After a year of working with teachers and thinking about the C3WP framework, I have so many ideas about how I’d like to teach the concept of argument in the fall. My first brainwave came early on in our work: we cannot just teach students to write argumentatively; we must teach them what argument is, how to read arguments critically, how arguments are constructed.
So, to me, argument writing isn’t really the goal of C3WP: it’s argument itself.
This reframing of my thinking about instructional design–that we have to teach the what, the why, and the when–before we teach the essential HOW–has my mind spinning, and here we are nearing the end of July.
I need to boil down this reframing into a more simplified framework:
THINK + TRY + DO
Step one is to think more purposefully about what it is we’d like our students to master: in this case, argument.
Not just the writing, but the knowing. Too often, I think we focus on strategies and required texts and essential questions, but we don’t take the time to sit and ponder the nuts and bolts of the skill itself we want students to master. Taking the time to really reflect on the what of our curricula can lead to the kind of looped thinking that lets students explore argument from multiple perspectives, as readers, writers, and thinkers.
Step two is to try this new thing you’ve been thinking about.
One of our central texts for the C3WP institute was Pose, Wobble, Flow by Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen. This text makes lots of wonderful arguments for teachers to inhabit “poses” as more thoughtful, authentic practitioners through the metaphor of yoga. The idea is that when we try new things as teachers, we are trying to get into an unfamiliar pose. We inevitably wobble as we try to master this new stance, but eventually attain the flow characterized by doing this pose without thinking.
For me, approaching argument through the new lens of both a written mentor text as well as a writing process would definitely be a new stance. It’ll take some time to get my instructional design smoothed out, and my instinct is to worry about what this might look like in the fall.
But GODA (as one of our teachers refers to Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen)’s key argument is that the wobble part of this process is not only a necessary part of becoming a better teacher, but a desirable one–we must live in the gray area, a zone of proximal development, disequilibrium, or whatever else we might call it. “The P/W/F model is not about an endpoint,” GODA vehemently asserts; “it is a framework to help acknowledge how one’s practice changes over time and requires constant adaptation” (4). It’s only by being uncomfortable, by trying new things day or week or year in and out, that we can improve as teachers.
What this looks like in terms of our current theme of teaching argument writing is revising the way we think about the writing process to start from an inquiry-based place of research, then claim development, then argument articulation. This new mindset is requiring all of us to “wobble” as we try to conceive of it, and we’re wobbling in even our understandings of its many moving parts–what revision is, or what an argument can look like, or how we can use argument as a genre for developing our opinionated writing voices. As we’re flooded with unconventional ideas, mentor texts, thought processes, and assessment measures, we’re all wobbling with the confidence we’ll eventually reach flow.
But once we do–some time during the school year when things are going smoothly and planning and teaching are underway–we’ll need to yank ourselves out of our newly-found comfort zones and get back into a new pose, embracing the wobble of new learning once more. We need to return, again and again, to the try portion of things.
This constant revision of our teaching is a simple way we can always strive to be better teachers–just embrace the wobble of continuous improvement.
The final step is to do: to walk the talk of our teaching and write and learn beside our students.
When looking through the lens of Pose, Wobble, Flow, it’s clear we must shift our identities from mere teachers to that of teacher-writers. As we engaged in C3WP work this year, we wrote constantly, even after an introductory session during which many of our teacher participants confessed that they identified mostly as readers, and not so much as writers.
I cannot count the number of teachers I know who feel this same way. Perhaps it is because writing seems such a nebulous process compared to the straightforward seeing, decoding, and meaning-making of the reading process, but many teachers struggle to teach writing because they are not writers themselves.
GODA strongly advocate for the many student-centered benefits of writing beside our learners, but there are so many benefits beyond the classroom that become possible when we simply write.
Outside the classroom, GODA suggest that teachers might become more engaged in improvement by:
- Sharing articles with colleagues
- Commenting on education blogs
- Participating in Twitter chats about educational issues
- Joining organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English
- Participating in local workshops
Taking one or more of these eminently doable steps can help teachers “enact agency and make an impact on the profession” (27). These simple activities will not only expose you to ideas to keep you in the “wobble,” but they’ll let you meet and engage with like-minded colleagues as interested in improvement as you.
Within your classroom, becoming a writer is equally valuable. If you read nothing else of Pose Wobble Flow, I encourage you to read the chapter on “Embracing Your Inner Writer: What It Means to Teach as a Writer.” These pages are chock full of suggestions for not only reasons to write, but ways to do it. From a survey designed to help you find your identity as a writer, to practical methods for joining writing communities on Twitter, Facebook, and even NaNoWriMo, to the ways the act of writing beside our students changes our teaching, this chapter is awesome.
Because “the changes that come about within our classrooms and with our students start with ourselves,” (80), writing is a necessary first step to becoming a better teacher. I hope, like me, you’ll begin keeping a writer’s notebook, blogging regularly, or writing beside your students every time you see them in class. Beginning to inhabit the pose of a writer–although I experience wobble within this identity almost daily–is doubtless the most helpful thing I’ve done to improve my practice as a teacher.
For our students, the do portion of the framework is equally important. They must inhabit the pose, wobble, flow process just as we do; this requires fits and starts and less-restrictive start and endpoints to the writing process than we might traditionally impose in the classroom. Conceiving of this new approach to teaching writing, particularly argument writing, will doubtless require me to think, try, and do again and again.
I’ll approach planning to teach argument itself, as well as the process of argument writing, through the lens of THINK + TRY + DO in the future. In the meantime, I will continue to ponder what it is I think students should do, try out approaches to doing it, and then practice it myself before its debut thanks to what I’ve learned through C3WP.
I hope our readers will explore Pose, Wobble, Flow and leave a comment with their thoughts on that text, this process, your identity as a writer, and more.
Shana Karnes finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life. Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or read more of her writing at Three Teachers Talk or on the WVCTE Best Practices blog.