Improving Argumentation Writing

How Might the Inquiry Design Model Help?

The Call

The call came - the call always comes. There are many stories to tell about the call, which came in various forms throughout my life. This time, the call came from my brother, telling me that my Uncle Tim had been shot and killed. Tim dedicated his life to loving the people around him, often serving in church ministry and as a prison chaplain. He approached barriers fearlessly, but sometimes we get so close that barriers become dangerous. It was a jarring tragedy resulting in further pain for my family and the other family who lost their son to a lengthy prison sentence.

Coming many times, favorably and not, I always needed to answer the call, such as when Providence made the call leading me to teach at Doss High School in Louisville, Kentucky. Being an alumnus provided a unique perspective and the memories of a simpler time flooded over me time and time again. The barriers are overwhelming at times, lights on until lights off, with much more at stake than simply content recall and test-taking. Students need an approach to barriers and I answered the call with the confidence I can affect change. This is my why. I want to equip students to face barriers by building their confidence through academic achievement.

The Process

A traditional social studies classroom centers around memorizing facts, but nothing about that experience is truly life-changing. I began teaching along those lines and quickly realized I was outworking my students with sparse results until I discovered the Inquiry Design Model (IDM) and my classroom changed drastically. IDM begins with a question, which establishes a direction - train tracks, perhaps. A great question is compelling for students, needing to be answered with connectivity to content, but it primarily strikes at student interests. Once the train track is in place, we keep students on track toward the end goal through formative and summative tasks. Finally, the students need to investigate sources and gather evidence, which are then transported across the journey. The IDM process is described more fully by S.G. Grant, Kathy Swan, and John Lee in their book. This process is well-captured on the IDM blueprint, a feature displaying the vertical and horizontal alignment of the lesson and unit.

Although student learning has been impacted greatly in my classroom using IDM, I have consistently noticed students struggling to write high-quality argumentation. Also, teaching argumentation writing exposes gaps in my professional learning, because I never received any formal training to do so. As I considered this problem, my hunch was IDM, along with another tool, could, in fact, improve student argumentation writing.

One tool was created by Ryan Lewis, a Social Studies teacher at Woodford County High School in Kentucky, which provides a footing for claim writing and evaluation. The Lewis Framework identifies four pillars of a proficient claim: clarity, accuracy, persuasion, and reasoning. While these pillars are still being refined, they are a well-defined framework whereby students are challenged to improve their claim writing.

Big picture

The Results

The students were working through a unit on religions in Human Geography, so I posed the compelling question: Should the United States’ embassy be moved to Jerusalem? The students were given basic information to ignite their research which came as a guided research organizer with linked articles, though they would need to find additional sources to push deeper. Students also received comprehension and analysis questions, utilized digitally and through small and whole group discussion, to assess learning and provide feedback, as well as encourage engagement and collaboration. The summative task was an argumentation essay answering the compelling question, which began with writing a claim.

Although claim writing is taught to students, what exactly do teachers expect? To be honest, I have taught claim writing for several years, and I was always very pleased when a student would take a position followed by evidence and reasoning and analysis, but I knew there was more. This time, I gave great attention to claim writing. By using the Lewis Framework, students were able to bring added detail and significance to their claim writing, and the level of guidance and feedback increased. Initially the results were mediocre, but through feedback and revision, one hundred percent of the students showed improvement in claim writing.

Through the process of the Inquiry Design Model and the Lewis Framework, my students showed remarkable improvement in their argumentation writing. While IDM provided the step-by-step process of creating a path for learning, evidence-gathering, and communicating the progress, the Lewis Framework helped students articulate their research and demonstrate mastery. One challenge I faced throughout this journey was the scaffolding necessary to personalize for various competencies, while providing paths for student learning that were not overly prescriptive and narrow. I need to also help them maintain autonomy. However, IDM and the Lewis Framework addressed these concerns by providing individualized paths for students based upon their interests and research progressions.

Big picture
So, what now? Every student can learn and grow, but we need a regenerative flow of people answering the call, learning and bouncing back, persevering beyond the barriers and paying forward the call to another generation. Teachers answer the call every day and in many ways, hoping to make a difference and rescue bunches who otherwise may struggle through a futile existence (and not reach their full potential). We as teachers continue to learn and grow, and now the call comes for you.