A Form of Resistance: Teaching Critical Reading, Writing, and Thinking in Today’s World

When I became a history teacher, I knew that I would need to teach my students to be proficient readers, writers, and thinkers so that they would be able to navigate the world in which we all live. Throughout the years, I have found avenues to show my students how these skills we use in the classroom are relevant in the world outside the walls of our school. We have planned school and community events. We have lobbied. We have written letters. We have engaged with youth who are different from us.

These skills are ESPECIALLY pertinent in today’s political climate where often times there is a complete disregard for the facts and a complete disregard for the humanity of the “other.” We need to teach our students not only to read and write about our subjects, but how to be proficient readers, writers, and thinkers about the world in which they live. The skills we teach are not only to be used to access the content for our courses, but we need to teach our students to transfer these skills from classroom, to grade level, to their lives outside of school. I truly believe that the future of our country depends on this.

Over the past week, I have been trying to think about my way to resist. My way to resist hate and lies, to continue to stand up for what I truly believe is right, and to persevere in the work that I know is so important. Teaching is my resistance and to spread the love, I want to share some tools that you can use with your students to help them shape the world the way that they want it to be.

The Goal:

When we get down to the heart of our goals as literacy teachers, we have to develop our students’ understanding of how to analyze arguments made about various aspects of life. When we teach our students to be better readers of arguments made within texts or made through political statements, our students can become better writers of arguments themselves. These skills transfer between school and life, and are the very skills that will ultimately allow our students to understand and defend their rights.

The Tool:

While I have only been teaching a few years, I feel like I’ve learned so much about how to be a better literacy teacher from my own research, professional developments I have attended, and from the other teachers around me. (There is a post coming on collaboration later this week!) This year, my planning partner Robin introduced me to a new tool for how to teach students how to break down an author’s purpose/point of view/argument. We have called this strategy an “Argumentation Pyramid” throughout this school year. This tool helps students to break down an author’s argument by identifying his/her claim, evidence, and reasoning, using the pyramid structure. Students are then able to use the same tool to develop their own arguments on the same topic or counterarguments against the author’s. Now, more than ever, a tool like this is needed in classrooms to help students build their analysis and argumentation skills.

How It Works (With a Key Example From This School Year):

As a summative performance task in our unit on Islam, students had to use their content knowledge about the religion of Islam (based in fact from the teachings of Islam), to disprove Donald Trump’s statements about why Muslims should be banned from the United States. The format that we used for our performance task was a letter that students had to write to defend their counterclaim to Trump’s.

Our students spent around a week learning about the beliefs and practices of Islam within our larger World Religions Unit. We focused on teaching about The Five Pillars of Islam, Muhammad as a prophet, and current movements to spread the truth about Islam, such as #NotInMyName. Within this unit, we also taught our students to distinguish between the teachings of a faith and the actions of extremists who manipulate the foundational principles of a religion to fit and take action on a specific agenda.

Because we looked at this issue before Donald Trump was in office, we used this article to talk with students about some of the things that Trump had proposed. Obviously, after this weekend’s events, you could find a more relevant, updated article to work through this issue with your students.

**Disclaimer: We did not force political positions on our students through this assignment. Students needed to use historical and factual information to disprove the statements that Trump made about Muslims and Islam. Students who were opposed to the assignment were given an alternative and students who did not want their letters mailed were not forced to do so. Because of the demographics of the students I teach, most students have a real fear of Trump’s views and policies, so giving them an outlet was culturally responsive for my situation**

Here is how you could proceed with a lesson/performance task like this:

  1. Have students read and annotate the article to get a basic understanding of the argument that is being made. While students read, they should mark important details in the text and write notes to themselves in the margins. You should have your students use annotation strategies that you have modeled and practiced with them.
  2. Introduce the Argumentation Pyramid. If this is your first time doing something like this with students, I recommended using modeling and think aloud strategies to help your students understand how you are analyzing the author’s/Trump’s argument. I also recommended going through this as a class. Have students work step-by-step and come back together to go over each step as a class through Cold Call or Volunteering.
  3. Use a second version of the Argumentation Pyramid to have your students build their arguments/counterarguments. Depending on your students’ writing level, you could provide a claim sentence or a sentence stem to help students construct their claims.   Students will also need solid, fact-based evidence to use within their writing.

I plan to continue using this tool throughout my upcoming units to help build my students’ reading analysis and argumentative writing skills. It is my hope that needing this tool is only temporary and that the process of identifying an author’s claim, evidence, and reasoning becomes engrained in my students’ head. These skills are so needed for our students to navigate the many sources of news they encounter each day. Remember, as teachers, we have the responsibility to provide the tools that allow our students to do this. While each new headline can bring a new level of devastation, we cannot lose hope. We are the ones who need to teach hope, critical thinking, and how to resist the desperation that our students may feel.  You can download the template I used with my students here: Argumentation Pyramid Diagram1.

What is your form of resistance? How are you standing up as a teacher? What tools do you have to help our students be aware and critical thinkers in today’s political climate? Now, more than ever, community building matters. Please comment below with questions or with your own tools & strategies you can share!

Share This:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *