On our last evaluation practice, students provided specific, accurate responses to most questions, but they consistently made vague references on one: what errors of reasoning are in the text? Deciding that we needed to review, I first ask students to simply list five errors of reasoning to start our day today. Their success will tell me if they: A. know what I'm talking about; B. know where their notes are; and C. are paying attention (it's our Homecoming spirit week--attention is wavering across the school).
Alas, success is hard to grasp. Students desperately ask each other what I'm talking about. At least a few know; they help others find the notes. By the time I begin to call names, they're ready to respond, but it's clear from their hesitant manner that they need more work with this piece of evaluation.
Students already have their errors in reasoning notes out, so we are ready to jump right into their practice. I challenge them to create the worst argument ever. They may pick a claim on any topic, but their details must show every error of reasoning. Because I'm only focused on students' understanding of the errors, format of their argument is not important. I ask for a list of details only.
"I can DO this!"
"Best essay ever!"
"This is awesome!"
Clearly, the assignment is well received. I allow students to pick partners or small groups (no more than four) since motivation will not be an issue. They move quickly, finding partners and settling down to work.
I circulate as they brainstorm their details, answering questions about the errors.
"How could I do contradiction?"
Try making a statement and then giving the exact opposite.
"How do I poison the well?"
What would the counter-claim be? How could you crush it poorly?
"What would a source that lacks credibility be?"
Am I an expert on birds? Would you want to cite me in your details?
Twenty-five minutes later, we're ready to move into challenge mode. I have created a list of teams and their opponents. I ask each team to give their claim and just five details (the rest are reserved in case they move to the next round). After, students will vote with their bodies (moving to either side of the room to show who they support) for the best worst argument (wrap your head around that!).
As students present their claims and details, there is laughter and learning. Their details are correct for the errors of reasoning, hilariously so:
By the end of the hour, we all feel much more confident about our knowledge of the errors in reasoning that we will need for effectively evaluating texts.