Lesson plan description:
Interacting with the prologue to Ben Shaprio’s Book “Primetime Propaganda” as a model text, this (two week) lesson plan will expose students to narrative argument as well as reveal the impact of stories as a persuasive/rhetorical tool.
Overall, I see this lesson planning beginning in a real world place, moving to broader, more abstract subjects and then rooting down in technical aspects of writing through an individual lesson as well as workshop. To begin the unit, we will look at an episode of The Simpsons as a microcosm of Ben Shapiro’s argument from his book Primetime Propaganda (domain knowledge). Later, we will break down Shapiro’s use of narrative as a rhetorical tool and debate his positions and their broader assumptions/messages (critical thinking). We will then step away in week 2 to discuss narrative techniques and workshop each other’s narrative arguments based on shared knowledge of narrative details as well as our knowledge of narrative as a rhetorical device (presentation & participation).
- Read and discuss Shapiro’s argument.
- Develop and agree on the context of Shapiro’s argument.
- Articulate a position within Shapiro’s argument.
- Debate the significance of that position and its broader social/political implications
- Find/Explore personal narratives, or testimonies, that reinforce those positions.
- Draft a 500 word narrative argument.
- Analyze and provide feedback on the arguments of your peers within a workshop setting.
Discussion questions response:
My hope for students during this lesson plan is they will better understand narrative as a powerful persuasive tool. The best evidence of this understanding would be their ability to create a 500-word argument that uses a personal/political/social narrative to illuminate/introduce their own ideas. A strong narrative argument will capture an audience’s attention and use descriptive language as well as make a strong/meaningful claim.
For assessment, students will read and workshop one another’s paper in small groups of two to three people. After an additional day covering narrative details, students will answer four specific questions for revision: What is your peer’s narrative and is it relevant to their argument? How is your peer’s narrative interesting/compelling and how is it engaging the audience? What impact does your peer’s narrative have on their positions? And what details could your peer introduce to their narrative to make it more impactful?
The workshop will take one whole class period (1.5 hours) and will be completed face to face. I will spend about 3 to 5 hours grading the papers based on the same assessment/guiding questions.
In my experience, students often get preoccupied in whichever argument/model text we’re engaging with. Typically, the rhetorical devices at the center of the lesson plan (in this case narrative) take a backseat in the classroom. By adding an additional day to strictly workshop each other’s papers, I think students will engage more with narrative as a persuasive tool. To help students write interesting/compelling narrative essays, we should touch on narrative tension and details and do some writing activities in class.
Below is the entire unit, including a description and timeline of learning activities and assessment.
Conservative vs Liberal Values
Group students in three to four groups. Have students chart a list of values as either conservative or liberal on the whiteboard. Discuss the glaring differences/similarities among each group. Establish a basic/agreed upon perception of conservative and liberal values.
Political Messages in The Simpsons, Who Shot Mr. Burns?
Screen The Simpsons, Who Shot Mr. Burns? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA7lMkn-E4Y&list=PLmFoyOTOAHqBsIFMX9bD9Piqrp0ae4IRT&index=4
Discussion: Have students list and discuss the political messages in Who Shot Mr. Burns. Categorize political messages as either liberal or conservative.
Homework/reading: Primetime Propaganda
Assign the prologue to Ben Shapiro’s book Primetime Propaganda as reading for next class period.
Jimmy Kimmel and American Healthcare Video Discussion:
Introduce clip from The Kimmel Show/testimony of Obamacare and affordable healthcare coverage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqulWPljawo
Discussion: How persuasive is Kimmell’s testimony of affordable healthcare? What makes this clip persuasive (or not persuasive)? How does the story of his son (anecdotal evidence/narrative) compare to qualitative/quantative evidence, or logos? What is the role of narrative in argument? What are your perceptions of narrative in argument (is it reliable, authentic, actionable, etc.)?
