YEAR NINE ENGLISH LESSON PLAN 11
THE SKILLS AND TASKS OF ESSAY WRITING
CRITICAL INQUIRY, EVIDENCE GATHERING, LOGICAL REASONING.
DURATION 70 Minutes.
Interacting with Others
Students relish the opportunity for practice-led and creative playful approaches to the text, but how these activities can be effectively translated to the critical thinking, logical reasoning, systematic inquiry, information gathering and validation and formulation of argument required in written assessment tasks is not so intuitive.
I SAY YOU SAY WE SAY is a game that involves students in a collaborative negotiation of all of those processes. It incorporates Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development and Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger’s Theory of Peripheral Participation in Learning Communities. The game can be engineered for a wide range of learning levels and capabilities and crucially utilizes the teacher in a roving peripheral role wherein they can guide and ‘side-coach’ to assist the learning process. Crucially, as with the learning theories of John Dewey and Jerome Bruner, the game begins with a short period of individual free association writing on the central issue to the topic of inquiry from the perspective of the students. This basis for personally involved purpose for inquiry is then strengthened through students sharing their writing with at least one other of their colleagues. This process reflects Bell Hooks statements in support of developing a community of learners who know and acknowledge each other’s stories. After a further brief period of discussion exploring the central issue/conundrum and it’s manifest within the student perspective, the I SAY YOU SAY WE SAY package can be introduced.
Students will need access to video recordings of selected scenes or scene excerpts. Normal classroom desk configuration might need alteration to accomodate group work.
Students elect to fulfil roles such as:
Argument builders: These are the pilots, the engineers, the barristers – who bring together individual points of argument and cumulatively the case for whatever is being presented. These people then get the investigators to search through text and online and other sources for evidence to support their argument.
Evidence investigators – Text: These people, working in pairs if possible – scour through the provided excerpts of the text (depending upon the level of the game package.) They find the argument points embedded in the provided text and extract those quotes for integration into the argument.
Evidence investigators – online: These pairs of students access the links and sites provided in the package Online Clues section. They also seek out sources of their own choosing. They gather information to support or direct and focus the building argument. They are also responsible for validating that information through checking the credentials of the site, or seeking more than one source to support information gathered.
The Devil’s Advocate: This is a crucial role. At an optimal level, this person or persons almost has to run a parallel counter investigation to try to disprove or throw into question the argument being developed by their team. At the very least, for every theory or assertion developed, they should contribute questions such as: “Where is your evidence?”; “How does that link to your argument?”; “”How do you explain that in more simple terms?”
I SAY YOU SAY WE SAY PACKAGE
The starter package for the game can be provided by Working with Shakespeare or a teaching team can build their own package to suit the learning capabilities of the students.
The package begins with a simple statement. For example, the statement for each of the two groups working in the demonstration videos was: Group A: “Friar Laurence is responsible for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.” Group B” “Romeo’s impetuous behaviour and state of mind leads to the death of Juliet.” In typical debating style, groups formed within the same class could take counter points of view with their beginning questions. Alternatively, a single group could seek to prove the statement, and then in a subsequent round of the game seek to disprove their original argument.
PERSONALISATION THROUGH FREE ASSOCIATION WRITING
As a quick means to familiarising themselves with relevant parts of the story as human behaviour, students should watch video recordings of selected scenes or scene excerpts in performance. Video scenes of Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth can be accessed on the WWS site, but students can also access other readily available video versions of the plays or even a live production.
At the beginning of class it is recommended that students are asked to engage in free-association writing on a theme or issue central to the topic to be explored. For example, one group in this demonstration video are exploring the statement: “Romeo’s impetuous and selfish behaviour brings about the death of Juliet.” The area on which they were invited to free associate write from their own experience was selfish or damaging behaviour. The second group will investigate the statement, “It is Friar Laurence’ meddling and incompetency which causes the death of Romeo and Juliet.” The area on which they were asked to free associate write was on experiences of being caught in a dilemma.
