Five Pain Points in the Argument Writing Process and a Few Quick Fixes

 

This photo was taken last fall, as I led a week-long lesson study on argument writing at the middle level. It’s interesting: Many teachers tell me that narrative is difficult to teach, but personally, argument writing has inspired a great deal of my own growth over the last 25 years.

Doesn’t that sound sweet and super positive? Yes. Argument writing has been an inspiring teacher.

But y’all, you KNOW how that growth happens.

It happens on our knees, as we’re picking up the shattered remains of that lesson we worked so hard to perfect.

It’s painful, friends.

I know.

Over the last week, I’ve unpacked five different pain points in the argument writing process and shared a few quick solutions with friends in my Facebook group. If you’ve been keeping up with me anywhere in this new year, then you know that my #FiveMinuteFix videos are a new project that I’m having fun dabbling with. This is a whole new (and relatively uncomfortable) world for me, and I’ve appreciated everyone’s encouragement and support. Thanks for watching and for sharing them too, if this was you.

More importantly, thank you for being honest about your struggles and willing to challenge my thinking and deepen the conversations I’ve tried to start about so many of the tricky issues we writing teachers face. Every single time someone thanks me for sharing my time or work or ideas with them, I’m a little bit stunned by their gratitude. The fact is that giving only helps me get better. Every conversation, coaching session, lesson study, and project inspires new learning, pushes my perspective, and forces me to problem solve in ways that aren’t often easy but are always rewarding in the end. My professional learning network may be small is size but it is mighty in stature, and I’m so grateful for all of you.

So, these were the pain points that we explored together this week:

  • First, we thought about the importance of helping all writers–even our youngest ones–seek and speak to real audiences about things that really matter, in order to be of real influence. I’m speaking to this in a general way in the first video in the series. I’ve shared some strategies that might help us accomplish this better in primary classrooms specifically right here.
  • Then, I put my own greatest challenge on the table: Helping writers seek and adequately substantiate meaningful claims. So often, writers over commit to an argument far too early in the process. Then, they struggle to find solid evidence to support their claims, or worse, they settle for the shallow stuff and end up producing pieces that are of no influence whatsoever. This is especially concerning because when readers don’t respond to a writer’s work, the writer’s confidence collapses. This is how I changed my practice, after wrestling hard with this issue for well over a decade.
  • We spoke a bit about sophistication next, and I suggested that teaching writers about three modes of persuasion–even those at the elementary level–might elevate the complexity of their arguments while adding voice and establishing a unifying purpose for their pieces. You can learn more about the three modes of persuasion right here.
  • And speaking of sophistication, I know that many of you struggle to move writers past the use of tired forms (like the five or six or seven or–whatever–paragraph) essay. Starting with refutation is one way to invite experimentation, and when it comes to structuring an argument, this kind of play matters.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I know that whenever I help writers define topics that truly matter to them–when I invite them to write about the stuff that they are most passionate about–they often choose topics and take stances that make people uncomfortable. And the thing is, that’s a good thing. That’s what we’re supposed to be helping kids do–speak courageously (and in an informed manner, of course) about what matters. Only here’s the problem: Doing so might trigger other kids in the room. It might trouble their parents. It might even put people at risk. The last video in the series is all about tackling tough topics, and I’d love to know your thoughts on this. I’d love to have you share your ideas, too.

If any of these ideas resonate with you, and if you have other perspectives and approaches to share, I sure hope that you will! Let’s connect on Twitter, or come find me on Instagram, LinkedIn, or Facebook. 

I’ve been pretty honest about this reality, friends: These are five minute fixes. I’m taking five minutes to think about them and less than five to share them. I hope you’ll share your ideas too, so we can all learn more from you.

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