Primetime Propaganda: Narrative Technique and Argument Assumptions:
How does Shaprio open his book? Do you find his argument persuasive? Why or why not?Define narrative argument as one that uses a story, usually presented in chronological order, to make some kind of point. Draw attention to two narrative arguments in the reading. What are some assumptions Shapiro makes in his argument (List on board)
Assumptions/Arguments(List on Board)Hollywood does not reflect America, but transforms America.TV does not openly embrace conservative values. America is Judeo-Christian. Television is not Judeo-ChristainTelevision is impactful.Television is escapist/entertainment. The first Amendment does not apply to TV/TV is not political speech. TV should not be political in nature.
Make an imaginary line in the class. Go down the list of assumptions. Have students “side” for or against each assumption by asking them to physically stand on either side of the imaginary line. Choose the most divided issues to discuss/debate further.
Matt Stone and Trey Parker on Charlie Rose
Play clip of South Park and segment of Trey Parker and Matt Stone interview on Charlie Rose: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72tKdZOIZtI
Introduce narrative argument and show example that refutes Shapiro’s positions based on this video clip. Have class brainstorm/search for personal narratives, or narratives of an empirical fact.
Assign first 250 words of the Narrative Argument due Tuesday.
Pulp Fiction Clip:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6YBKdmOlM8
Discussion: Who are the suited people and how can you tell they are in a position of authority? How do you think Brett and his friends feel about Jules and Vincent’s visit? How can you tell? What do you know about the suited men? How would you characterize them? What are they looking for? And how can you tell it’s valuable?
Put definition of subtext on board:Subtext is any content of a creative work which is not announced explicitly by the characters or author, but is implicit or becomes something understood by the observer of the work as the production unfolds
Example of details and subtext in writing. Manley example 1:
What’s Manley like based on this text? What do you know about Manley based on this text? What are some specific details that lead you to believe it’s lonely? What does John expect me to do? How do you know? As a reader why do you feel the need to keep reading? Or in other words, what questions do you want answered?
Explain Narrative tension as setting up expectations in a reader and then working to meet, or undermine those expectations. What expectations did the scene from Pulp Fiction set up? What was the narrative tension of the Pulp Fiction scene?
Manley example Two
What do you notice about this second text? There are few specific details and hardly any subtext. Explain: show don’t tell.
In groups of three, one student will describe a picture in writing and then the other two people will have to draw that picture solely from the written descriptions. The groups will compete against each other and the drawing that most closely resembles the picture will win. Winning group will read their description aloud for other students to “notice.” Pictures will get increasingly more complex.
Homework: Finish final 250 words of Narrative argument for Thursday workshop. Emphasize narrative details.
Workshop Narrative Argument
Split class into groups of three people. Give them these guiding questions to follow:What’s your peer’s narrative and is it relevant to their argument? How is your peer’s narrative interesting/compelling and how is it engaging their audience? What impact does your peer’s narrative have on their positions?What are some suggestions to better connect your peer’s narrative to his/her argument?What details could your partner incorporate into their narrative to make their narrative more clear/impactful?
As an undergraduate, I had two different attitudes towards writing, excitement and sheer boredom. On the one hand, I was surprised, even giddy, to learn Western Michigan University offered creative writing as an academic discipline. On the other, I felt burdened at the prospect of taking a freshman composition course. At the time, I felt one class bound my expression, while the other offered a flesh and blood audience and a license to just write. In the end, both classes proved essential to my growth as a person and scholar, but even now, as an M.F.A student tasked with teaching college composition, I’ve never really forgotten those early perceptions of the two modes of college writing and just how different one subject–writing–could feel.
For my final review, I chose to analyze Douglas Hesse’s (2010) article “The Place of Creative Writing in Composition Studies.” In this article, Hesse (2010) contextualizes two academic disciplines–College Composition and Communication and Creative Writing–in terms of their shared interests and aims. Hesse (2010) also argues for a “shared borders” approach to teaching these subjects, which he believes can offer the world a “more coherent view of writing” itself.
In my first workshop, I remember feeling the buzz of my peer’s expectations as they responded to work they found interesting. The audience energized me and made me want to write more. In my first college composition course, the audience was limited to my instructor. The class’s emphasis on academic style and political discourse left me feeling disengaged and deflated. I was being asked to pattern my writing to a specific rubric and felt the learning goals–to competently navigate academic/argumentative style/conventions–took away writing’s significance. Even though the aim of both classes was more or less the same–to make me a better writer–they couldn’t have felt more different.
