Arguing for Students Arguing (in Essay Form)

As I continue the Great Adventure of being a Spartan, this week in one of my classes I was tasked with selected a genre of assessment that I have used or am at least familiar with in order to see its usefulness and advocate for either getting rid of it or for improving it so that student learning could improve.  I picked the Argumentative Essay.

arguingWhile I assumed that I would wind up eviscerating the idea of the essay, I found that if it is done well, the Argumentative Essay can check off a lot of the boxes that my readings call for in order to maximize learning outcomes for students.

I’m attaching the long version, but the cheat sheet version follows:

Through reading a lot of different articles on assessments, several important aspects of a good assessment kept cropping up.  These are:  

  • the need for students to get feedback as they go not just at the end
  • students need to be familiar enough with the assignment and the expectations of the assignment that they can self assess whether they have reached the goals or not
  • assignments need to assess students thinking while providing opportunities to problem solve
  • any feedback that is given to the final product should be more than a grade and should be useful for future assignments
  • and any assessment provides an opportunity for students to take knowledge from different realms and transfer them into another one.

With those things in mind (and the time I spent having students write essays), I have a few suggestions to make sure that we get the absolutely most out of this initiative.  The first is to figure out a way to work with your colleagues so that students are writing the essay for multiple classes.  This will allow students to transfer knowledge, while also spreading out the work load.  This leads to number two.  You must give feedback as the essay is being written, not just at the end.  I know that this is time consuming (hence get a bunch of other teachers involved) but writing an essay for class needs to be done in steps with each step getting feedback from you (idea, rough draft, and revision).  Additionally, students should be taught how to self assess their essays, because students that self assess have been shown to learn more than those that do not.  Finally, while using a rubric is fantastic, you should also give substantive feedback that students can use to improve their next essay or other assignment.

The full version can be found here or embedded below.

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