This year, I’ve really struggled with bringing my students’ writing up to the level required to pass the EOC exam for our state. The gaps in their ability to write academically partially stem from the fact that the previous state exam required a personal narrative. Thus teachers focused diligently on developing their ability to write a personal narrative, littered with the word “I.” The trouble is tri-fold. 1) Personal Narratives are not used often in college classes. 2) The word “I” is rarely used in academic papers (though it is currently becoming more common). 3) Academic writing has taken a back-seat in their education thus far and their ability to coherently write about an academic topic — either in an expository or argumentative capacity — has suffered.
Therefore, I’ve had to laboriously facilitate them in developing their organization, paragraph structures, word choice, logic, syntax and topicality. “Revise and Resubmit” has been this year’s mantra. Only through writing and re-writing a paper have they been able to weed out their individual issues and understand what an academic tone requires. I paired this with one-on-one counseling with my students every time they turned in an essay.This approach has helped me to address both my advanced writers and my remedial writers and see substantial progress.
This week, I introduced them to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This concept was easily understood by most of my students. It paired well with discussing our dystopian novel study underway and we were able to use it to analyze our character’s actions. I then explained how it can be used in every argumentative paper they write, helping them create ethos. For my more advanced students, learning other philosophies like Mill’s Utilitarianism and Kant’s Categorical Imperative will give them an edge in writing argumentative papers. As a former competitive LD debater and Parli debater in college, using a criterion against which to weigh our values and decisions forms a stronger argument rooted in centuries of philosophy.
I strongly believe in the value debate offers our students. Debate and theatre are the original PBL classrooms. It’s a cryin’ shame debate no longer suffices in Texas for students’ required speech credit. (Seriously Texas, WTF?) Next year, I plan on incorporating more debate in my curriculum and teaching these strategies earlier in the year. I will require them to use these strategies in their argumentative papers.
As long as the state puts such a strong emphasis on argumentative writing — and I agree that it’s important — students must be exposed to philosophy, not just rhetoric, to be truly educated in persuasion.