Head2Head: Teaching Students to Argue the Right Way

Posted on January 30, 2009


Generally, students are trotting off to college, unprepared to meet academic demands. Professors–followed soon by employers–demand that students be able to construct an argument.  It’s no wonder many students fall short. Constructing an argument requires students to be critical readers and thinkers and skilled writers:

  • They must first be adept at inquiry, able to explore a particular topic and read critically to decipher what the core arguments are.
  • They must employ critical thinking, evaluating claims and reasons and evidence and the logic that glues them together.
  • To pen their own argument, they must continue to think critically, to organize their ideas, to make valid claims and then back those claims with evidence and explanations–all while writing with stylistic flair and grammatical correctness.

It’s no wonder many adults are lacking as well, unable to marshall a strong argument.

I’m hoping the collaborative project my AP English Language students are currently undertaking–Head2Head–will  challenge students to develop the critical thinking, reading, and writing skills to construct a sound argument.

The Project

We have four schools collaborating on the project: two from Arkansas (one being my crew), one from Minnesota, one from New Jersey.  We–the four of us AP English teachers–are still designing the details of the project. In a nutshell, we hope to undertake three steps:

  1. Students put themselves into teams by choosing from ten topics taken from Opposing Views. They then read the arguments for and against and enter the discussion on their topic via commenting.
  2. Students construct and publish their own argument–hopefully in a creative format that capitalizes on the power of both words and images.
  3. Teams then choose a different topic and create an Opposing Views style web page.  This would require students to research the topic, to link to relevant resources and articles on the topic, to write arguments for and against, to locate and recruit “experts” to write pro/con arguments.

Questions I Still Have

  1. Writing their own argument: On the AP exam,  students must construct an argument (an essay).  I think, after discussing the topic online,  I’d like to have them write an in-class timed essay first. Then, I could grade their essays, have writing conferences if needed, and allow students to revise and publish a multimedia version. I think. I’d love feedback here.
  2. Multimedia argument: I think it would be better to have students work in groups here rather than solely. After students construct their own arguments in the timed writing, we could group students based on their position, creating a pro group and a con group. But, theoretically, team members could be from four different schools.  I’m not sure how to scaffold students here to make sure they can successfully collaborate across time and space to produce a multimedia presentation. For students creating a wiki or a blog or some other web page, collaborating would be fairly simple. But, what about groups who choose to produce a video?
  3. Creating an Opposing Views style web page: We haven’t thought through this part yet. This will be the biggest (and probably the most meaningful) part of the project. What resources/lessons will students need to know how to locate “experts” in a particular field? What if a group can’t find an “expert” who is willing to participate?
  4. Bringing together the four classes: I’d love to utilize some of the strategies Karl Fisch has been describing in the project that linked students with other students and adults from around the globe and with author Dan Pink.  I’m an English teacher. Unfortunately, there’s no Karl Fisch at my school. I’ve never attempted such a massive project. It intimidates me. But, I’m willing to try. How do I scale Fisch’s ideas to work for this project?

I’d love your feedback and ideas.

Posted in: Projects/Lessons