Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Opposing Views to Ignite Black History Month

    by Ellen Weber, Ph.D.

What if your students wrote, edited, and even published an essay that supported opposite views related to a heated black history topic? 

My own students love to select an essay topic that calls for counterpoint because they come to see value in another angle.

In the process of forming the topic selection, students offer two arguments that oppose one another.  For instance, one student’s thesis statement reads:

Some people argue that society should remember unjust encounters blacks faced, while others hold that society should focus on building a fairer future for all. 

Counterpoint helps students draft an unbiased outline so that opposing sides see valid voices.  Students on both sides of most essays tend to support opinions for that side only by selecting research that dismisses the opposing side.  Such essays end up as barrage of personal sentiments only.

That’s why I have students exchange and receive a peer edit for their rough drafts. We then discuss how readers (and writers) can learn from solid facts on both sides of the topic of black history.

This exercise teaches young writers to write essays as if they were the best salesperson for plan A, and then show the reader how they are also the best salesperson for the counter argument in plan B. They agree readily after they begin to grasp how to include opposing views that invite readers to select one side or the other. By offering equally weighted facts on each side, student writers learn skills to navigate research beyond personal preferences, parental opinions, popular culture or peer pressure.

Students do far better if they weave opposing views into their essay’s topic statement.  They might address Reader A’s concerns, and then address opposing Reader B’s concerns.

One student’s opening sentence read might read:  

While there may be merits to remembering the many unjust encounters blacks face, there are also advantages to working together with black communities toward a vibrant new set of opportunities that benefit all. 

From the opening statement, Reader A might say that there are problems and possibilities connected to a focus on past injustices. In contrast, Reader B might say that there are problems and possibilities connected to a focus on building forward only.

Students love opposing views when they learn to create these in a step-by-step fashion. That’s why it is vital to lead with a statement recognizing opposing arguments– as a way to begin the balance of counterpoints from the onset.

Students are also encouraged to choose titles that show two valid sides. The title for this essay might be: Remember the Past or Rebuild the Future? Can you see by the title that clear counterpoints will follow?

Not surprisingly, when students learn to put away their propensity for one-sided views and begin to engage folks on an opposite side, they also learn skills to debate other controversial topics. They begin to introduce facts on both sides of an argument, rather than clinging to facts on any one side.

To extend this counterpoint essay lesson, students might begin by studying a key view held by a popular black leader such as Maya Angelou or Martin Luther King, Jr. They might also show and support the exact opposite of that view, so that readers see both sides in valid settings.

For resources to aid teaching a lesson such this in your classroom, see “Opposing Views to Ignite an Essay.” 

Downloadable products from Ellen Weber's TpT store:

 "Opposing Views to Ignite an Essay"  
Helps teach students to investigate alternative arguments and be able to communicate them effectively.

 Free resource: 10 Secret Tips to Help Boost Brainpower!
Provides tips and tasks to enhance your studets' mental progress.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the shout out Heather! And thanks for your fabulous newsletter! Hope it sparks a dynamite exchange among secondary folks!

    My article was written with a desire that we use what's central to all teens (and celebrating black History is that) to engage them on opposite sides of great ideas. Teens love to learn the skills that allow them to disagree and yet cultivate goodwill so that all can speak up and feel heard and respected. Those who learn the skill could change our national leadership culture! All to say thanks! Ellen