R.CCR.8 — that’s the eighth College/Career Readiness anchor standard within the Reading strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for ELA/Literacy — reads as follows:
Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
This is a fun one: picking apart arguments.
Time out: fun?
I’m not kidding — analyzing arguments can be fun for teachers and students. For some tips on how to create a positive, argumentative culture in your classroom, check out this post.
All right, the first teacherly task within this standard is finding arguments for your students to read. These can be lengthy arguments (I read Tom Standage’s History of the World in Six Glasses with my world history freshmen last year; the entire book argues that world history can be adequately covered by way of studying the histories of six beverages), or they can be quite brief (I’ve mentioned Leonard Pitts Jr. elsewhere on Teaching the Core; any op-ed column will give teachers regular sources of argument covering all types of topics). I also use arguments that I write and arguments that students write. I use arguments that don’t work well and arguments that stun my students and me (for example, this article does a great job arguing that contemporary reality TV is a gladiatorial blood sport).
Once you’ve got arguments, you’re ready to evaluate and delineate them with your students.
Four key parts of an argument
There are a lot of models out there for evaluating arguments, but the four basic moves that I focus on with my students are as follows:
- The claim: this is the argument boiled down to a sentence or so. Thesis statements, those time-tested linchpins of formulaic essays, are claims.
- The evidence: this is what backs up your argument. Since all solid arguments rest on evidence, arguments are a great way to accomplish the text-based answers that the CCSS love so much.
- The warrant: this is the reasoning (see the language in R.CCR.8) that connects the data to the claim. For example, if you are trying to argue that obesity in the USA is a national crisis, as part of the economic prong of your argument you might cite evidence indicating how much heart disease costs the American taxpayer. To effectively use this evidence, you would need to clearly show that heart disease has a strong correlation to obesity.
- The rebuttal: a good argument somehow “names its naysayers” by addressing opponents. Effective rebuttals are respectful; they accurately depict the other side, and then they either disagree entirely or they make limited concessions.
Now, there are many other aspects of skilled argument (many of which I’m still learning!), but with these four basic building blocks you’re ready to rock.
Evaluating and delineating
Now that your students have a grasp of the basic parts of an argument, they are ready to delineate and evaluate those arguments you’ve collected for them.
To guide them in delineating an argument, I might ask these questions:
- What claim is the author making?
- What evidence does the author use to support his/her claim?
- What warrant does the author give for using this evidence?
- How does the author handle opposing views?
To guide them in evaluating an argument, here are some additional questions:
- Is the author’s claim clear?
- Does the author’s tone lend itself to credibility? How about fanaticism? How about boredom?
- Is the evidence that is used strong enough?
- Does the evidence really prove the author’s claim, or is he/she stretching?
- Does the author acknowledge naysayers? Is he/she respectful toward them? Does he/she accurately represent their side?
These steps should get you started on the path of implementing R.CCR.8. May you and your students enjoy the journey!