Friday, January 11, 2019

The College, Career, and Community Writers Program for Upper Elementary

by Emily Olson

“Mrs. Olson, can I look up for sources at home so I have more evidence?” 
“I saw this advertisement yesterday.  Do you think their claim even makes sense?” 
“Which piece of evidence do you think works best here?”
These thoughtful questions from my sixth grade students are, I believe, a direct result of the C3WP work we are doing in my classroom.  I teach three sections of 6th grade Language Arts, and so far this year, I have taken students through two different mini-units from the upper elementaryinstructional resources.  The first unit, “Identifying Arguments and Entering Conversations,” had undergone a few revisions from when I worked with it last year, but it was still pretty similar. I really love starting the school year with this unit because it sets the stage for civil discourse in the classroom.  It gets students looking for argument in the world around them and has created so many opportunities to push students to explain their thinking about why a billboard is convincing, why a meme is funny, or why any given argument is effective.
By the fourth week of school, I took all my language arts classes through the second upper elementary resource unit, called “Joining a Conversation in Progress.”   This unit had also been revised to use a different text set, but it retained one of my favorite writing frames from C3WP:  “At first I thought. . .then I learned. . .now I think.”  As students unraveled different aspects of civilian drones in society, we took time to pause and write about what they thought, what they were learning, and how it was affecting their thinking.  Most of the time students did not make a drastic change to their opinions, but hearing them acknowledge new viewpoints or push back against ideas using things they were learning was really quite thrilling.
Most recently, I worked through the “Organizing an Argument” unit with my homeroom group in our Social Studies sessions.  This unit, which has a text set focusing on youth competition, really pushed my students to choose the evidence that best fit their claim and organize all the pieces of their argument.  I watched students soften to ideas about competition that didn’t match their own, struggle through the process of how to organize the ideas they wanted to share, and even gather additional evidence on their own in order to clearly make their point.  The most exciting part of this unit was the progress students made in revising their claim into something clear and concise and, for some, even pushing themselves into nuanced claims.  Here are just a few examples from my students this year:
“I think Competition is good because it teaches kids to work hard in life.”
“I realize that families have to make their own decisions, but I believe that youth competition is a good and healthy thing for kids.”
“I think all kids should have the choice to be in youth competition no matter their age or their size, but I also think kids are taking it way too far.”
So many of my 6th graders are taking on the challenge of discussion and argument writing with a renewed passion.  I really can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds for these students. 
For more information about the Atwoodian Table that the students are showing us in their notebooks, check out Angela Hase's blogpost from August 12, 2018.

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