Introduction to Evaluating Claim and Evidence

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Students will be able to evaluate a text for quality claim and details by evaluating an excerpt of Thomas Paine's "The Crisis."

Big Idea

Faulty logic? Weak reference? Attack? Students evaluate claim and evidence.

Do Now: Rhetorical Verb Practice

5 minutes

In previous Do Now activities, I asked students to categorize rhetorical verbs to get to know them better. Today, we start working with the verbs in writing.

My two-tiered approach to vocabulary is based on the premise that quality repeated exposure to words and concepts helps deep learning occur. I don't want students to ONLY be able to recite the definitions of vocabulary. I DO want them to be able to use vocabulary in a wide variety of situations. This means they need to PLAY with language.

Today's Do Now asks students to write a sentence using a rhetorical verb. Seems simple enough, right? In actuality, it's a complex task. Students must think of an appropriate subject for rhetorical verbs, choose a logical verb for the task, and formulate the whole thing correctly so far as grammar goes. Of course, they must also remember what rhetorical verbs are. Despite our four days of categorization activities, I still fielded questions about the definition of a rhetorical verb. At least a quick, "What we categorized last week," sufficed to answer the questions.

Students took delight in applying rhetorical verbs to their own lives.

"I assert that [Joe] stole my Monster."

"[Jack] cannot prove that I stole the Monster."

"I observed [Joe] take the Monster."

And so it went.

Students were able to correctly use the verbs; our next step will be increasing the number of verbs in a basic sentence before applying the verbs to our skill studies.

Introduction to Evaluating Claim and Evidence

25 minutes

I begin our introduction to evaluation with a [fake] new school rule: students may no longer wear jeans. I present the rule with reasoning based on actual observations of student dress. Students have been wearing unacceptably tight, sliced up jeans or sagging their jeans. I also throw in what should be an obvious joke reason: teachers can't wear jeans during the week, so why should students? As soon as I present the rule, pandemonium erupts.

"That's not fair!"

"I'm leaving this school!"

"This is a joke, right?"

Yes, it's a joke. With that clarified, I ask students how they would respond to this new rule. What would they say to administration? I hear a repetition of the above mentioned comments, and a few students offer evidence counter the rule; students need to be able to wear affordable clothing, and students should have the right to wear what's comfortable, to name a few. I acknowledge that they are working to crush the rule with evidence, but I point out that they are missing a key opportunity--evaluating the presented rule and evidence to show weaknesses in the support. I then segue into the target for the day, learning how to evaluate claim and evidence.

As always, I walk students through the language of the target first. They need to know what proficiency looks like, what the key terms mean. This standard is about analyzing the text for central ideas, textual support, and purpose and then evaluating those items--how effective are they? Why? Then, I offer my tips for success. Students take notes for a slide, and then we look at a key focus of evaluation: errors of reasoning. Because there are so many errors of reasoning--enough to keep us taking notes for two days--I print my notes, and we popcorn read (students choose who reads after them) to familiarize ourselves with the content. The text is not complicated, making it ideal for popcorn reading. Students will not encounter language beyond their reading abilities, and the popcorn strategy will keep everyone engaged.

As we read, I add information. For some errors in reasoning, I offer examples I've noticed in the modern world or ask students where they see the errors occurring in the modern world (personal attacks, for examples, often occur in political debates, as does evading the question). For other errors, I give tips about how students might identify them in our Revolutionary literature ("Keep an eye out for needless repetition of claims").

After reading the errors in reasoning, I ask, "What questions do you have?" This phrase implies that it's okay, even expected, to have questions, whereas "Are there questions" may imply the content should have been clear enough to leave no questions (at least in the minds of hesitant students). Today, there are none. We're ready to move to practice.

"The Crisis" Excerpt Evaluation

15 minutes

Since this is our first evaluation practice, we will work as a whole class. I pull up the next slide of the PowerPoint and introduce the text, a single paragraph excerpt from Paine's "The Crisis." I read the paragraph aloud, as always putting emphasis on key ideas with my vocal inflection. Then, I ask students to find the claim. The paragraph is straight-forward in structure, starting with the claim before moving directly to supporting details.

Now we move to evaluation. I take it slow, pulling up one evaluation question at a time.

"Are the details relevant?"

Students hem and haw about how relevant historical examples are. Finally, they decide the wide range of details are appropriate given that the claim suggests all nations suffer panic.

"Are the details sufficient?"

Again, heming and hawing. There are only a few--but then again, the excerpt is very short. The examples are mostly historical, and logos (fact) details are very convincing. It's decided that the details are sufficient.

"Is the counter-claim addressed?"

No. Definitely not. Of course, the length of the excerpt plays into this.

I'm impressed with the results of today's practice, though aware that not every voice was heard during analysis. Our next practice will be in small groups where every student can contribute--I'll see how well the skill is clicking then.