Effective Unit Planning results in student mastery of challenging concepts.

Today, my 8th grade students brought in their rough drafts of their research based persuasive arguments. Today showcased the results of 4 weeks worth of work.

We began with students reading 5 or more sources to learn about their topic, showing their knowledge in written summaries. I had them do this with 3 topics and it paid off; they learned the value of conducting background research and learning about multiple topics. Many had to switch topics when we started getting into crafting thesis statements. They couldn’t find that 3rd subtopic or they realized that the topic was “fuzzy” and hard to prove. They had two weeks to conduct this background reading with the 3 topics they chose (parents had to  approve all topics). We used a school database that provided topics and guided students toward sources to prove various arguments.

We  then designed thesis statements and I held conferences with every student. Some had to meet with me 5 times; but for a few, we all created sound thesis statements and were ready to create an outline of 3 subtopics and 3 supporting details from at least 2 sources. The final paper had to have, at minimum, 5 sources.

Every student got an outline conference. Many had to return for a 2nd or a  3rd time. Except for a few (and we’re still working and changing deadlines), we all created sound arguments that demonstrated mastery of ethos, pathos, and logos.

We designed our introductory paragraphs. We peer reviewed our hook statements and our background sentences.

We crafted our rebuttal of the opposing viewpoint. Provided a support from the other side and explained why our point was better. Students met with me or with a classmate to check that they were doing it right.

And today, we showed up with our 5 paragraphs (the conclusion is easy so we’ll do it after break) and celebrated how we could put together 3 or 4 page persuasive arguments that were organized and provided 5 sources. Not bad for 8th grade. Not bad at all.

I told my students to be proud. They all indicated trepidation at the sight of the rubric when they got it right before Thanksgiving. Today, we checked off every bulleted item except for the conclusion and the works cited page. They all had expressed admiration and fear for the 3 “A” exemplars I handed them and told them to refer to throughout the process. Now, while their paper may not have  the exemplary analysis and synthesis, it is well organized with a sound thesis and three clear subtopics. That in itself is success and indicates a student ready for high school English.

I’ll collect the next draft right after break and give them a few nights to make any final revisions.

These papers will all get As for organization. Some will get Cs and Bs for the argument itself. All students will go to high school knowing the process and product of research and persuasion. They have plenty of time to develop their thinking.

Why are my students successful? They got the expectations up front. Rubric and exemplar first. Mini-lessons and constant checks for understanding. No student went 3 days without me knowing where they were in the process. No student started a thesis without giving me a summary proving they knew what the topic was and why it was controversial. No student started an outline before they defended how their subtopics would prove their viewpoint. No student started a rough draft before they explained how every direct quote on their outline proved the subtopic.

Expectations first. Create effective mini-lessons (talk as little as possible). Give them meaningful time to work (keep it quiet and give them clear end points to reach). Check for understanding constantly. Design effective peer review.

Result? Success.

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