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Tag: lesson plans (page 2 of 3)

arguing, if you care to

The topic for the day is argument. I was up late trying to figure out a fresh way to approach this topic with my students (suffering from a little teacher’s block). I wanted to balance my desire for a more democratic classroom (one that resists heavy-handed lecture) and the practical need to get them quickly to an understanding of the basic principles behind effective argumentation and persuasion. The thing is I didn’t want to tell them anything and I didn’t want to presume to know all there is on the subject. I wanted them to create the content for the day’s lesson, at least partly. Here’s what I came up with.

    slide show to facilitate a discussion on argument

  1. Students formed groups of three and were given large sheets of paper along with the requisite crayons and magic markers. They were instructed to make a top-ten list (Letterman-style) of tips on how to argue. (In other words, how do you get other people to listen to you and accept what you’ve got to say?) I stressed that they have fun with it.
  2. After some time, students posted their lists on the walls around the classroom. Then each group presented their lists to the class, and we used the lists as departure points for discussion on what works and what doesn’t when arguing. Invariably, some of what students put on their lists is way out there (designed to be funny), but is very useful to discuss things like logical fallacies and unethical or tyrannical communication tactics.
  3. During the presentations of each groups list, I found it interesting and helpful to work towards some discussion of the difference between quarreling and academic argument. Also, I pushed a recent interest of mine regarding the popular assumption that argument must be agonistic–that argument must strive for the defeat of one’s opponent rather than for achieving common understanding and for revealing the truth of the matter. The discussion can be very interesting and enlightening around this subject.
  4. Ok, eventually (in the next class meeting), we were able to segue to a discussion of Aristotle’s artist proofs or persuasive appeals (logos, pathos, and ethos), as just one useful way to talk about persuasive tactics. As a class, we went through several examples or arguments in various media (assuming that all things are arguments), and asked the question “How is this argument constructed?” for each. The three examples that were particularly useful were a video clip regarding school from Professor Michael Wesch of Kansas State, a clip from Elie Wiesel’s speech “The Perils of Indifference,” and the slam poem “Totally Like Whatever” by Taylor Mali.
  5. As an extension of this discussion (given the theme in each of the arguments mentioned above), I found it useful to discuss the general sense of apathy or indifference I often observe in students. This, of course, can be tied directly to argument making, but can also be a much broader discussion. I chose to make it a little broader as it connected to the larger theme of our course–the aims of education.

questioning tradition

Re-vision. Re-seeing. Looking and then looking again. Shifting points-of-view. Repositioning vantage points. Is what we see truth or mere convention? In my composition class, I’ve been introducing students gradually to a deeper understanding of revision as a concept of rethinking, as opposed to simple editing. We’ve been using Adrianne Rich’s essay “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision” as the basis for this discussion. I facilitate with these slides. Here’s how we went about it in class last week:

  1. As students walked in, I displayed McArthur’s Universal Corrective Map, pictured below, and asked that they freewrite on what they thought and felt about this map.


    As usual, this really bothered some folks, resulting in comments like “that’s just wrong.” Others demonstrated a real misunderstanding of the physical universe, saying things like “that’s not how the world looks from outer space–it’s upside down.” This in itself created some nice discussion, but once I showed this clip from the TV show West Wing, things really heated up.
  2. From here, I paraphrased what Rich says about us being “drenched in assumptions” of the world and our place in it and that we must question those assumptions. Then we did a little group work where groups drafted discussion questions on Rich’s essay “When We Dead Awaken,” swapped questions with other groups, and then dug into the essay (using the discussion question along with other prompts I provided).
  3. After some time, groups shared their insights with the rest of the class, but the discussion didn’t get as deep as I would have liked (due mostly to a lack of preparation on the students’ parts). I’d hoped to get to another activity which would force them to “work” the text a little harder, but we ran out of time. We’ll do that activity next class. Time permitting, it could have been an extension activity for this class meeting. I’ve described it briefly below.
  4. Extension Activity: It’s called “Read, Summarize, Extend, Answer.” Project passages from the essay on the screen at the front of the room, toss a ball to some unsuspecting student and ask him or her to “read” the quote directly from the screen. That student in turn tosses the ball to another student who must “summarize” the quote using words of his or her own. After this, the student tosses the ball again to another person who must “extend” what the previous student said by adding other ideas, insights, connections, etc. Finally, this student tosses the ball again to another student who must answer a question displayed on the screen below the quote. (This question is designed to have the student make a connection between Rich’s essay and other texts and ideas we’ve been discussing in class.)

a willful refusal to learn

As we continue our conversation about the aims of education in my composition course this semester, we’ve been talking about this idea of not learning–not the inability to learn or the lack of opportunity, but the willful refusal to learn, to the point where it actually takes a good deal of work. My hope is to raise a critical awareness with the students of how our educational experiences change us–for better of for worse. There’s really no better piece that I’ve found than Herbert Kohl’s “I Won’t Learn from You” to kick this conversation off. Kohl writes at length on how he has observed in himself and in people he has met through his teaching career a concerted effort to not learn certain things–and for a variety of sound reasons. He recounts his own willful desire to not learn to speak Yiddish as a child–even though it took tremendous effort, being essentially immersed in a Yiddish speaking environment. Kohl’s mother could not speak Yiddish, so being party to a conversation in Yiddish meant being party to a conversation that excluded his mother. Out of loyalty and solidarity with his mother, he made up his mind as a child to not learn to speak Yiddish. This was a decision he would regret later in his life.

…the only sane alternative to not-learning is the acknowledgment and direct confrontation of oppression–social, sexual, and econmomic–both in school and in society. (Kohl)

Kohl goes on to tell the stories of several students he knew who demonstrated this willful desire to not learn and implemented a number of ingenious strategies to fend off teachers, lessons, and chance learning at all costs. Most of these stories had unhappy endings. Kohl argues that this willful refusal to learn something is a dysfunctional and ultimately destructive response to a schooling that challenges one’s sense of identity and one’s fundamental values to the breaking point. Not learning is a subversive tactic designed to resist what is perceived as an oppressive force. As an alternative, Kohl argues that we diffuse possible oppressive schooling through the power of critical dialogue–bringing the conversations to the surface and addressing them head on. (I guess that’s what I’m trying to do in my course this semester.)

Ok, so I had students work with the Kohl essay–illustrating scenes from it, talking about the key points, etc. We began forging connections to our own experiences, considering what we’ve willfully refused to learn in our past and why.

As a bridge between this idea of refusing to learn some things and the idea of an openness to learn or revise one’s thinking, we screened the short film Binta and the Great Idea –an academy award nominated film that works on so many levels and fits perfectly into discussion we’ve been having. Check it out, if you’d like. (It’s got real transformative power, so be careful.)

I think this film is amazing on so many levels. I get a little choked up in class throughout the film, but especially at the end when the great idea is revealed. This is par for the course, but what bothers me most is my being so very moved by a film like this one time and time again while many of my students sit there seemingly untouched in anyway–uninterested, bored, apathetic (but this is a post/rant for another time). I wonder, though, if they are refusing to learn something I am trying to teach them?

Is teaching by its very nature an oppressive act? Paulo Freire might argue so; John Holt whom I am reading currently implies as much when he talks about children who resist, turn off, run away when they sense that you are teaching them, but love learning. How then do we get to the learning without the teaching? Ahh, it’s a dance for sure. We’ll see where it takes us…

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