As I’ve written before in this blog, sometimes I hear or read something that is very useful in my teaching, and it’s so obvious I hit myself on my head wondering how I could have missed making the connection before.
It happened to me again today.
Researchers Try to Promote Students’ Ability to Argue is a new article in Education Week. It shares recent studies that show the importance of students learning how to argue effectively. Particularly striking to me is what the article says about how teaching the art of persuasion can be helpful to students in “picking out flawed arguments and unsupported claims.”
We teach a great unit on Persuasive Writing to our English Language Learners. I’ve been very effective at helping my students learn how to write a persuasive essay. These writing skills will help them communicate better during their whole lives (not to mention help them pass the state high school exit exam).
How could I have not really viewed it as a critical thinking opportunity for students to apply these skills to the “universal” of examining the validity of persuasive techniques used on them all the time — especially in public life. I’ve done a little bit on advertising, but that has been pretty perfunctory.
This kind of “not seeing the forest through the trees,” I think, is another indication on how we can get so focused on “covering the curriculum” that it’s easy to miss engaging opportunities to make content more relevant and engaging to our students, and help them develop the skills they need to become active citizens in our society. On top of all that, the studies show that helping students in this way makes them better writers and improves listening and reading comprehension!
How often do we miss these kinds of opportunities everyday in our classrooms?
I suspect the problem arises from unit-thinking. I find it more useful to establish objectives for a year or at least a half year. Then instead of teaching within a unit, one teaches toward an objective within several units.
If a topic is important to know, it’s important enough to be taught thoroughly. Having annual objectives give you freedom to teach toward a goal multiple times without going over precisely the same curriculum repeatedly.
You can see what I mean by an annual goal for the writing portion of an English class here: http://www.you-can-teach-writing.com/goals-objectives.html