When the Common Core was released and the ELA modules began to surface, it appeared that a main focus of the standards was on argument writing. As an ELA teacher, I felt unprepared for this change because a significant amount of my classroom practice focused on teaching expository writing and I worried I could not teach argument with the adeptness and confidence which it required.
I began to search for resources and was fortunate enough to discover the first few chapters of Hillock’s text Teaching Argument Writing: Supporting Claims with Relevant Evidence and Clear Reasoning (2011) from Heinemann Press free online. I immediately became enamored of his work because unlike many texts that presented a technical and theoretical understanding of argument that did not sound at all like my kids and my classroom, Hillock’s text was a real-world first person narrative about what teaching argument looks like in his classroom.
Importantly, Hillock’s work is not about flashy gimmicks, but rather about the power of “environmental instruction” in which “students, teachers, and curricular materials are equally important as instructional resources”. In other words, he uses what is available and makes it work. One early “ah-ha” moment I had revolved around Hillock’s belief that students should begin the argument structure through dialog. Any high school teacher can attest that one thing kids can do is talk and argue. He turns this innate resource into the first step of teaching evidence based argument.
Later in the text, he breaks arguments down into arguments of facts, judgement and policy. He includes real life examples of how one can infuse the work into any curriculum (ELA or otherwise) and at the very end of the text provides a chapter-by-chapter guide of things to try to generate argument writing and build argument skills with students.
Hillock’s work is the foundation of some of the work I have been developing for workshops and professional development focused on using logic and argument in the classroom. It is a useful tool and thought provoking read that I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I did.