I love using bell ringers in my classes to create a focal point, fuel discussion, and jumpstart assignments. One of my favorite bell ringer moves is to start with a quote. For example, as we begin to work on literacy narratives students pick a quote about education, literacy, and the humanities to start off the class writing (note: these quote collections were built over time with the help of my students). I ask students to respond to these ideas and then sum up their thoughts using a six word story. Then, after we take care of the business of the day, we share the quotes and our ideas (note: I always write with my students and this early in the semester I usually share first). Then we move onto the serious business of really digging into our topic of the day (because reading and discussion fuel writing). Ever since our First Year Seminar program introduced me to the This I Believe book and web site, I have liked to use those essays to extend the conversations and writing we began over the quotes. This semester, thanks to my work with the National Writing Project College Ready Writers Program (henceforth known as C3WP), I have been able to take that class work to a whole new level. I have been so impressed with the level of thinking demonstrated by my general education students that I can hardly wait to read the literacy narratives that will result from this work.
I began by adapting the Writing into the Day to Jumpstart Argument mini-unit to suit my class. I simply plugged in my previously selected This I Believe essays to replace the essays about school start time. Three components of this mini unit contributed to improved student work: identifying the claim or argument, identifying the evidence used to support the argument, and the graphic representing the relationship among the claims. In past classes, we discussed the essays extensively, but I did not use the explicit language of arguments (claim, evidence, etc.) for the prompt. Including those terms meant that students tended to use them in our discussion and, I believe, will lead them to a better understanding of how good arguments are structured (and reinforce the language of arguments). I love how narrative is used to support argument in the This I Believe essays and that is one of the reasons I like to use it to support our literacy narrative work. There are many benefits to be realized from creating literacy narratives (see 10 Ways Literacy Narratives Will Rock Your World), but I also believe there are powerful benefits from writing literacy narratives as arguments (see 3 Reasons to (Re)Write the Literacy Narrative). I want my students to tell their literacy stories as arguments about literacy, education, and/or the humanities and I want them to use their own experience as evidence to support those arguments. However, it was the work with the graphical representations of the relationship among the arguments that was the most powerful catalyst to our thinking and discussion. I was so impressed with the images students pulled from the natural and human world as well as the mathematical and fantastical stories they developed to support their thinking. Our conversation about these graphics was extremely rich and interesting. Students were still talking about these ideas a week later. See the Writing into the Day to Jumpstart Argument mini-unit for the original NWP text sets and mini-units. You can also check out the mini-unit(s) about education and literacy I created for some of my colleagues. The full prompt for my students’ education (or why are we here) blog post and the literacy blog prompt are available from my online handbook (still under construction!).
I am excited about these ideas for developing arguments about education and literacy. Do you talk to your students about their education? What does your literacy narrative assignment look like?