Monthly Archives: December 2017

On Parent/Teacher Conferences

“Teachers who act as if they have something to learn as well as something to contribute, establish better learning relationships with students and parents.”

Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan What’s Worth Fighting for Out There? (1998)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

The Weekly Text, December 8, 2017

For the past couple of years, I’ve strived to conceive of a unit or two on argumentation. It has turned out to be a complicated and tricky endeavor, and I remain in struggle with several issues in its conception and execution: first and foremost, for whom am I writing this? Argumentation involves a high degree of abstraction, which is hard to adapt and differentiate, yet I have a duty to my students who struggle. Is this philosophical work in logic and epistemology, or an English Language Arts unit on rhetoric? What is the difference between a thesis and an argument? How does one postulate a thesis? How does the process of argumentation proceed? What logical progression should the lessons in a unit on argumentation follow?

This year, I am finally writing this unit. I wish I could tell you it is going smoothly, but I continue to wrestle with a lot of the issues set out above. Furthermore, despite an extensive search for books on teaching argumentation to high school students, I’ve tended to turn up either highly technical books (Stephen Toulmin’s The Uses of Argument) or relatively tedious and superficial manuals like George Hillocks’ Teaching Argument Writing, Grades 6-12, which I found a complete waste of my time.

My fingers began typing the cliche “In the end” to begin this paragraph. However, I instantly realized that I am nowhere near the end of thinking about the issues involved in planning this kind of instruction. In fact, I expect that I’ll continue to work at these materials, either revising them, or adapting and differentiating them, for years to come.

For the moment, however, I have decided that the first unit (of two planned) will be on the rhetoric of argumentation. Fortunately, there is an excellent book to inform the materials I’m developing, namely Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein’s They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing. The authors supply an assortment of rhetorical templates that students may use–either directly in their own writing, or as guides to developing their own rhetorical moves in the kinds of papers high school and college classes require them to write.

In any case, one of the first things I noticed as I began teaching argumentation was–and is, alas–that students didn’t understand the difference between an argument and a quarrel. I knew I needed to begin by resolving that confusion.

That said, the first lesson in Unit 1 of Arguing Your Case (as I am calling these two units) is designed simply to help students differentiate between arguments and quarrels. Here is the lesson plan for differentiating between quarrels and arguments. I begin all my lessons, to ease the transition between classes, with a do-now exercise. For this lesson, you might want to use (since with any work on argumentation, we endeavor to endow our students with the skills to participate in academic discourse–which is what they do in most if not all of the papers they write) this context clues worksheet on the noun discourse. The mainstay of the lesson is this worksheet on distinguishing between quarrels and arguments. Finally, you might find useful the teacher’s copy of the worksheet.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

The Devil’s Dictionary: Populist

“Populist,  n. A fossil patriot of the early agricultural period, found in the old red soapstone underlying Kansas; characterized by an uncommon spread of ear, which some naturalists contend gave him the power of flight, though Professors Morse and Whitney, pursuing independent lines of thought, have ingeniously pointed out that had he possessed it he would have gone elsewhere. In the picturesque speech of his period, some fragments of which have come down to us, he was known as ‘The Matter with Kansas.'”

Excerpted from: Bierce, Ambrose. David E. Schultz and S.J. Joshi, eds. The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2000.

Cultural Literacy: The Beatles

As we approach the sad anniversary of John Lennon’s murder (it’s this Friday), today seems like a good time for Mark’s Text Terminal to offer this Cultural Literacy worksheet on The Beatles.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: 237,600 Miles or 30 Earths

“237,600 miles is the average distance between the earth and the moon, a number which suggests an intriguing inner harmony to our universe, for it is thirty diameters of the earth, sixty radii of the earth or 220 moon radii. The mystical author and numerologist John Michell would reveal these figures with the full force of a revelation during his lectures. A self-declared ‘radical traditionalist,’ Michell campaigned long and hard against the destruction of England’s ancient number systems in favor of the decimal system.”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

Bulwark (n.)

Here is a context clues worksheet on the noun bulwark. In preparing this worksheet I was mildly surprised to learn that this word also has use as a transitive verb (i.e. Someone bulwarks something).

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Albert Einstein on Teacher’s Salaries

“Now to the salaries of teachers. In a healthy society, every useful activity is compensated in a way to permit of a decent living. The exercise of any socially valuable activity gives inner satisfaction; but it cannot be considered as part of the salary. The teacher cannot use his inner satisfaction to fill the stomachs of his children.”

“Ensuring the Future of Mankind,” from a Message for Canadian Education Week, March 2-8, 1952. Published in Mein Weitbild, Zurich: Europa Verlag, 1953, excerpted from: Einstein, Albert. Ideas and Opinions. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1982.