In his article, Hesse (2010) tries to move beyond the perceptions that 1) Composition courses exist to “bring competence to the unwilling” and 2) Creative Writing exists to cultivate “genius in the unlikely” by proposing ways the disciplines can complement each other by adopting a shared approach. According to Hesse (2010), composition abandoned its imaginative roots, such as memoir and personal narrative and creative nonfiction in favor of “civic discourse, academic genres, and rhetorical moves.” Compositionists, according to Hessee (2010), could better serve their students by pairing Composition’s emphasis on logical reasoning, forceful and political analysis with Creative Writing’s focus on syntactic choices, compelling scenes, rhythm and cadence.
As for creative writers, Hesse (2010) says they ought to temper their “outdated aspersions of composition as formulaic tyranny” and consider composition’s broad “repertoire of teaching strategies” that could help them develop new ways to study and think about “writers and writing” beyond the literary scene.
Ultimately, I think Hesse does a fine job articulating the perceptions and historical context of both creative writing and composition as academic disciplines. Moreover, I feel his analyses of each subject holds up to this day. In the Digital Age, with the advent of blogs and Youtube and social media, the old, “relatively narrow domains of published discourse” have expanded to accommodate new writers and thinkers (Hesse 2010). I agree with Hessee. To help students navigate this new discourse, compositionists like myself should adopt more of Creative Writing’s emphasis on attention–specifically the techniques creative writers use to hold it.
As for criticism, I believe Hesse could have volunteered more specific learning outcomes, or goals, to draw clearer comparisons between the disciplines. In his analysis, Hesse mostly articulates general themes. He doesn’t offer data, theories, or the like. He relies mostly on his experience (a lot of experience that is) to make his points. I also feel Hessee’s notion that a shared borders approach to composition and creative writing will give the world a “richer view of writing that articulates the values of a creative, productive art” is a little like preaching to the choir. I don’t believe “a richer view of writing” is an actionable idea, worthy of resources. I believe Hessee’s “open borders” approach to writing is interesting, but only so far as it helps students become better writers.
In the end, I found his essay helpful in sussing out the political and historical reasons behind composition’s emphasis on analysis and rhetoric. It helped me better understand myself as a teacher as well as my place in academia. To be honest, I never thought of the two disciplines as explicitly competing until I was tasked with teaching composition myself.The assignments we design in composition favor critical thinking, rhetorical strategies, and political discourse, but what makes the writing/arguments compelling themselves are things we pick up in creative writing classrooms. I do try to incorporate creative lessons in my composition classroom, but in the future, I will be even more conscious of the benefits of the creative approach.
Hesse, D. (2010). “Creative Writing in Composition Studies.” College Composition and Communication. doi: http://www.bu.edu/wpnet/files/2010/09/Hesse-Creative-Writing-Composition-CCC-2010.pdf
This semester, I’ve been tutoring an ESL student at the UAF Writing Center. She visits every day of the week and I usually tutor her for up to an hour at a time. My major difficulty has been communicating the relationships between words and meaning, how one phrase logically flows into another and how meaning itself builds in a sentence. Because I’m not the most well-spoken person, I usually show these relationships with elaborate stick figure drawings, fit with arrows and bubbles and complicated squiggly lines.
Each session, I find myself doodling away these examples on a piece of notebook paper while the student patiently watches, nodding along, waiting for me to finish. When I’m done, I’ll ask the student to show her understanding of whatever relationship I just drew in her own words. Usually, she’ll pause over her paper for a moment, look up, and ask a clarifying question about grammar. “No, no, forget grammar,” I’ll say, going back to the drawings. “It’s not going to help you understand this.”
Xiaodong Zhang’s (2019) article “Exploring the Relationship Between College Students’ Writing Anxiety and the Pedagogical use of Online Resources” shed some light on this experience in its analysis of writing anxiety and writing knowledge in English language learners. According to Zhang (2019), the emphasis of grammar in language learning classrooms can fail to prepare students for the rigors of academic writing while also producing a feeling of writing anxiety in later grades, or stages of education.
