Unit II: Instructor's Narrative

To the instructor:

This brief narrative is intended to give you an overview of the conceptual movement of the unit to aid you as you begin planning your classes. Coupled with the suggestions for the daily lessons (and, of course, help whenever you need it from the Composition Faculty), this narrative should help give you the information you need to get started while leaving you some extra freedom to develop your own lessons, DAILYs and activities.

The second unit builds on the first one by adding evaluating, research and arguing skills to the analysis and inquiry skills your students learned in the first unit. It also builds on the first unit by allowing students to use their own voices more. They've already identified and analyzed several issues about language. Now it's time for them to join the conversation and speak their own minds about those issues, taking the kind of linguistic power they've only watched up to this point.

The Arguing Essay itself should be an argument about a language-related issue which argues for a particular point of view, a solution to a problem, or the validity of an analysis. The audience for the Arguing Essay should be the group of authors students read to do their research on that essay--the ones they used to Inquire into the different points-of-view on the subject. By using those sources as their audience, your students will be able to clearly analyze the language of their audiences (using the analytical skills they learned in Unit I) in order to determine how best to contact that audience.

The unit should start with some clear connections to the Inquiry essay. Part of that connection can be the above explanation about "joining the conversation," but there's more. The other part of the connection is the part that moves beyond Inquiry on a conceptual level. Your students will start with the inquiry skills they already have and add evaluation and argumentation to them. The logic works like this:

In order to make a good argument about an issue, the first step is inquiry--finding several different authors who approach your topic and identifying and analyzing those approaches. The next step toward an argument, though, is to evaluate those approaches to determine which one is best. The criteria for evaluation will likely include objective elements (like the effectiveness of each argument in terms of the four writing elements, or generally agreed-upon criteria used by the community debating the issue, such as cost, legality, etc.), as well as subjective elements (how well does this argument jibe with my own point-of-view?) Once you know these criteria, both objective and subjective, you can make a judgment about the best approach to the issue and identify a point-of-view you can personally argue for. You can do this either by finding an already-existing approach that meets your requirements and argue in support of that approach, or you can develop your own unique approach (or a hybrid of existing approaches), and argue for that approach above all the others.

The first class day should set up the preceding ideas about the process of creating an argument. The idea of "joining the conversation" can be made quickly and verbally as an introduction to the assignment. Then, you can introduce the second connection with an exercise that introduces the idea of evaluation by objective and subjective criteria. For instance, one effective exercise is to bring in two different types of chocolate kisses (Hershey's and Dove, for example). You can start the exercise by having your students freewrite about their standards for good chocolate, generate those criteria on the board, and then evaluate each type of chocolate according to those criteria. Then, can ask your students which criteria are objective (purity, cocoa content, etc.) and which are subjective (whether or not you like nuts). From there, you can discuss with your students how their own evaluations of different points-of-view on an issue will be a hybrid of these two sets of criteria--a combination of the effectiveness of the writing and how well an author's point-of-view jibes with their own ideas.

At that point, students can go home and look at their Inquiry essays in order to develop their own list of subjective criteria for the articles they'll read. The assignment should run something like, "Look at your own Inquiry essay and come up with a list of criteria that you can use to identify how and why an article connects or fails to connect with your own point of view about language in your focus area (power, self, etc.). What can you look for in an approach to an issue to see if it jibes with your own point-of-view?" Having done this, the next few class days should be devoted to reading and discussing the outside articles. At the same time, students can work in groups (based on their Inquiry focus areas--a group for language and power, language and self, etc.) on doing both objective and subjective evaluations of those outside readings in order to find their own points-of view. The final class day spent on the outside readings should be one in which the groups help each other to define, according to their criteria, which approach to the class issue is the best. This should give them a good basis to jump off and begin working on an even finer focus on a particular issue for their own Arguing Essays.

The next step, once your students have thus practiced evaluating these different points-of-view, is to help them to generate topics of their own. You can do this by hearkening back to the exercise you used in Unit I to generate the themes students looked for in the Inquiry Essays. Have them take out that list (or generate a new one) of things that are important in their lives, and ask them to connect them not just with general language issues, but specific issues which connect to your class topic as well. For instance, if your class topic is Language and Gender, the student's Inquiry focus was an issue concerning language and power, and one of the words on the student's list is "education," that student could begin looking for issues within education that connect with both of the other themes (like gendered language affecting classroom politics). If your class topic is Language and Technology, your student's Inquiry focus was based on language and perceptions of reality, and one of the words on your student's list was "career," that student could look for ways in which the language of technology affects the reality of the workplace. Your students can come up with these individually at the beginning of a class session (based on a daily writing assignment), and then discuss them in small groups. If you assign each small group to come up with at least two more ideas for each person's focus area, your students will each have three potential topics to work with by the end of one class. Then, for homework, your students can write an informal synopsis of everything they already know, think, or can speculate about concerning that topic--the perfect point at which to begin researching. Another good (and more complete thab the above) homework assignment at this point is to assign your students to do the "Exploring a Topic" module in the Writing Center. If you're in a computer room, your students can access this in the classroom. If not, they can access it in the main English Dept. computer lab.

Here, too, you can introduce the idea of a Rhetorical Prospectus--as way of starting with the topics/claims your students just generated, analyzing their audiences, and using that information to develop a coherent argument.

Once students have solidified their own topics, it's the perfect time to begin teaching some basic research skills: "Now that you have a topic idea, here's how to find out more about it." You can introduce students to general research methods one day, assign the library assignment for homework, and spend the next day talking and answering questions about the library.

Once you've allowed enough time for students to find several articles on their topics, spend one day as a work day in which you help your students evaluate the approaches to their issues, just as they did with the in-class readings earlier. Use this to move them toward a finer focus which they can then use as a starting point for a Rhetorical Prospectus. Then, you can have them use that same set of articles to do the audience analysis portion of their prospectus, using the same techniques of analyzing language learned in Unit I to determine their audience's characteristics and potential attitudes about their claims.

You can then set up the following days as workdays on the prospectus (until it's due), and a day or two on how to develop their argument through language analysis. Before they begin drafting, be sure to spend a day on shaping their essays based on their prospectae, and some time developing workshop and grading criteria. Any remaining time can be used as in class work, peer workshops, and conference days depending on your perceptions of your students' needs.