Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Argumentative Literacy in the Social Studies Classroom

After reading Mike Schmoker's book Results Now, it became clear to me that not only should the social studies classroom be filled with reading and writing, but also discussion, argument and deliberation! In chapter six Schmoker tells us that high school classrooms are nearly void of
discussion and argumentation! He says the following "discussion is indeed an essential part of a university education. But not, alas, of K–12 education. As the Learning 24/7 study makes clear, there was evidence of “academic dialog and discussion” in only 0.5 percent of the 1,500 classes they observed (Learning 24/7, 2005).
In Mike Schmoker's book Results NOW, he talks at length about argumentative literacy in Chapter 6.
In this chapter he talks about reading methods, discussion and writing, the three components of argumentative literacy. The part most often missing in Junior and Senior High classrooms is argumentative discussion. In our social studies classrooms we have experimented with Socratic Dialog, particularly with Socratic circles ( see Socratic Circles by Matt Copeland -  ) and other discussion models. In our history classes we use Socratic dialog because students are taught to bring clarification and problem solving to the discussion rather than worrying about winning that occurs in a debate format. ( see Socratic Dialog handout - ) Keeping an open mind and pursuing answers to good provocative Socratic questions leads to increased involvement and deeper thinking by students.
the first method that we promote is the Socratic circle format. Students are expected to come into the discussion with either annotated notes on the reading ( see) or notes on the agenda ( sample agenda) . Often times agendas are student created and distributed to class members 1-2 days prior to the discussion. At the start of the discussion, the class is divided at random( some teachers predetermine the groups with student personalities in mind) into two discussion groups. One half of the class will sit on the floor and will be the group discussing for the first 20 minutes of class while the 2ND group hovers over them in their desks watching and filling out an observation/participation form (see sample). Before the discussion actually begins, students pair up so that they can fill out the first box in the observation form regarding preparation. They show each other their annotated notes, agenda notes, etc. During the discussion itself, the students in the outer circle are collecting data on participation, use of discussion skills, and overall evaluate the discussion.
The teacher can either sit in a desk in the outer circle or walk around the circle. The teacher may interject to move the discussion forward, however I do assign a student leader to move the students through the agenda. Teachers tend to dominate the discussion, so it is best to stay out of it.
After 20 minutes, the groups switch positions, that way all students are involved in the discussion. A new student leader takes over at the midway point of the agenda. You may want the outer circle to spend 2-3 minutes analysing the inner groups overall discussion prior to the switch. The final 5 minutes of class, I usually make overall comments and do some debriefing of the Big Ideas or I do some type of formative assessment. ( The group discussion process can be evaluated on such criteria as group sensitivity, continuity of discussion, use of transitions, question relevance, and so on.)
Our social studies department 6-12 has begun implementing a variety of discussion formats that include socratic circles, retellings, 2 x 2 debates, deliberations, and others. Check out the department powerpoint titled Argumentative Literacy.

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