Although I try to avoid thinking about school during most of my summer vacation (with the exception of a few days of training and curriculum writing), I usually make a goal of reading at least one book focused on pedagogy or instruction. So, when I came across this list of “Underappreciated Books for ELA Teachers” by Kelly Gallagher and saw Teaching Argument Writing by George Hillocks, Jr, I decided to give it a try. And I am so glad I did! It is definitely one of the best books I have read on writing instruction. I loved the balance between theory and practice that made it both instructive and engaging.
In the preface, Michael W. Smith explains that not only must students “learn to write by writing” as goes the common adage, but also
“students can learn to write by talking together while working through problems that provide rehearsals for the kind of thinking they will have to do when they are composing” (xi).
In this book, Hillocks does an excellent job of providing examples and scenarios that create the opportunity for students to engage in these types of conversations. The book contains seven chapters, each focusing on different skills required in crafting and evaluating arguments, and each building in the level of complexity.
One aspect that I really appreciated was that the book includes so many examples of activities that are ready to use in class. For example, as a way to introduce the structures of a basic argument: claim, evidence, and warrant (or rule), Hillocks uses several scenarios or diagrams (as seen below). I even enjoyed working through the different activities as I read the book, so I can see how engaging they would be for students. One challenge I foresee is finding ways to integrate these ready-made activities into my own curriculum. However, Hillocks oftentimes provides tips for creating your own activities.
Although it will not be possible for me to incorporate all of the “units” in my own classes, I see so much potential even in individual scenarios. I will need to be very mindful about how I incorporate some of these activities, however, because they each build on one another. Nevertheless, this book challenged me to move my students beyond the typical persuasive writing and push them towards more logic-based argument writing with higher critical thinking. I highly recommend this book as both instructional and enjoyable!
If you have read this book, what ideas inspired you? Was there anything you disagreed with? How have you/will you apply the ideas in your classroom?
What other books have been influential on your instruction in the classroom?