In a burst of unexplained energy (see my last blog post for more on my ongoing problem with this), I signed up for several sessions in Oakland Schools’ Literacy Webinar series. Some of the writers in the sessions were familiar to me, so I signed up for those sessions. But the first session—Revising Rhetorically: Re-seeing Writing through the Lens of Audience, Purpose, and Context—grabbed my attention, since I was knee-deep in introducing my new AP Language students to recognize audience, purpose, and context.
The webinar is next Thursday, October 22, and the session is followed by an optional discussion with Dr. Jennifer Fletcher about her book Teaching Arguments: Rhetorical Comprehension, Critique, and Response. Still riding the wave of energy, I ordered the book. Unfortunately, by the time it arrived, the wave was long gone. It sat on my desk under a pile of papers waiting to be graded.
Finally, I picked it up. The first chapter is “Open Minded Inquiry,” and right away I was hooked. Fletcher marries argumentative writing with critical reading, explaining that “a rhetorical approach to texts acknowledges that writing begins with reading.” She writes about teaching students to do “reconnaissance listening”; that is, we must teach students to “listen” to conversations they wish to join.
Listening to the Conversation
This concept hooked me, and I realized that I needed the book fourteen years ago, when I started teaching Debate. At the time, students would come to me, completely dismayed, and say they needed to change their topics because there was “no information” to support their arguments. A quick discussion with the student would usually reveal the same problem: there was “no information” because the argument was not a good one. The student had tried to cherry-pick evidence to support a side, rather than read about the topic—listening to the conversation—and then develop a position.
All through the opening chapter I was silently high-fiving Fletcher. She was nailing down every problem I’ve had when teaching students to argue effectively—both in my Debate classes and in argumentative writing assignments. Even more, her book gives specific techniques to tackle these problems, alongside useful classroom activities. Loads of them.
Several times I found myself wanting to ditch my planned activity for the day, and to replace it with one of her ideas. I didn’t—I’m trying to resist the urge to change things up quickly without thinking them through. But I know that I’ll be using her activities as I plan my upcoming units and rethink my course for next year. I’m hoping the webinar next week will help me get started on that rethinking.
Thursday, October 22, is coming up quickly, but you can still sign up for the webinar. You don’t need to read the book prior to the webinar, but I’d encourage you to get your hands on a copy. It’s a practical resource for helping our students think and read critically, and then enter those conversations with well reasoned, logical arguments.
Hattie Maguire is an English teacher and Content Area Leader at Novi High School. She is spending her fifteenth year in the classroom teaching AP English Language and Composition and English 10. She is a National Board Certified Teacher who earned her BS in English and MA in Curriculum and Teaching from Michigan State University.