Argument in the Classroom: Making Claims from Day One

This year, on the opening day of the 2015-2016 school year, after I take roll and butcher some poor children’s first and last names, I will be forgoing the usual, mostly boring classroom rules talk, syllabus read-through, and bathroom pass hand-outs in favor of something I’ve never done before. Instead, I will give every one of my 8th graders a blank 4×6 index card to use as their Claim Card. On that card they will write 3-5 statements about themselves that will be phrased as an arguable claim (just like the claims I made at the beginning of this post). From there, they will share out and discuss in their quads which one of their claims should be shared with the rest of the class. Yes, I will be modeling my own personal claims for them as a way of teaching and sharing myself with them.

This is a get-your-toes-wet kind of exercise that gets two things done at one time: One) We get to know a little bit about each other in a fun and different way, and Two) They are, without knowing it, making their first claims in a class that will be flooded with claims (and debates and…) as we progress throughout the year. Absolutely no arguing, defending, rebutting, refuting, or chair-throwing will be allowed on this day (those will begin at a later date). This is just to introduce to them the very basic component of argumentation.

From the first day, we will be saturated with argument. As we move forward in the school year, I will begin to introduce other components into their understanding to help them not only strengthen and support their claims, but to learn how to spot someone else’s claim, and to argue against said claim in a way that should be more intelligent than, “Uh uh! That’s just stupid. Oh and you’re stupid too, and so are your shoes!” (really, that’s not too far off from reality) In the coming days, I will dig into some of the other strategies that I’ve used in the past that I’ve since tweaked, or new strategies that I’ve discovered along my newly trodden path.

Anywho, more later.

May the force be with you,

-TJ

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