Teachers Assess Writing Skills through Argumentation Exercise
October 12, 2023
On a cool in-service morning last Friday, English and social studies teachers gathered together with snacks and coffee to read and discuss what ninth graders thought about a potential ban on cell phones at TA.
“The idea of banning phone usage throughout the school is ultimately bizarre,” one student wrote. “I know that I use social media to connect with people I usually wouldn’t consider doing in person and it has helped me with finding friendships,” argued another. “This decision could be one of the worst in the history of mankind,” declared yet another student.
Although teachers greatly enjoyed reading these arguments, and noted that kids were “fired up” about the topic, the purpose of this activity was not to actually consider a ban on cell phones. Teachers gathered to get to know ninth graders as writers through the use of a common assessment, and to plan responsive, tailored writing instruction. Read the full assessment.
The task for students was to read three texts and write an argument essay in the form of a letter based on the provocative question, “Should Thetford Academy participate in a ban on cell phones at school?”
Teachers noticed that many students took the prompt seriously, used evidence from the texts to support their claims, and wrote passionate, organized essays. But the real benefit for teachers came in the form of action steps for how to both support our struggling writers, and to further challenge our proficient ones.
Teachers generated excellent ideas including developing a writing lab to help some students with sentence and paragraph writing; using more common rubrics, both within the English and social studies departments as well as between the two departments; and developing more models, graphic organizers, and lesson plans to teach the critical skill of writing effectively.
One of teachers’ primary goals is to get to know students’ academic strengths and challenges early in the year in order to plan instruction. And last Friday morning was a critical stepping stone towards achieving that goal. Whichever side of the cell phone debate students are on, TA’s teachers are now equipped to help them craft their arguments effectively.