For this study, Zhang and the researchers (2019) interviewed students and collected compositions to learn more about the relationship between writing anxiety and the “pedagogical design of online materials” that are incorporated in an English writing classroom. Zhang (2019) found that students’ anxiety arose “from a constrained learning and teaching context” in which grammar took precedence over linguistic intricacies. Zhang (2019) found that teachers can ultimately “alleviate student’s anxiety through teaching effective writing knowledge.”
Instead of hardcopy textbook the students were accustomed to, teachers in this study instructed their interviewees in person as well as through an online curriculum that did not emphasize grammar. Instead the point of the curriculum was to grow the students’ ideational, interpersonal and textual knowledge of writing. This curriculum was meant to “transcend” their previous knowledge that writing is merely “a grammar based activity” (Zhang, 2019). According to researchers (Zhang, 2019), the students “never had the learning habit of using online resources and conducting reflective learning on their own within such an intensive time.”
At the end of the study, the researchers found writing knowledge affects writing anxiety through a “negative linear relationship” (Zhang, 2019). The study also showed the usefulness of online resources in “demystifying” the academic writing process in emphasizing things like semantic load, logical relationships, academic tone, cause and effect, etc.
Ultimately, I felt this research did a fine job articulating the common struggles facing ESL students and the academic constraints in which they work. However I don’t believe the authors adequately showed the effectiveness of their online curriculum versus traditional instruction. As with the last article I reviewed, the authors did not pit their research against a control group or specific mode/medium of instruction. In general, the authors were guilty of generalizing (which they acknowledge to some extent) both English language learners and the writing anxieties they face.
To sum up my thoughts, anxiety is a hard feeling to pin down in a person, let alone a classroom, as there are many variables at play. Writing instruction, comfort in teacher relationships, learner personality, style of teaching, amount of work, available time to complete assignments and new material can all contribute to student anxiety. I believe the research lumped all of these variables together in an exclusive label, “Writing anxiety.”
To some degree, the study does discuss some of its own generalizations. For example, the researchers (Zhang 2019) observed student anxiety was higher when first exposed to the new online curriculum, but settled down as learners became more competent and comfortable. However, I felt the major finding that writing instruction can reduce writing anxiety over time was a little self evident. It’s no surprise that when novices become competent in any skill or discipline, confidence likely follows. To make this research a little more meaningful, I think the researchers could have pitted their study against some specific medium or method of instruction, or they could’ve done away with their focus on writing anxieties altogether. That said, I do feel the research was helpful in identifying learning environments that have failed ESL students, while also offering specific strategies to best address their learning.
Zhang, X. (2019). “Exploring the relationship between college students’ writing anxiety and the pedagogical use of online resources.” International Journal of Education Technology in Higher Education. doi: https://educationaltechnologyjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41239-019-0149-y
In just a month, Wikipedia can sport upwards of 375 million page views. In terms of actual books, the website stores more than 15,000 volumes of information (Lauro & Johinke, 2016). The way Wikipedia works, regular people and (some) interdisciplinary scholars create content and contribute to articles. Despite crowdsourcing its content from thousands of users, Wikipedia is surprisingly no less reliable than Encyclopedia Britannica, which contains almost an equal amount of “serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts” (Lauro & Johinke, 2016).
Yet Wikipedia is stigmatized among academic circles, because it’s believed students that use it “will not pursue rigorous research practices” (Lauro & Johnike, 2016). Instead of steering students away from Wikipedia, Frances Di Lauro and Rebecca Johinke (2016), authors of “Employing Wikipedia for good not evil: innovative approaches to collaborative writing assessment,” use the website to engage their students in digital literacy and peer review. And they make a case for composition and argumentative writing instructors to do the same.
