Stop the Insanity: Arduous Arguments, Part Two

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Rough drafts of argument for the first paper are starting to trickle in.  They do not give me confidence.  I had hoped that spending time just on the argument of a paper might help students get a foothold on academic writing.  What could be more focused than a single statement? We spent last class discussing argument at length.  We looked at all the things “argument” can mean as students worked in groups to discuss the difference between an argument between lovers, a scientific argument, a political argument, and an argument in a courtroom.  We talked about what elements of each might make sense in academic writing.  We talked about the difference between a statement of fact, a statement of opinion, and an argument.  They even worked in groups to formulate sample arguments for this paper’s prompt.  In short, I used every trick in my bag to help them understand the concept. [Side note: it amazes me that this is a concept that so needs to be taught at all.  I feel the same way about apostrophes.  Ask just about any teacher in the writing program here and they’ll all say students have no clue how to use apostrophes.  That baffles me.  You would think that in a culture obsessed with owning things that the apostrophe would be treated with a hallowed reverence.  You’d think, that is, that students would know, if nothing else, how to designate who owns what.  I feel the same way about arguments.  In a culture so divisive and politicized you would think argument—just taking a strong stance—would be natural.  You would think that the challenge would be not getting students to make an argument but getting them to moderate it, to take different points of view into consideration.  You would think.] So far the drafts that have been emailed to me have reflected very little of what we did in class.  Many are statements of fact.  Most all are so broad and vague as to be meaningless.  It’s discouraging to me at this moment, though perhaps I am writing too soon.  I’ll post next once I have them all.  For now, like any teacher, I am obsessing about today’s class—strategizing, ruminating, deliberating.  I’ll have the students’ drafts to work with and I am hoping that will be the key.  I often find that students only get a sense of a thing when they see what the thing should look like.  Today we’ll start with sample work and then move into peer revision.  Fingers crossed that that does the trick. Next post I’ll share how it goes and hopefully share some sample arguments from students.  I’m hoping that sharing what they can and cannot yet do with all of you might give me new ideas to approach this topic.
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.