Note: My students’ digital poetry projects were due today. Three students in each period volunteered to perform their poems in class. We shared these for the first 10-15 minutes of class.
What the teacher did: Distributed the essay “Parkland Students Demand Change” by Leonard Pitts. That essay is found here: http://www.heraldsun.com/opinion/article201965719.html.
I explained to the students that this was an “anti-gun” editorial and that many of them may disagree with it. My goal in sharing this essay was not to sway anyone; the goal was to begin the process of analyzing how arguments are constructed, regardless of the piece being pro or con. Many of my students did not know the word “editorial,” or its distinction from a news story, so I explained this distinction. I then facilitated three laps through the piece:
Lap 1 - I read the editorial orally and had students highlight key points, words, sentences, and/or phrases.
What the students did: Students highlighted key points, words, sentences, and/or phrases and then shared out in small groups.
What the teacher did: Lap 2 - I asked student to re-visit the text and to identify and to mark some moves and techniques employed by Pitts that makes this good writing. I told them that this was not about agreeing with Pitts’ stance. Whether you agree with his position or not, he is a good writer. I asked kids to identify the “goodness” of his writing.
What the students did: Students marked some moves and techniques employed by Pitts. They then shared in groups, and then we shared (and marked the text) as a class. Here are some of the “moves” they noticed: intentional paragraphing for effect, intentional repetition of the student responses, the use of quotations, and the various uses of a colon.
What the teacher did: Lap 3 - Here the focus shifted from “What makes the writing good?” to “Is this an effective argument?” I introduced three ways a person may be persuaded:
Ethos is used as a means of convincing an audience via the authority or credibility of the persuader, be it a notable or experienced figure in the field or even a popular celebrity.
Example of ethos: “As a doctor, I am qualified to tell you that this course of treatment will likely generate the best results."
Pathos (appeal to emotion) is a way of convincing an audience of an argument by creating an emotional response to an impassioned plea or a convincing story.
Example of pathos: "If we don’t move soon, we’re all going to die! Can’t you see how dangerous it would be to stay?"
Logos (appeal to logic) is a way of persuading an audience with reason, using facts and figures.
Example of logos: "More than one hundred studies have been conducted over the past decade, and none of them suggests that this is an effective solution."
Students glued these definitions into their notebooks (I had printed them before school and I cut them down so they would fit). Students were then then asked to read the essay again, this time analyzing where Pitts used ethos, pathos, or logos.
What the students did: Students re-read the essay and marked “E” for where Pitts used ethos, “P” for where he used pathos, and “L” for where he used logos. Students worked on this for the rest of the period. They did not finish, so they were asked to complete the task as homework.
Some reflections on the lesson:
- The performance of the poems to start the beginning of class provided a nice respite from the heaviness of the unit—and from the heavy tone hovering above campus. The day started with a mandated faculty meeting in which we were informed of a written threat. As a safety precaution, the district office hired armed security to be on our campus today. Everybody—students and staff—are on edge. Poetry performances are exactly what we needed.
- When we study specific genres, I always have students pay attention to the moves and techniques used by writers in that genre. We list these on an anchor chart in class. In a previous unit, for example, we had done this throughout a month of narrative study, and that anchor chart still hangs in the classroom. As we now begin to examine “good” argumentative writing, we notice that many of the moves work across genres. The examples listed above— intentional paragraphing for effect, intentional repetition of the student responses, the use of quotations, and the various uses of a colon—work in argument as well as in narrative. Good writing is good writing.
- I needed ten more minutes of class time. My intention was to have students discuss Pitts’ use of ethos, pathos, and logos before taking a stand on whether it Pitt’s essay is an effective argument or not. This may have to carry over until tomorrow, or I may return to it when they actually sit down to write their letters next week.