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Argumentative writing in the ELA classroom

By: Maria Pesce Stasaitis

How do educators continue to reflect on their own teaching while preparing students to be career and college ready with 21st century skills and higher order thinking skills?

The call for integrating technology into our middle school classrooms seems like an easy strategy. Smartboards, Smart TVs, Chromebooks, iPads … using these devices covers 21st century skill building as well, right? Not necessarily! Teachers still need to contemplate creative ways to address standards, technology, and 21st century skills.

During a study done with my seventh grade class during the 2016 school year, I utilized the Common Core State Standards argumentation standards to guide the planning of an intervention package. My initial research questions surrounded student writing, student feedback, and teacher reflection. I decided to employ integrated writing intervention and investigate student learning in argumentative writing.

The intervention's five strategies were conferencing, status-checking, delivering mini-lessons, student writing, and student publishing. The last strategy of the intervention allowed me to have students produce their argumentative writing in a blog. Tying in a multimedia aspect to the learning gave me an important data source: student blogs. I found a kid friendly blogging site that gave students the opportunity to respond to one another's blog and that served as a digital portfolio of their writing so they could go back and access their work. This encouraged student collaboration and effective debating skills.

The Plan
I began planning my argumentative writing unit by reading previous literature on teaching argumentative writing, reviewing the seventh grade argumentative writing standards from the Common Core, designing essential questions around nonfiction articles that I had found, and planning weekly lessons around the intervention's five strategies (conferencing, status-checking, delivering mini-lessons, student writing and student publishing).

I planned four weeks of instruction, with a six week break in between to instruct other components of the district curriculum and to reflect on and analyze the data. I then adjusted my intervention plan and decided to conference with students during the drafting stage. This allowed students to have more individualized instruction on formulating arguments for their blogs. The essential questions are below:

  1. Should soda and candy be a part of the school lunch?
  2. Should you think twice before eating fast food?
  3. Do uniforms affect student learning?
  4. Is homework beneficial?
  5. Is the Internet helping or hindering society?
  6. Should cell phones be allowed in school?
  7. Should the driving age be lowered?
  8. Do television and video violence desensitize society?

Students read nonfiction articles for each essential question. The articles I found on each of the topics contained views on both sides of the argument. I created an argumentative writing annotating checklist, and students annotated and discussed the articles. I created an argumentative graphic organizer, and students began crafting their blog on paper first. Students then received an argumentative conference checklist that they used to work with me and then a peer on revising their drafts.

Mini Lessons
The mini lessons were on argumentative writing structure and citing information. Many of the mini lessons happened during individualized instruction that took place during the conferences.

Blogging was a strategy that gave students the opportunity to produce their argumentative work using multimedia technology. It allowed students to include their writing in an online application and comment on each other's writing, which fostered debate and collaboration.

I found the blogging site called KidBlog, which is a password-protected site designed for teachers working with student writing skills. The site was accessed by the teacher, students, and parents. Students produced one full process argumentative blog each week for two units of instruction. Having 10 laptops in my classroom allowed for station work in which students could use the blogging site to conference with their peers and the teacher.

Status Checking
This part of the intervention included using a checklist to see the components of argumentative writing that were included in the blogs. The students' use of the components was tracked and results from the second unit of instruction are in figure 1.

Figure 1
Student Use of Argumentative Writing Components

  Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Introduction to the topic 94% 100% 100% 100%
Claim 100% 100% 100% 100%
Warrant based in evidence 100% 100% 100% 100%
Analysis of evidence 89% 94% 100% 100%
Rebuttal 100% 100% 100% 100%
Cite appropriately 83% 94% 94% 100%
Transition words 100% 100% 100% 100%
Use of argumentative vocabulary 100% 100% 100% 100%
Use of multiple sources 100% 100% 100% 100%
Conclusion 67% 61% 83% 89%
Explore your own idea 94% 78% 100% 100%
Use evidence to back up your idea 72% 56% 89% 89%
More than one source 44% 56% 83% 89%
Tie your idea to the authors 67% 56% 83% 89%
Social Practice        
Recognize your audience 100% 100% 100% 100%
Comment on peers' blogs 100% 100% 100% 100%
Use evidence to support counter arguments 72% 72% 50% 75%

This data shows that students greatly improved on their inclusion of argumentative elements. Additionally, it was important for me to ask the students what was helping their argumentative writing, and students reported that conferencing during the drafting stage gave them more feedback and support in writing their blogs.

The effect teachers have on student learning is invaluable. Systematic reflection on student work, reflection on teaching practice, and continual learning from student feedback are important aspects in promoting excellence in teacher pedagogy and practice. Placing importance on student writing, student feedback, and teacher reflection bridges the gap between research and pedagogy in ways that will lead to sustained student learning and achievement.

Maria Pesce Stasaitis, Ed.D. is assistant principal at Waterbury Arts Magnet School, Waterbury, Connecticut, and adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport.

Published May 2019.


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