## October 30, 2009

### How to teach a student to write a point that is supported by evidence

The following is one way to teach a student how to write one form of a simple paragraph in which the student agrees with one of a pair of arguments presented to him in a fact pattern based on a comparison of the arguments with a source of evidence.  The lesson comes from SRA's Reasoning and Writing, Level D (Lesson 82, exercise 1).  The lesson is suitable for a student who can copy words at a rate of 15 words per minute and  possesses basic paragraph writing skills as determined by a placement test.

The student reads the following passage:
Fran Dent wanted a raise.  She told her boss why she deserved a raise.  She told the boss that she worked hard, that she worked fast and accurately, and that she was always on time.

Her boss said that he didn't think she should get more money because she wasn't always on time.  He said, "You're late most of the time."

She said, "I'm never late to work."

Teacher: The place where Fran worked had a time clock that showed the time everybody came in each morning. Fran and her boss decided to get the records to show how often Fran was late.

(Below the box is the student's prompt.)

Teacher:

Fran indicated that she was never late.  The boss said that she was late most of the time.  You'll write a paragraph that tells whose claim agrees with the time clock record.  The equal box prompt show what your paragraph will say.  You'll start by saying what the person who was right indicated.  Then you'll tell that the time clock record supports that person's claim.  Then you'll give enough facts to make it clear that one of the persons is right and the other is wrong.

The time clock record shows some of the employees.  The first column shows their names.  The next column shows the time they are supposed to be at work.  They're all supposed to be at work at 8 a.m.  If they come later than 8 a.m., they're late.  The next column shows the number of days they were absent during the whole year.  The last column shows the latest time they arrived during the whole year.

Some of the information in the table is relevant to the disagreement between Fran and her boss.   Look over the table carefully.

Write your paragraph.  Tell when she's supposed to arrive.  Then give any fact that's relevant.

Here's what the student (a nine year old fourth grade student) actually wrote:

Fran indicated that she was never late for work.  The time clock record supports this claim.  The time clock record indicates that Fran's latest time for work was 7:56 a.m., four minutes before work.

The student would receive feedback to correct the vague wording of the last sentence.  Then a good example paragraph would be read to the student:

Fran indicated that she was never late for work. The time clock record supports this claim. The record indicates that she was supposed to get to work by 8 a.m. and she was never later than 7:56 a.m.

In subsequent lessons the prompts would be faded until the student could construct a suitable paragraph for a similar type of problem.

Stephen Downes said...

> In subsequent lessons the prompts would be faded until the student could construct a suitable paragraph for a similar type of problem.

The 'prompts' are known more properly as "scaffolds". These are provided in order to support learning, and are then discarded. Readers wanting to know more about this concept should look up 'Vygotsky' and 'zone of proximal development' along with "scaffolds".

Note, also, how a person is able to learn critical reasoning (which consists, in part of learning how to draw conclusions from evidence) without any particular knowledge or facts.

Whatever knowledge is needed is provided in the problem description, and since it is non-essential, they discard it (along with the rest of the scaffold) once the skill is acquired.

Anonymous said...

Downes, you are not seeing that prior knowledge is in fact needed in this instance. The reader needs to be able to tell time, and needs to know the meanings of several words.

RMD said...

Ken,

Ha, ha, ha . . . good one!

You mean there is a curriculum that can teach students how to develop an argument, and makes sure that they have all the prerequisite skills they need before they get to this section?

You must be kidding! If there were really such a curriculum, schools would have adopted it long ago!

(and Stephen, isn't it interesting that your picture shows you out in the wilderness .. . )

KDeRosa said...

Stephen, thanks for that info, but in the educational setting, scaffolds may include models, cues, prompts, hints, partial solutions, think-aloud modeling and direct instruction (Hartman, 2002).

Also, as Anon indicates, the student does have to know quite a bit of content knowledge: what a boss is, what a worker is, what a raise is, what it meanas to "be on time," what money is, what it means to be late, what work is, what a time clock is, what business records are, what it means to be absent, how to tell time, etc.

If the next assignment was two engineers arguing over the pressure and temperature relationship differences in a carnot and otto engine cycle, do you really think the student would be able to reason her way to an answer.

Then there is the problem of shallow knowledge that will tie the student's ability to use the procedure he's just learned to problem patterns that are similar to the example. Starying too far from the pattern will preclude the student from accessing his new knowledge since his understanding is tied to the structure of the problem and will be for quite awhile until he develops a deeper/abstract understanding of the problem.

Laura said...

Whatever knowledge is needed is provided in the problem description, and since it is non-essential, they discard it (along with the rest of the scaffold) once the skill is acquired

The particulars of the situation are discarded; the model is retained, which will presumably allow the student to perform similar exercises with less and less "scaffolding" over time.

However, were the student to apply the model too broadly, to any situation in which they needed to "draw conclusions from evidence," there's a high likelihood they would be tripped up. Here, it is assumed that students understand the basic concept of a record, and of arriving at work vs. starting work. Another situation might seem superficially similar but require a different approach.

You can't prepare students literally for any kind of evaluative situation they are likely to encounter and need to write about, but you can provide enough models that they develop a flexible, robust system and can become truly independent thinkers, rather than parroting back facile ideological statements about, say, what kind of education is best.

Anonymous said...

I'm bothered by the prompts. The entire scenario is absurd. Why would Fran's boss claim she was late when she never was. Why should Fran convince her boss when all she has to do is bring her time card to show him. The scenario makes boss look stupid and her more like a troublemaker.

The student is writing for a prompt that logically would never occur in a work setting. It pits the 'boss' against the 'worker'. The prompt does not mirror worker reality - 'The boss is always right.'

For instance, a better prompt would be two workers vying for the same position in a company. Have the student choose the best worker.

Or better yet, student role plays the manager, based on the data, choose and write a recommendation for the best worker.

SRA should hire better textbook writers.

Anonymous said...

If SRA is attempting to teach work ethics, they should reexamine their own ethics first. The writing prompt is more of a reflection on them, not a reflection of reality. The prompt could have been written by students in a ninth grade english class and Americans pay billions for this junk.

KDeRosa said...

Why would Fran's boss claim she was late when she never was.

Clearly, Fran's boss is a capitalist pig trying to stick it to the proletariat.

Why should Fran convince her boss when all she has to do is bring her time card to show him.

Maybe Fran's boss was trying to convince her fellow workers as to what a dishanest man the Boss was in an effort to unionize the shop.

The scenario makes boss look stupid and her more like a troublemaker.

A good kind of troublemaker who sticks up for her rights.

If SRA is attempting to teach work ethics, they should reexamine their own ethics first.

SRA is attempting to teach writing, not ethics.

Dick Schutz said...

I'm with "Anonymous" on the artificiality and the over-cuing of the example. If a student can compose a competent position paper, it's not necessary "to teach a student how to write a point that is supported by evidence." The real world isn't "scaffolded" in the manner the instruction leads the student to believe.

Tracy W said...

Dick, I think the point of the lesson is that the student is cannot compose a competent position paper. Teaching the student to write a point supported by evidence is part of the process towards teaching them to compose a competent position paper. If a student already knows how to compose a competent position paper there's no point in teaching them this lesson (which is not to say that they won't get taught it anyway).

Yes, the real world isn't scaffolded in the same way. I think that's why Ken said explicitly at the bottom:
In subsequent lessons the prompts would be faded... I don't see any point in having schools if they're not at least intended to provide a better setup for learning than the real world.