An Argument

Hi Xxxxx,

If you give that opinion writing lesson we saw you do at the district office last Friday in grade 4, Ms. J.’s class this Wednesday, I’m sure the students will do a fantastic job.  The teacher, Lxxxxxn, however, did not follow your flow of logic about writers workshop for the unit (no experience with workshop ~ i.e. concept of keeping topics in a notebook) and didn’t understand you using personal topics and essays to scaffold to opinion writing. Sigh.

I’ll just say that was her complaint today, plus the lingo.

My opinion was that you modeled well what any 4-5th teacher might do to launch opinion writing with a class.  Below is what I wrote to Lxxxxxn to answer her concern about the academic language.  You’re busy and you might scan for the red highlighting or not.

I have been in meetings past 6:45 tonight and am turning off teacher writing mode.   🙂 L.

Dear Lxxxxn,

Thank you for airing your opinions today about the academic vocabulary and the meaning of the anchor standard 1, opinion writing.  I will pass on to Exxxx your concern about not understanding what she was doing from a writers workshop point of view, and the disconnect you expressed.

This Mar 13th event has been on school calendar since December 2012, and I updated it when we came back to school in January in the body of your email.  You have every opportunity to let your wishes, needs and opinion be known about what is demonstrated in your classroom.  But think:  As a teacher, would you want it last minute? 

In 6th grade, according to the CCSS, opinion writing will be called argument.  (Aka rhetoric.) What we are doing in primary and elementary with opinion writing will lay the foundation.  And yes, a thesis (or position or stance or whatever you want to call the big idea) PLUS the reasons, support or evidence (whatever you want to call them) — those two things combined equal the argument.  You know that.  But that is a big concept to begin teaching our students.  They don’t know that.

Also, I recently learned that our school RenLearn STAR reading tests include such concepts and words.  The STAR reading test is tallied by domains.  One is “Integration of Knowledge and Ideas.”  After pondering what the heck that meant, I called their support person.  When I went to Core Progress on our RenLearn site, they also called it “Analyzing Argument and Evaluating Text.”  Argghh!
It means what the CCSS means: Recognizing the claim in an argument and evaluating or weighing the support given. The language our students are already encountering on STAR tests includes:

“Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support a claim.”  (GR 4)

Content-Area Vocabulary reasons or explanations; evidence, claims, support
Conceptual Knowledge determining support for a claim
Linguistic Competencies finding words that are clues to opinions: should, must, ought, believe, never, always, most
ELL Support Use a think-aloud with a short piece. Ask aloud as if to yourself: What is the author’s argument? What evidence does the author use to back it up?
Prerequisite and Related Skills
• Denotes Focus Skills
Grade 4 –
Identify and explain the main idea and explain how details support it
View Teacher Activity View Sample Item
Grade 3 –
Determine author’s message
View Sample Item
Grade 3 –
Identify and explain the main idea and distinguish it from supporting details in informational text

You may be shocked to learn that apparently no primary teachers or elementary teachers were in on the national common core standards writing process.  So we are naturally going to balk at the new content and the level of academic language.  (Are you surprised they didn’t ask us??)  However, I have taught writers workshop, as has Exxxx, in which my students learned the terminology for the parts of the essays they wrote.  We called it what traditional academics have for years:  thesis & evidence = argument.  (That’s what a 5th grader will hear in 6th grade.)  Adjust the language for your fourth graders if you like…great time to use synonyms.

I hope this helps you know that I did my best, in our limited lunch time frame, to hear your concerns.   I will say, in her defense, that Exxxx is totally maxed, teaching full time, taking GLAD training, and being willing to present for writing project at our school.  I will tactfully remind her to consider her audience‘s background with workshop.  But neither you, me, nor Exxxx are authors of the CCSS.

If you look for the checklist page in in the Common Core Writing Book I loaned you, (pg 6?) it shows at a glance what Anchor standard 1 (Opinion) looks like at each grade level K-5 all on one page.  Cut to the bone, no froo froo.  Check it out.

Writing growth, just like teaching growth, takes place slowly over time.  I trust you will glean something of value this Wednesday.

Every teacher, I believe, has to watch methods and practice, and in their own time ~~ invent their own teaching.  You are, in my opinion, a highly engaging, thoughtful teacher.  I trust you’ll figure out what and when you want to re-invent.

My very best,

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