Di Lauro and Johinke (2016) designed two case studies using Wikipedia, in which they asked undergraduate and graduate students to both contribute new content and revise suspect content already posted to the site. Their goal was to design group assessment work that would not only be fun, but would “measure the quality of student achievement and stand up to scrutiny.” After signing up to edit the site, as well as being instructed on Wikipedia’s community rules and regulations, students in both case studies set about editing and authoring content as well as interacting with feedback from Wikipedia’s editors/bots.
At the end of each study, the instructors observed their students were “far more meticlouse about accuracy” when assessing content for Wikipedia than (supposedly) their previous coursework (Di Lauro and Johinke, 2016). The authors (Di Lauro and Johinke, 2016) argued that by editing content for a global audience, students working on Wikipedia assessment tasks were able to develop online competencies such as connection and digital literacy. Instead of “merely regurgitating information” students internalized the site’s editing processes for their own assessments. Although I thought the the case studies were creative, engaging and valuable, I found the paper as a whole difficult to critique.
On the one hand, the researchers were able to put connectivism in action by employing Wikipedia’s global audience. Instead of imagining people to write for, students in both case studies contributed meaningful content through a process of online communication with Wikipedia moderators. Their work was not abstract, or thrown away after grading; it was published to a popular website. The authors observed a “positive impact” of project on motivation. In addition, the case studies revealed a “beneficial effect on student progress,” specifically in their ability to perceive connections between different perspectives as well as in their abilities to synthesise information.
The authors claim that in the digital age (Di Lauro and Johinke, 2016), it’s uncreative to ask students to write assessment essays, especially when students already routinely engage with online literacy outside of the classroom. In general, the authors’ case study was valuable in that it showcased a complex, interactive assessment for students. However, the authors did not articulate their studies’ success. Instead of quantifying the efficiencies of their case study against a control group, the authors only used student narratives to contextualize the theories at work within the Wikipedia project itself.
I think this study could have been more qualitative in general. The authors could have easily demonstrated connectivsm’s effectiveness compared to some other form of instruction/theory, say cognitivism. To do this, they could have asked students to write separate sets of assessment essays before and after the Wikipedia project and then compared them with a control group. In general, I felt the authors’ study was written in a vacuum. It could’ve offered the composition community, as well as Higher Education, broader insights into connectivism’s applicability, but instead focused more on processes, the how of things, not the how come.
Di Lauro, R., Johinke, R., (2016). Employing Wikipedia for good not evil: innovative approaches to collaborative writing assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2015.1127322
Since the 1970s, the number of Creative Writing programs across the United States has leaped from 79 to more than 1,700 (Falcon 2014). Each year, hundreds of instructors teach fiction, poetry, screenwriting, or creative nonfiction to thousands of students attaining Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD degrees.
Despite the discipline’s popularity, and the growing number of people tasked with teaching it, there’s been relatively little published in the way of Creative Writing Pedagogy (Blythe & Sweet, 2008). Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet (2008), who authored “The Writing Community: A new Model for the Creative Writing Classroom” observed Creative Writing’s apparent disinterest in its own methodologies, saying “We can’t remember a single instance of the word pedagogy in grad school.”
Personally, I’m interested in the subject because of my own experience as a student in the discipline, first as a creative writing undergrad at Western Michigan University and then as an M.F.A candidate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As a student of multiple creative writing classrooms, I’ve noticed how similar they are, and as a writer-teacher myself, I feel we often neglect the pedagogical underpinnings of our work. As the larger literary community debates over whether or not art can even be taught, us writers march ahead and teach it anyway. Despite our pedagogical blindspots–as Blyte and Sweet (2008) put it–“we just do.”
The article I’ve chosen to review this week topples the perception that creative writing lacks a disciplinary base from which “methodological notions and practices can be drawn” by articulating historical approaches to teaching creative writing as well as introducing a new approach rooted in team-based learning. I found the article informative, practical, and in no small way, groundbreaking.
To lay a theoretical groundwork from which to work, the authors advanced six main approaches that instructors have taken to teach creative writing since the late 1800s. They are as follows: The Atelier Approach, The Great Works Approach, The Inspiration Approach, The Techniques Approach, The Workshop Approach and The Femist Approach.