Free association writing is an important way in which students connect to their own personal and lived experience of the themes or issues to be explored. As John Dewey and Jerome Bruner attest, effective and meaningful learning is based on a need to resolve a personally felt problem. By writing about their own connection to this dilemma students are personalizing their relationship to the class content.
The next stage of that personalization is to have students share their written work with classmates. To do so externalizes internalized experience, and in so doing, validates that experience as a reality
The package will include excerpts drawn from the original text. Those excerpts contain key clues or evidence to support the group’s argument. For lower level learners they might simply be the specific text in quotation form including some indication of how it relates to a particular point in the argument. For higher level students the text excerpt might be a section of a scene and students have to search through the excerpt to discover the relevant specific quotations or action.
In the online links section students are provided with a series of url’s which lead to information that may be relevant to particular points of argument that the students will need to address. For higher level learners some of these url’s might be unreliable or unsubstantiated sources, to test the students’ vigilance for validating information. For lower level learner’s specific pointers may be provided which makes links between the information to be sourced and the arguments to be developed. Online and secondary sources may address historical through to contemporary contexts.
ARGUMENT BUILDING MAP:
The package presents a simple schema advising students how to go about formulating a point of view; structuring their argument and filling that structure with sequential, logical and systematic reasoned content.
PROCESS: Each group is provided scenes or scene sections of the Romeo and Juliet production depicted on the WWS site. Alternatively, teachers could use any video-recording of a Shakespeare production as the first point of student’s familiarising themselves with the relevant points in the story.
At the beginning of the class, students are required to free-associate write, draw, or discuss their experiences of the central dilemma being explored through the statement to be investigated. For example, with the Group B (depicted in the demonstration video) investigating the statement, “Romeo’s impetuous behaviour and state of mind leads to the death of Juliet.”, students free-associate wrote about “irresponsible or selfish behaviour that causes other people harm”.
Each group is assigned a “Prosecutor” or “Defence” position in relation to the opening statement. They must ascertain the key points that they need to prove or disprove in fulfilling that position. They then begin their search for evidence to support those key points of argument.
Periodically, the groups should reform to assess their current level of development and to discover the gaps in their reasoning or of their evidence. This process is particularly driven by the Devil’s Advocate. The next iteration of evidence gathering and argument formulation is driven by the discoveries made in each of these re-mapping sessions.
The time period for building the argument and integrating evidence can be set according to class timetables and group learning capability.
The groups in the demonstration video had forty minutes to build their argument and ten minutes then to present the arguments.
Students are encouraged to use multimedia as a part of their presentations and even, if time allows, to incorporate readings of text or enactments of scene excerpts. Students can also tag in or tag out to assist each other in clarifying arguments as they are presented. A crucial part of the learning at this point is achieved by those on the team who are observing their colleagues explaining and presenting points of argument. By watching the challenges and achievements of their colleagues, students also learn about choices, strategies and capabilities that they can contribute in the future.
Students should be encouraged to spend 5 – 20 minutes at the end consulting with each other on how they could improve upon their strategies of argument building, evidence gathering, link making and presentation in the future.
Beyond planning the package, the teacher is crucial in roving between the groups, side-coaching and guiding protocols of practice, providing clues and clarification, and encouraging peripheral participants. Teachers are also critical in pointing out to students in their post-analysis of the important shifts in focus away from emotional opinionated argument to an evidence-based search; of moments of peer-learning; of the importance of collaborative analysis of gathering and evaluating information; and of the moments where collaboration or creative thinking made crucial links and discoveries.
It is important to remember that the undergirding purpose of the game is to provide students with a socially supported and energized experience of the separate and integrated processes of critical analysis and presentation of logical argument. Students therefore need to cumulatively build an experiential understanding of each one of those processes and roles including having a meta-understanding of strategies to be employed in a variety of shifting approaches to investigating and solving the driving premise or question, and an appreciation of their own strengths and weaknesses in regard to each of these contributory roles. THE SKILLS AND TASKS OF ESSAY WRITING