institute, now thinking about the argument they must present to a particular audience. They anticipated what doctors and cooks might find compelling and convincing evidence when bolstering their claims.

As the students’ arguments became more cohesive, logical and rooted in evidence, institute participants worked on lean coaching, finding ways to whisper in or call out prompts to help students orchestrate their argument skills and facilitate the experience of moving through the debate protocol.

Participants also got the chance to study new work in engaging in rounds of argument with the same texts, work which pushes students to more closely analyze craft and structure of texts. Further, participants were able to experience some of the new assessments in argumentation that CBAL is developing for ETS. They got the chance to step into the shoes of students taking the assessments and see what the future of assessments in argumentation is likely to be.

The week ended with a variety of workshops held at Teachers College as well as keynote addresses from Mary Ehrenworth, Deputy Director for Middle Schools at the TCRWP, and Deanna Kuhn. Kuhn is a distinguished professor at Teachers College and author of The Skills of Argument. She shared her research, supporting the idea that students need to see arguments in the world around them as well as arguments in texts they read, and then they need the space to craft claims and present their findings, ultimately learning how to make their voices heard. The ultimate goal is to help to foster students who will, in time, become empowered members of society.

To learn more about debates and to see students and teachers in action, you can view our classroom videos and read articles written by TCRWP staff developers.

Videos: http://vimeo.com/56069187

Step by Step Guide in Creating Protocols: How to get Argument_Protocols_Up_and_Going_in_Reading_Workshop.pdf

Ways to Support Argument Essays: Looking_at_Students_ Argument_Essays_to_Plan_Instruction.pdf

Support Students’ Speaking and Listening Skills: Arugment_Talk_Protocol.pdf

We have several reading and writing institutes this summer. Please click here for more information: tc-summer-institutes.html

We hope to host the argumentation institute again next year, so be sure to create a TCRWP account if you don’t already have one and to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!