Each approach has its own benefits and drawbacks. The Atelier and Great Works Approaches, wherein students work closely with a mentor or mimic a great dead author, can expose students to multiple styles, while leaving them vulnerable to “mimicry,” or the suffocation of their own unique voices. The Techniques Approach, which is criticized for being reductive, emphasizes writing’s most technical elements while The Inspiration Approach, suspect for its own implication that art cannot be taught, does away with technique altogether and instead concentrates on opening students up to the creative experience, or their own muse.
The Workshop Approach, which I have the most experience with, descenteralizes instruction and tasks a large group of students, led by a single mentor, with providing personalized feedback in an open forum. The workshop environment acts as “a test market” (Blythe & Sweet, 2008) that at its best offers students strong communities as well as great commentary on their work. At their worst (Blythe & Sweet, 2008), workshops devolve into toxic environments in which students are given unequal attention, certain people dominate the conversations, and negative comments “rip apart works and souls.” The Feminst Approach seeks to mitigate some of the weaknesses of The Workshop Approach by promoting a less formal structure where students and teachers are equal, however the approach is criticized for being “more suitable for therapy than for writing instruction” (Blythe & Sweet, 2008).
In addition to advancing these foundations, the authors propose their own method of teaching creative writing that they hope will serve as a starting point for formal pedagogy of the discipline. The method, The Writing Community, breaks a large class of students into groups of 3 to 5. Students group themselves by their own writing interests, and after a combination of direct instruction from the six approaches, form intimate workshop communities that focus on camaraderie and mutual respect. The authors assessed the success of their unique approach through student reviews of a single semester’s class, which they say were 100 percent positive (Blythe & Sweet, 2008).
Although I have a mostly glowing take on the article, particularly for the author’s ambitious address of the Creative Writing community, I don’t believe they were very successful in demonstrating the success of their classroom. One variable, time, was not well represented in the pilot class; the great reviews could have been the product of a once-in-awhile alchemy, the perfect complement of personality and temperament that sometimes accompanies a great class. A few more semesters of subsequent positive reviews may have strengthened the authors’ findings, or detracted from them altogether.
In addition, the authors were unable to demonstrate student success. They didn’t address learning outcomes, or provide even narrative evidence of their students’ progress, whether it was writing better works in their genre, or better grasping writing’s technical elements. Overall, the authors evaluated their own approach strictly through a lens of community and engagement, which unfortunately leaves their findings suspect and a little vulnerable to administrators or policy-makers who’d like to see some other kind of quantified success.
That said, I think the authors offer a sober and accurate assessment of creative writing programs across the country and a major weakness of its culture. The authors claim Creative Writing is more or less taught the same way across the country and my anecdotal experience as a student backs this claim up: Of 8 or 10 creative writing classes I’ve taken, they’ve all been workshops. As a discipline, composition is light years ahead of Creative Writing (Blythe & Sweet, 2008), and recognizing and the authors worked to close the gaps. It’s not an easy task to advance an entire discipline’s methodology, and for this feat alone, I think the authors are deserving of praise.
Blhtye, H., Sweet, C., (2008). The Writing Community: A New Model for the Creative Writing Classroom. Pedagogy 1, (2): 305–325. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15314200-2007-042
Falcon, S., (2014). The 2013-14 Report on the Academic Job Market: Adjunct Unions, Administrative Bloat, & Reform of Student Loans. Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Retrieved from https://www.awpwriter.org/careers/career_advice_view/3604/the_2013-14_report_on_the_academic_job_market_adjunct_unions_administrative_bloat_reform_of_student_loans
By Ryan Shek
Last spring, I designed a writing project in the wake of the Mueller Report. As speculation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election gripped American news coverage and media, I wondered if my students could gain the kind of intense awareness of audience and persuasive know-how needed to influence a nation in its most intimate and personal affairs. The project involved espionage, leaked political information, and disinformation campaigns.
