Tuesday, July 29, 2003

last week, i co-taught a five day intensive course on argumentative writing. in it, beth (recently graduated writing fellow) and I attempted to convince 12 high school students that argumentative writing was process over product, though and revelation, personal discovery and communication, persuasion and action, social movement and political upheaval. That nothing short of revolution lies in prewrites, descrptive outlines, style analysis, and peer revision. The main project of the week was to overcome apathy and detachment--and the pieces we recieved bore overwhelming sincerity, earnestness, passion. We pushed on toward developing argument, pursuing that hazy green light of "so what" that haunted me so nebulously in which school--all the while, trying to demystify it. We tried to find ourselves, our readers, and our point, and to try our soft uncalloused fingers at sowing them together. We listened to coldplay and at ben and jerrys.
Not all parts went smoothly--tolerance of Toulmin's legal deconstruction of argument waned, and as I overkilled on the explanation, some of the students began to look physically ill. The commitment was intense: we spent 3-4hours in class together, followed on several nights by seven hours of responding to their writing and a few hours of planning the next day's lesson. We expected about as much from them.
I learned quite a bit over the week. All of them had learned the 5-paragraph essay. Only one of them was learning formal grammar. They had all done peer conferencing in school, but only a purely superficial implementation (copy editing, chatting, general digression and diversion). Few of their teachers let them wrestle with arguments: some students were given quotes to defend as true, while others were asked to defend one "side" or the "other side" of a given debate.
We plowed through organization, style, and grammar, but definitely the week's focus was argument.
As I was teaching, I realized that I hadn't done much writing myself in a long time. I am out of practice,...acts, Judaism teaches, are the source of revalation. revalation takes practice.