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Closing the Logic Loop—Why our Students Struggle with Argument Writing

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By Chip Brady, The DBQ Project Co-Founder

 

Have you ever wanted to write, “So what?” on your students’ essays? Well, welcome to the national club. We hear every week that students are not reasoning or analyzing effectively in their argument essays. We hear the same thing from 4th grade teachers and AP teachers alike. So what’s going on?

 

Bottom line, students often think that evidence alone is sufficient to prove a claim. Here’s an example.  A student might argue that militarism was a cause of World War I, and as proof, cite evidence from a chart on the military build up in Europe from 1890-1914. The fact that German, British and Russian military spending tripled in the three decades prior to WWI conclusively suggests why The Great War started.  Armed with this piece of evidence, students will rest their case.

 

The problem, of course, is that another student might argue (as many did prior to 1914) that the build up of arms made countries safer and less likely to attack each other. When I point this out, students quickly verbalize that the build up led to fear among the leaders, and possibly overconfidence among the militaries of the day, thus leading to a situation where a spark could start the war. My response—that is exactly what I want to see in your paper. Go revise that body paragraph.

 

Truth is for years I was a bit fuzzy as a teacher, clumping together evidence and argument in my writing workshops. I wasn’t being explicit enough that students must explain why a piece of evidence supports a claim. For all the logic loops unclosed, I apologize.

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