This week, I looked for another opportunity to incorporate writing argument into my reading lessons. We are currently reading survivor stories such as those of Aron Ralston, Neil Armstrong, Juliane Koepche, and Steve Callahan. Again, I chose the group that I thought would have the best chance of successful writing so that I could use their papers as examples for their peers. Once again, I had to change tactics! One of the comments from one of the students talked about how Aron’s personality had helped him to be a survivor. I thought a short minilesson on character traits would be sufficient to activate my students’ prior knowledge before they began discussing which person was the best example of a survivor. They formed groups and began a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the traits of three of the survivors we had read about.
I heard students having great discussions on what exactly personality traits were compared to physical traits. A couple of them disagreed, but were able to give examples of their thinking and then come to a consensus. However, a couple of the groups didn’t have a strong enough grasp of this skill, and talked their members into erroneous thinking. I tried guiding them back by asking questions such as what helped Ralston survive his ordeal. As you can see, some of them still didn’t get it. When we shared as a whole group, however, each student that shared had to justify their answer. They began to catch on quickly.
Next I asked them to begin thinking about which of the characters was the best example of a survivor. Again, since I didn’t have an example of a mentor text, We had a short whole-group discussion of our task and how we could begin our thinking processes. I asked them to think of a situation where someone has to make a claim and then defend it. Several of them immediately suggested lawyers and defendants in a court room. We talked about the language lawyers would use: strong, confident. By now, a few of them started to shout out the name of the character that they thought was the best example, but with no reasons to support their claim. Once again, we formed groups, but this time each group agreed on just one character to support.
Their new job was to discuss the evidence from the text that would support their claim. I heard good discussions from most of the students.
Here are three of the best examples from this week’s efforts:
After reading over their newest writing, I have made a wonderful discovery: the glimmer has become a glow! This writing is far from perfect, but I am very pleased with their efforts. Every child was participating and seemed happy to do so. Every single one of them made a claim and had at least one piece of evidence from the text that appropriately supported their claim. (I’m doing a happy dance here!) Did I mention that they weren’t perfect? Of course not, but now I have a starting place for truly differentiated conferences with conversation topics other than, “So how’s it going?” or “Oh? Still thinking? Well, OK. I’ll check back in a few minutes.” or”This looks really great! Keep it up!” We can edit or own pieces of writing rather than correcting random samples of other students writing.
The best part of the whole exercise was when one of the students, realizing that all three characters had been chosen to represent the best example of a survivor, turned to me and said, “So who’s right?” A classmate who rarely volunteers to be called on quickly replied, “We all are!”
Can you see the glow? I can, and it seems like the sunrise on the first morning of a glorious summer holiday.