“Digging for Claims”

I love the feel of sand between my toes, I love how when I get close to the ocean’s edge, the water can sneak up on me and splash all around my ankles, and I love watching as my dog dives his nose deep into the sand in hunt of buried treasure which is usually in the form of some half-eaten crab leg.  I am a tactile girl: I prefer the feel of a pencil or pen in my fingers as I glide my hand across a sheet of paper. 

I keep hearing kids are digital and their minds are only wired for electronics and computers; from my experience with remote learning, I no longer believe that is true.  It started with my first-time use of NoRedInk. 

NoRedInk’s mission is to “unlock every writer’s potential.”  The program, created by former English teachers, is an online grammar and writing program that adapts to each student.  I decided to have my tenth and eleventh graders work through a series of lessons about claims and evidence.  They struggled.  During a one on one zoom session, I had a student share his screen with me. I thought that this one-on-one was helpful because I learned he did not understand how to determine claims or proper evidence; therefore, we walked through the problems the program presented him.  If we were in the classroom, teaching claims and evidence this way would be beneficial to my students. 

Recently and metaphorically, Isaac Newton’s apple hit me on the head: there is a correlation between understanding claims and evidence and being able to properly peer review.  In the past, when I have had to cull my own research for a literature review, I made sure I was curating peer-reviewed articles. The peer-reviewing wasn’t about grammar and mechanics or even sentence structure; instead, the focus was on claims and evidence – were they accurate, were they valid, were they reliable. I never realized that it is this same concept I want my students to do in a peer review.  

 It is time I teach them.  Armstrong and Paulson bring up definitional points in their Peer Review terminology paper, “Perhaps the most significant distinction between peer response and peer review is that the former tends to be a more audience-focused session that is typically structured to involve discussion-driven feedback.” (402) Since we teach our students that their writing, no matter the genre, needs to be for a wider audience – not just the teacher or classmates,  I related Armstrong and Paulson’s idea of the audience-focused session to more scholarly peer review that I would like my students to emulate. 

How will I get my students to understand claims and evidence and the importance of writing them and understanding them in their classmates’ papers? This should be easy, since every time we read a short article, we go through the rhetorical devices, inference, discussion, etc.  I thought my students understood these concepts until NoRedInk opened my eyes. 

“When instructors ask students to perform peer review, they must consider exactly what they are asking students to do to develop a peer-review activity that fits instructors’ specific goals for students. Then, and only then, can instructors provide a language for such an activity that allows students to see these goals, make the connections, and benefit from peer review.”(Armstrong and Paulson 400). 

I want my students to see these goals and make the connections: I want my students to be tactile in their learning in a way that goes beyond using a pen or pencil, computer keyboard, or highlighter.  I want my students to feel the sand between their fingers as they dig for claims. It will get messy, paper towels, hand sanitizer, and a broom will be on guard, but it might help switch from short-term memory to long-term understanding. 

First, I want to have a series of whole group lessons where we utilize NoRedInk on the Smartboard and go through several of the questions and talk through what makes a claim and what isn’t and what makes proper evidence.  Again, though my students do this with our article readings in class, they cannot transfer the lesson from one task to another. 

The second phase is digging through a tabletop sandbox or sand bucket for claims and evidence.  This will happen in groups.  I will have three cut out claims and statements of facts with three evidence pieces for each claim and several non-evidence pieces.  The group will have to sift through all of them and match the proper pieces of evidence to the appropriate claim.    

Once they have successfully completed this task, they will create a quick time video verbally explaining why the evidence matches the claim. After this part, each member of the group will watch the other members’ videos and ask the student how they would elaborate more. 

Finally, the students will receive a menu of different genre writings and choose one of them to write a paper using their claims, evidence, and rationale.  The genre could be a blog, a series of memes, a social media post, a letter to the editor, a newscast, or a speech. I want the genre to be different from the five-paragraph essay so the students understand that they will encounter claims and evidence in a variety of ways throughout their lives. 

I invite all of you to find your sandbox and tactile ways to teach claims and evidence. 

Works Cited:  

Armstrong, S. L., & Paulson, E. J. (2008). Whither “peer review”?   

terminology matters for the writing classroom.Teaching English in the  

Two Year College,35(4), 398-407. Retrieved from https://search- 

proquest-com.proxy1.library.jhu.edu/docview/220963655? 

accountid=11752 

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