Stop the Insanity: Arduous Arguments, Part Three

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Intensive work helped.  Seeing what arguments looked liked from fellow students helped as well.  But there are still a number of students struggling with the concept of argument, students who keep submitting to me statements of fact.  I try and encourage them to go back and unlock the idea they were trying to communicate—I can usually see it—and I am hoping that approach will work. But the experience as a whole has helped me realize a few things.  First, for the way I approach academic writing, arguments are pretty much central.  I tell my class that a good argument will lay out the entire paper: you’ll know just what to write in each paragraph (and in just what to order) because of the argument.  That same argument also calls forth the evidence it needs; it tells students just wear to go in the texts to find the quotations to support each little claim the argument wants to make. So, it’s not surprising students are struggling with this but also not surprising I am spending so much time on it (just as it’s not surprising I am ending up so frustrated).  I can’t help but think, though, that there has to be a better way (for different ways exist aplenty I know). Yesterday during our Writing Committee meeting one of my colleagues shared his approach, using a simplified Toulmin model and a worksheet for students.  That might be the next thing for me to try, since it seems like he’s had some good success with it. We’re working on actual body paragraphs and evidence next but, before I leave argument, I have to ask a question that reflects the title of this series completely by accident: am I insane for this emphasis on argument?  Am I missing something?  Or is it just this hard to help students get a handle on academic argument?
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.