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Monday, November 12, 2012

Simple Tools for Argumentative Writing

Whew!  I'm back from 10 days with no power or heat and a road trip to Oregon.   I often hit the road to help teachers and students integrate technology in a way that makes sense.  Technology should not be layered on top of what teachers do, it should be used as a tool to make what we do better.  In the case of collaborative technology, we are increasing student engagement and participating in the lesson and giving them an authentic audience.  Being digital natives, students instinctively “figure it out” while many educators fear that “figuring it out” will take precious planning time.  The truth is that many simple tools take very little time for teachers to set up and even less time to get students started in them.  In fact, using these tools can make a teacher’s life easier as student engagement takes the place of student management and working online saves time at the copy machine! 

While at the recent AMLE conference, I got a lot of great information on what needs to be done in the classroom in order to meet the new Common Core State Standards.  What I heard emphasized was a shift from persuasive writing (emotion based) to argumentative writing where students need to be able to make a claim, recognize and acknowledge opposing claims, and use credible sources to support their claims.   In my own house, this would translate from “Mom, I need the new iPad because you have always been the coolest mom with the coolest stuff and I need to maintain that image for our family” to "Mom, I need the new iPad because I will be able to do the following:  access over 100 free educational apps, keep all my notes from school organized and in one place, and store over 100 books on it.”  The common core is moving students to argumentation because it relies on more “substantial reasoning” based on logic and evidence and therefore has increased rigor (not the dead kind).

Simple Tools for Complex Learning
 It seems to me that there are a number of simple online tools where students can practice these skills without increasing the physical amount of work (in pounds) or time that it takes to set up, implement and assess.  Catlin Tucker, an expert in the blended classroom and  integrating technology in the Language Arts classroom wrote a great blog “Common Core Standards and Argument Writing” which includes great ways to use Collaborize Classroom, YouTube, Google Docs, and  Ted Talks in the classroom to get this done. She includes great screen shots and easy to follow examples to help teachers see the value of using these simple tools.

The SCAN tool found at TregoED is another simple tool that requires minimal set up and implementation in the classroom.  Scan features a library full of scenarios that include four different points of view.  Students go to a private url to participate in a guided online discussion following the four steps of SCAN (Stop and think – what are the issues?, Clarify the issues, Ask what’s most important, and Now, what should be done).  Along the way, students are asked to support their claims, acknowledge other points of view, and collaborate to solve the problem.  This is precisely what the common core is asking us to teach our students.  SCAN offers free timely lessons for teachers in all content areas.  With a cheap subscription ($45/teacher/year – unlimited use) teachers can write their own lessons to address particular needs of their students or curriculum.  Better yet, they can have their students research different perspectives and evidence in a highly engaging topic (such as the death penalty) and post their own SCAN Lesson!  Students can then share their SCAN session with teachers all over the world.  Relevant argument writing with an engaging tool and an authentic audience – doesn’t get any better.

What tools are you using to reach the core? 


  1. I've archived a bunch of resources and tools for creation and collaboration in the middle school Reading/LA classroom, and many can be used for generating classroom discussions and arguments. You can find the Digital Dialogue site at

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this Keith. I love how you have organized the tools into a table with what students can do with them. It is great to be able to give a teacher a few sites that they can use to get kids to "brainstorm" or "reflect", etc. Hope you will add SCAN and Collaborizeclassroom to your list! Edistorm is also a good one.