So I've been doing this thing in my classroom called Article of the Week. The brains behind it belong to Kelly Gallagher and I first read about it through the blog at Teaching the Core called A Non-Freaked Out, Focused Approach to the Common Core - Close Reading by Dave Stuart. It's been an amazing ride. We are in our fifth week of school and on our fourth article.
The basic idea behind it is to give kids an opportunity to close read on a regular basis, stay current with events and issues in our society, and best of all: express our opinions about something. Close reading is at the heart of the Common Core Reading standards and the activities that follow also hit some major CCSS standards, specifically in the Listening and Speaking zone.
We review the vocabulary for the article first, then the kids read the article on their own, annotating and answering text-based questions that will aid their comprehension of the article. In my version, which is meant for the social butterflies of Middle School, they use Question-Answer Relationships to ask four to eight questions about the article that they may discuss in groups during small group times in class. After all this, they write a simple argument paragraph expressing their views on something about the article. The prompts vary from "Did the author argue his point well?" to "Do YOU agree with the author?" to other various questions in which the students can use their analyzed article to cite evidence and back up their passionate response.
The really amazing thing about Article of the Weeks are the debates that happen afterwards. In the first weeks following the end of summer break, we focused on learning how to discuss things with each other. We are artsy, passionate, opinionated sixth graders. We have a LOT to say, about ourselves, things we like, and issues in our world. We also need to be able to paraphrase, ask probing questions, pay attention to each other, and think positive about each others' opinions.
These debates. Wow. Talk about deceptive! These students are learning how to prove their points without realizing what amazing learning they are doing, I have a really hard time, as mediator, keeping the smile off my face when a student pulls a really good piece of evidence out of the text to back up their opinion, and then the rebuttal is equally amazing from a student on the other "side."
We use the 7 Norms of Collaboration which my district adopted a few years back and the questions they write for discussion groups during small groups are written according to Question-Answer Relationships. Our articles are harvested from various sources that aren't too "newsy" for the kids, like Wired and Mental Floss, and the debates are framed around an AVID method called Philosophical Chairs, in which students are allowed to change sides if someone says something that sways their opinion.
I'll be writing more on how we integrate the arts into this later. Enjoy the possibilities!