Ellen Tanguay might be a parent’s worst nightmare -- she’s teaching seventh-graders how to argue. In fact, her students will be practicing arguing every day for the next few weeks.
“Wait. What?” parents may be saying. “They’re teenagers; they’re already experts at that.”
Tanguay hopes to build on this natural ability by helping her students learn the process of developing evidence-based arguments as part of her English Language Arts program. “Learning to build an effective argument is empowering for students,” she says. “It’s a skill they will use throughout their lives.”
This is where the magic happens
Today’s classroom is full of activity and conversation – students are working together in small groups sifting through facts and research to find evidence and form an opinion. “This is where all the magic happens,” Tanguay explains before checking in with a particularly loud table. “They do all the work. I’m here for support and to guide them in the right direction.”
This independent work time is a critical component of the workshop model – a framework of instruction used in the Salem schools to improve reading and writing performance. The model starts with a mini-lesson where the teacher provides the whole class with instruction on the work to be done. This is followed by independent/small group work sessions and closes with a brief recap/sharing of lessons learned.
Tanguay circulates through the class, stopping to answer questions or assess a group’s progress. “They’re all familiar with the process,” she says, noting the benefit of a consistent teaching approach throughout the district. “There are no surprises; they know what they are supposed to do.”
By carefully staging working groups to encourage healthy interactions, Tanguay creates a recipe for success. “I love how flexible the process is,” she says. “If I see the whole class is struggling with a topic, I can stop the process and address the issue. I can also pull aside individuals or small groups and focus on their needs without stopping the entire class.”
Effective guidance when it's needed most
As a result of this constant interaction, Tanguay knows what the final arguments will be before they’re ever submitted for grading. “The best time for my input is while the piece is developing,” she explains. “This focus on the process prepares them to be real-world writers who can create a persuasive argument.”
Sorry, parents. You’re going to have to up your game.