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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Supporting Argumentative Writing on the iPad

One of the biggest adjustment elementary  and middle school teachers will have to make as they integrate the Common Core State Standards into their writing will be a shift in the focus to argumentation.

Much of the writing in elementary school focuses on narrative writing and when we move into the informational genre we have our students compare and contrast on topics or try to persuade parents to give everyone an allowance?

What is missing? Textual based evidence. This key delineation defines the difference between persuasive writing and argumentative writing. One i based on feeling and the other on evidence.

How can we utilize the iPad, or other digital tools to scaffold the argumentative writing? I would suggest the use of a Vee Diagram.

Vee Diagram

I stumbled on Vee diagrams at my first educational research conference, American Educational Research Association, in Chicago  a few years back. It was one of those perfect sessions, you now one you never intended to attend. My original game plan was to sneak off to Wrigley Field for the first time and see the Cubs play. Yet on this dreary late April day a cold wet snow began to fall, and the game canceled.

So I decided to invest some time in a few sessions. Given the weather conditions, however, I did not want to leave my hotel. If you have ever attended AERA you know it is a behemoth. In Chicago that year it was spread over a dozen hotels on Michigan Avenue.

So I entered the third day of my first conference with no game plan. As a new graduate student, and still a classroom teacher at the time, you enter the conference with the ideas concrete and the names and faces of the authors and researchers as abstract. You leave with the ideas a more abstract and the authors more concrete.

For me it was my idea of how to teach persuasive writing. I was a 6th grade teacher, and in CT we have a writing portion of the Connecticut Mastery Test; at the time 6th graders were tested in persuasive writing.

So I randomly chose a room a room in the middle of the day and sat down. One of the papers being presented at the time was by Michael Nussbaum. It discussed the use of something called a Vee diagram (which I have since learned have been used in rhetoric for quite some time but it was, and still is novel to me),

Dr. Nussbaum was discussing a study he did in an online class and he tried to frame the discussion not around persuasive writing but argumentative writing (sound familiar CCSS fans and detractors?). His basic premise was he too often have students start with their position and then do the research. Nussbaum used the Vee diagram to have students research both sides and then develop their position.

How Does it Work?

I simplified the original design for my 6th graders (if you are interested to learn more drop me a comment and I can send you the original paper from AERA). 

  1. Basically I have my students choose, or I give them an issue. 
  2. Then I have students develop two positions on that issue.
  3. Next the students find 3-4  claims for each issue.
  4. Then they must find a rebuttal claim for each of their claims.
  5. Then, if you wish to extend the learning. they have two find evidence to back up each claim
  6. Finally the students write a position statement.

Using the iPad and the Vee Diagram

Lately I have been using the Vee diagram to support argumentative writing on the iPad. Basically I open the blank diagram in Pages and have it act as a pre-writing guide for my students. I have done variations where the students work in pairs and one student finds the claims for both sides, and the other finds the rebuttals. 

Using Pages (or NEU.Annotate) and dropbox (or gDocs, or a WebDav server) the students can send the document back and forth to each other. Once complete I have students write their own position statement that must contain a thesis and their  three most powerful  claims.

Extending the Learning

Once activity missing from the lesson, and it is critical, is source evaluation. I want to create another section where students must evaluate the source of their claims and evidence. This could be done individually, or better yet, in pairs (small groups) where students try to invalidate each others' sources based on author expertise, publisher affiliation, evidence, etc.


sara said...

Many peoples like new The iPad Touch Evaluation

TammyBoard said...

Greg, This could also be used as hard copy if no Ipads are obtainable (have written a grant for classroom set) couldn't it? I'd appreciate anything you'd be willing to send me on both argumentation and critical evaluation of texts/sites Thanks! your teaching suggestions are as always much appreciated!

Greg Mcverry said...


Of course you can do this assignment without any computer or tablet.

This post supports a pilot study I am doing with Boston Public Schools. We are looking at ways tablet computing can support content area writing in middle school. Thus I catered the post for use on the I pad.

I will email you the original manuscript and my writings on source evaluation. If you search my blog for evaluation you will see some videos from my dissertation. I have been using these for interactive think alouds with students.

Greg Mcverry said...


I agree the ipod touch can be a wonderful and more affordable computing solution. I do worry about screen real estate.

Even on the iPads I find students struggle without being able to have multiple windows open at once, and the lack of keyboard can slow many down.