Two groups of students, one representing the United States and the other representing Russia, received the identity of a secret Manchurian candidate in a list of three running for their country’s hypothetical office. Both teams were tasked with assembling a comprehensive media campaign designed to elect their nation’s secret man. Before the project’s launch, each student filled out anonymous political surveys, which were later leaked to both groups. To win, each team needed to exploit this information to sway the voters of the other country. In the three weeks of the Election Project, I’d never seen a group of learners more engaged in rhetorical analysis. Working together, they analyzed their audience in the context of multiple political beliefs and designed disinformation strategies that manipulated majority values and personal biases. The work was purposeful and dynamic. The results, fascinating and tons of fun. Most importantly, the students were riveted by the process.
This project, with its wily and competitive ethos, made me reckon with gamification and its own unique pedagogy. Based on my experience, I was conceived of its effectiveness in the classroom, and wanting to learn more about its effects on argumentative writing, read “Improving Argumentative Writing: Effects of a Blended Learning Approach and Gamification” (Lam, Y.W., Hew, K.F., & Chiu, K. F., 2017) for purposes of this assignment.
The article explores gamification and its effects on secondary school ESL students and their argumentative writing strategies. The authors (Lam et al., 2017) wanted to know whether or not gamification would improve students’ argumentative writing skills as well as encourage them to make more meaningful contributions in the conversations leading up to specific writing assignments. Three main questions (Lam et al., 2017) guided their research: How did blended-learning and gamification improve student argumentative writing compared to a control condition? Does the application of gamification increase student online commenting? How do students and teachers perceive the gamification approach?
These questions were appropriate and helpful to my own work as an argumentative writing instructor. The authors (Lam et al., 2017) identified key struggles facing ESL students in their argumentative writing strategies and then extrapolated those struggles onto other, more general groups of learners. For example, the researchers observed most students–whether they are english language learners or native English speakers–tend to ignore evidence against their own positions when writing arguments. In addition, students often drift into descriptive narratives when structuring their writing instead of citing other forms of evidence or counterclaims altogether. I found this information practical and helpful, but also a bit dubious. Conducting their research in an all-girls school in China–and weighing problems facing learners in other countries such as Japan, Egypt and Indonesia–I felt the researchers hadn’t done enough to address the cultural contexts in which these students write. Although the article was helpful in identifying strategies to address common weaknesses among argumentative writing essays, I did not find much of the research, or their specific study, particularly useful.
To investigate their own research questions, the authors (Lam et al., 2017) asked three groups of learners to write two argumentative essays within five weeks. One group, the control, was given mostly direct instruction, while the second and third groups were taught argumentative writing strategies through a blended teaching-approach, which included rubrics, message labeling, and a social media network on which to interact with the writing assignment.
The third group meanwhile was awarded points for each “on topic” contribution they made to the discussion through the social media platform. Each member of the class could in turn see their accumulated points on a public leader-board. The leader-board, according to the research, created a competitive atmosphere and proved effective in increasing the volume of “on topic” contributions to the class (Lam et al., 2017). However, the researchers ultimately found that “gamification” did not correlate to better writing strategies over time.
Observing the disappointing results, the researchers (Lam et al., 2017) theorized reasons for gamfication’s failure to improve argumentative writing strategies. One such theory included the project’s emphasis on commenting and not commenting substantively. The researchers felt the students were motivated to write more comments, but not necessarily critical comments when addressing each other’s work or the discussion topic. Personally, I felt their general approach to gamification, particularly the design of their gamification project, was primitive. Students were not asked to solve a complex problem, but were instead given points for simple tasks. The “game” researchers designed wasn’t much of a game at all, more of a ranking system without any complexity. The researchers set up the project with a minimalist’s interpretation of goal setting theory and tasked students with arguing about vanilla things. An interviewed student cited “uncontroversial” writing topics as a reason for disengagement among the class after the project’s conclusion. In my opinion, this study only yielded superficial results among a very specific demographic of learners. Therefore I feel the study was mostly unreliable in its finding that gamification does not do much to improve argumentative writing skills or strategies over time.
Lam, Y. W., Hew, K. F., & Chiu, K. F. (2017). Improving argumentative writing: Effects of a blended learning approach and gamifcaation. Language Learning & Technology, 22(1), 97-118. https://dx.doi.org/10125044583