When students arrive to class, I greet them and ask them to begin a timed Quickwrite. I give them the prompt that asks them to determine their position on Jose Canseco: "Is he a baseball legend or is he a major league cheater? Explain why you feel that way." I tell the students that, if they do not know who he is, they should write down all the questions they have that would help them to make a decision about him.
I choose to do this so that, my students who have prior knowledge, can organize their thoughts about the situation. I also like that it requires the students who have no familiarity with Conseco an opportunity to evaluate the situation and determine what information would be required for them to feel comfortable taking a position on the issue. The group who is unfamiliar with Conseco definitely has the tougher task at this point in the lesson.
I want my students to continue developing analytical and critical thinking skills. The more practice they get with it, the better they will be in that regard. I choose this particular topic each year, but it happened to line up with the then current issue of Scholastic Scope Magazine. Steroid and other performance enhancing drug use is a topic that seems to keep coming up in professional sports, so there are a plethora of resources available that are reputable and easy to find for when the students begin doing their own research in a later activity.
I begin this section by asking the students who did not know who Jose Canseco is to share the questions they wrote down, that they felt would give them the information needed to determine whether they felt he was a legend or a cheater. I maintain a list of the questions on the front board.
Once we have established a reasonably all-inclusive set of questions that would need to be answered to determine a position, I ask the students who were previously familiar with Mr. Conseco to share what they wrote about. As the students share out, I keep a list of What We Know About Canseco on the front board.
The strategy I am using can be found in the book The Core Six, which is a set of six strategies my school district has been working together to implement in the classroom. This particular lesson follows a modified version of the "Circle of Knowledge" strategy from the book. A key component here is to not provide evaluative feedback with each share-out. Instead, thank the student for sharing and continue on. The book establishes that providing evaluative feedback shows the kids what you as the teacher personally value or agree with, and that will have a negative impact on the overall discussion. Including the evaluative feedback "teaches" the students to answer in the way you appear to appreciate or agree with, rather than sharing their own person perspective and analysis.
While the students are sharing their perspectives on whether or not Canseco is a legend or a cheater, I am keeping track of the claims and statements each student makes on the board up front. When we have used all but about a minute of our time, I stop the sharing and provide an overview of the statements each student made on both sides of the issue. I make it a point to remind students of the questions that were asked to begin the activity, so they are better able to process the information and evaluate.
I then pass out the Jose Canseco Article for the students to read independently. We have framed some of the students' perspectives as well as the questions that students felt would provide necessary information to determine a position on the issue, in order to help them pull necessary details and information from what they read. Some common questions that students establish as necessary are:
As students read, they are expected to highlight key information they feel supports their ability to answer necessary questions and determine their position. I also remind the students that they should use the information they learned from reading the article "Dying to Be Strong" to make connections between the texts whenever possible.
Once students have had an opportunity to read and make some quick notes and connections in the text, I ask them to physically move into one of three areas in the classroom based on their current opinion. The areas include the analysis that Canseco is: 1) a legend, for sure 2) "I'm not quite sure" or 3) a cheater.
The student are then expected to share in their groups why they feel as they do. It works best to have the students in groups of about 4-6 (depending on how the students organize themselves, you will need to make a judgement call). Groups larger than that will naturally exclude some students from sharing, which takes away from the overall value of the discussion.
What I have found to be consistently true about the students' alignment and discussion is that there is a clear majority of students who feel Conseco is a cheater. The undecided group is the middle, while those who feel he is still a legend is commonly the smallest group. I have not once had a class where one of the three options had no students, but the lesson would not really be impacted if that happened. In fact, the entire class could align with one option and that would be fine as well. The grouping process would just become a bit more significant at that point to ensure the groups were sized appropriately to ensure all students can and will participate meaningfully.
I finish the lesson by asking the students to return to their seats and begin work on a 1-2 paragraph written statement determining and supporting their various positions on the issue of Canseco's status as a Major League Baseball player. I ask them to use the Evidence Handout in their ISNs to introduce specific evidence from the article in their writing. The students have interacted with this information in a few different settings: independently, then in pairs, as a whole class, independently, and finally in small groups prior to starting this short writing task. This scaffolding was important to ensure each student had the capacity and confidence to complete the assignment independently. They should not complete it in the 5 minutes provided, but will be able to get a solid start. I have them write this piece in their ISNs on the same page where they completed their anticipatory set pre-write, but it is easy to have them write it on a separate sheet of paper as well. Regardless, I have it due the following day in class.