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View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter High School: ArgumentativeWriting Across The Curriculum « Center on Educational Governance (CEG)

View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter High School: ArgumentativeWriting Across The Curriculum

View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter High School:
Argumentative: Writing Across the Curriculum

View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter High School
Los Angeles, California
Founded 2003
Start-up
400 students
Grades 9-12
Site-based
98% African-American, 2% Hispanic
0% English language learners
10% special needs
65% receive subsidized meals
Teachers not part of collective bargaining unit

http://www.viewparkprep.org

Source: Center on Educational Governance, 2008.

View Park’s six founding teachers
believe that in order for students to do well in college, they need to be able to write argumentative papers in all disciplines.

At VP, the Toulmin model of argumentation is the sole form of formal writing, used in all disciplines. It is also used as a framework to evaluate
reading, which develops students’
critical thinking skills.

The four major parts of the model are claim, clarification, evidence and warrant. A claim refers to the statement or the conclusion; clarification defines terms that are unclear; evidence provides facts in support of the claim; and warrant is the reasoning leading the evidence to the claim.

Implementation

Ninth-graders learn the four Toulmin terms, putting a structure in place so that each teacher can focus more on curriculum content, less on writing style.

Before students begin writing on a topic, the teacher will pose an essential question to drive a Socratic discussion. Each student then makes a claim, drawing on the discussion to formulate an argumentative essay using the Toulmin model.

Argumentative writing across the curriculum was first implemented in the two subject areas of English and history. Then it was implemented in science, followed by math. The campus was small when the school first began, which made implementation easier due to a small staff size.

Requirements

Training for argumentative writing across the curriculum is done by a staff member who is paid quarter time (salary plus benefits), about $25,000.

$4,000 is spent on release time for teachers and $4,000 is spent on the materials for argumentative writing across the curriculum. Release time for teachers is spent doing classroom observations of master teachers or attending the Toulmin leadership trainings on Wednesday afternoons.

Professional development in the Toulmin model consists of two days per summer and eight to 10 hours per month. However, the director thought more time would be valuable.

There is no additional cost for the after-school tutoring provided for students entering after the ninth grade. Each teacher holds weekly office hours after school; students may receive tutoring from any teacher from the English department.

No special facilities were required to implement writing across the curriculum. A laptop computer and an LCD projector would be helpful for teachers to model writing and editing for the students.

Lessons Learned

By the end of ninth grade, most VP students are confident in their writing abilities because they practice across subject areas. Some teachers said that they spend less time editing student papers for English standards, allowing more time to focus on the content.

“The biggest benefit for teachers is that students are prepared to write in college and to think through and logically argue their points in multiple disciplines,” one teacher said.

Teachers also benefitted from talking with teachers from other disciplines, sharing student essays across subjects, and discussing what they do with their students.

Balancing rigorous thinking and writing while covering content standards required considerable time, the director said. Teachers said they didn’t have enough time for midyear Toulmin refresher courses that they sorely needed.

Another challenge reported by the director and the teachers was finding the confidence to teach students to write argumentative essays and being confident enough in one’s own writing to model it for the students. Teachers found it difficult at times to get students excited about argumentative writing in subjects other than English.

Teacher turnover can cause above-average hardships due to the specialization of the Toulmin model.

On the 2007 California Standards Test in Algebra I, 46 percent of  ninth graders and 58 percent of 10th graders tested scored at the below basic and far below basic levels. VP’s entire math program is being rebuilt; the class did not contain argumentative writing at the time of research.

Conclusion

One of VP’s founders, a veteran teacher from Harvard-Westlake School, was recruited to implement the Toulmin model, which had been used at the Los Angeles college prep school for 35 years. There was a consensus among those interviewed that if argumentative writing across the curriculum worked for rich, white students at a private school like Harvard-Westlake, it can work for students anywhere and it can accelerate their learning.

Student test scores “really shot up” in VP’s first year, suggesting that consistent practice with writing across disciplines improved the students’ achievement. Standardized testing in math may indicate that the model is more successful in some disciplines than others.

In June of 2007, VP graduated its first class with all students completing A-G requirements, which indicate college preparedness. Of the class of 2007, 75 percent went on to four-year universities and the remaining 25 percent went to junior colleges.

Address

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