What We Can Learn from 7th Graders this Election Season

This post is about the 2016 presidential election, the Common Core, and it’s written by a public school educator. So it’s got all of the ingredients for a storm of anger to descend in response, if only this blog were better known. A girl can dream, eh?

In reality, though, this post is one I could’ve written before this election and one I’ll want to write again later. It’s a post I think about writing to all of my adult friends who partake of their first amendment rights and share their opinions in writing and verbally and otherwise. I’m confident my fellow ELA (English Language Arts) teachers are nodding their heads in agreement.

Why? The Common Core ELA standards. Really, the things we have committed ourselves to teaching our kids have aligned with these principals before the Core, but it’s just worded so nicely and concisely in these CC standards!

The thing is, from August to June, my students learn how to read informational texts with a critical and analytical mind. They learn how to write their own informational texts after conducting research where they use only credible resources. They even learn how to not only have clear, coherent, and accountable arguments but how to evaluate them in writing and in media.

See for yourself!

Reading Informational Texts

In summary, students learn how to comprehend what they read, they learn to critically analyze informational texts – AKA “the media.” They dig into argumentative writing and informative writing and are able to evaluate the author’s intent, bias, and layers of meaning. Think about Facebook for a minute – how many people fail to do this? Thank God for the Common Core, am I right? Here are a few that really nail it:

    Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
    Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).
    Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to the development of the ideas.
    Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.
    Analyze how two or more authors writing about the same topic shape their presentations of key information by emphasizing different evidence or advancing different interpretations of facts.
Not only do our nation’s 13 year olds learn how to read like pros, they learn how to write effectively. They learn that in order to write an effective argument, you need to have reasons and evidence. Like, fact-check-proof evidence. They write things that are “clear and coherent” – you know, appropriate to the audience. Thoughtful. Tailored. More of that critical thinking the Core loves so much! My all-time favorite standard is W.7.8 (full text below) where students learn to identify whether or not a source is reliable and trustworthy AND they learn how to avoid plagiarism (I’m looking at YOU people who post quotes without sources!!) And to take it even deeper than your average fan of the ol’ FB, 7th graders learn how to use multiple sources as evidence for their own, new ideas!
    Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
    Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
    Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
    Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Speaking and Listening
Debates. Oh, those debates. How many ELA teachers were just clinging to the SL standards during a debate? How many of us were not-so-secretly thrilled when our students brought up the lack of accountable talk stems present in the debates? Sigh. These standards are all about having meaningful, fruitful, peaceful discussions. They’re about evaluating arguments. They even cover things like eye contact and voice volume. DO YOU SEE THE BEAUTY?
    Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
    Analyze the main ideas and supporting details presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how the ideas clarify a topic, text, or issue under study.
    Delineate a speaker’s argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
    Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with pertinent descriptions, facts, details, and examples; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

And these are only 13 of the standards – for a full list and as my only external source, you can check out for yourself what we’re up to that makes 7th grade ELA students more qualified voters and maybe even political debaters than most of America.

One thought on “What We Can Learn from 7th Graders this Election Season

  1. Da

    Interestingly, this called to my mind my brief stint in High School debate/Model UN in the early/mid-1970s. One could not make a statement during a debate without a citation, and the stronger/more numerous the citation(s) the more weight the argument carried with the judges. High school debate judges in the 1970s were notoriously unemotional – or at least were not swayed in their judgement by impassioned speechifying. My point is the hope your post gives me for the future is both in the caliber of future candidates AND “judges” (voters) as critical thinkers.


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