Each day, I begin my ELA class with Reading Time. This is a time for students to access a range of texts. I use this time to conference with students, collect data on class patterns and trends with independent reading and to provide individualized support.
Before students get into writing an argument piece, I think it's important that students work through their thinking on certain topics before they begin to write. I want them to feel confident in their ideas and one way to do this is by fostering classroom discussions. While these can be tricky, there are ways to facilitate them that lead to great discussions and fosters students thinking even outside the classroom. The best way is by raising issues in class that students have a lot to say about. High interest texts are the best way to get students talking. Middle schoolers may not always be inclined to write but they are definitely inclined to talk.
I start today's lesson by pulling up the Equal Opportunity Powerpoint on the Smartboard. The first slide is on the Smartboard and I introduce the lesson by explaining what we will be doing. I tell them one way to figure out a topic for writing an argument piece is by looking at current events. I want to give students as much choice in what they write and read. By doing this, engagement is much higher. I tell them one topic that I am obviously interested in is education so we are going to read news article dealing with that with the knowledge that they will choose their own articles to write about it.
I pass out copies of an article titled "At Poor Schools, Time Stops on the Library's Shelves" from the New York Times. I then move to the second slide of the Powerpoint, which lists two questions that will lead our discussion. The questions we use are
We read through the article as a class then have a discussion answering those questions. Many students feel a strong reaction to the inequity in the school discussed in the article. The discussion is a few minutes and I make sure to get to as many students as possible. I don't always call on students who raise their hands, but rather focus on students who I know will contribute to the class discussion.
After reading the first article, we then move on to reading a new article the focuses on the opposite end of the spectrum: schools who have great resources due to high tuition costs. This topic is very strong in my school since many students apply and are accepted to these private schools. When students are able to think about themselves in relation to these current events, they are much more inclined to talk and participate.
I move on to the third slide of the Equal Opportunity Powerpoint and show students the question will use to frame our discussion of "Tuition Hits $26,000, and in Private School New York, That's Just For Kindergarten." Here is a screen shot of the article: Tuition Hits $26,000 Article Screenshot.
I pass out the article and show students the question from the Powerpoint we will be discussing after we read the article. The questions are:
We read through the article once and I remind students that we are not reading to look for argument in the piece but rather using the idea of a current event to figure out our thoughts about certain topics. By doing so, we can will be more interested in what we write.
This article works well in my classroom as many of my students know these schools mentioned and will be attending them. They are interested in reading them when they have a personal connection and the discussion that follows is usually a lot richer than the previous discussion since this is more directly related to them.
The last part of the lesson focuses on a class discussion based on the following question: Should all students receive an equal opportunity to an education? I move to the last slide of the Equal Opportunity Powerpoint, which has the question. It serves as a visual reminder for the class discussion. By this point in the lesson many students have strong feelings about the inadequacies of education. Being in an affluent area, they all know that it is wrong but they also feel that it's okay to use your resources when needed. Most of the classroom discussion focuses on whether or not this is fair.
My role as teacher is to serve as a facilitator for this discussion. I prod students when they raise points. I want to show them that they need to have logical reasoning for their ideas so why is it okay to pay this amount for an education when other schools lack resources. I also make sure that we stay on task. I don't want students to delve too much into their personal experiences but focusing their reasoning and support.
There are many ways to have a classroom video discusses them: Classroom Discussion