A teaching book that quotes Ender’s Game in nearly every chapter—along with Aristotle. What’s not to love? Teaching Arguments: Rhetorical Comprehension, Critique, and Response by Jennifer Fletcher is an excellent book for any secondary English teacher looking to further develop her own and her students’ understanding as readers and as writers of the significance of occasion, audience, purpose, and language strategies—each on its own as well as their interplay.
With this all percolating in my mind, today I woke up and with coffee in hand, began scrolling through my Facebook feed—sprinkled with tributes to Aretha Franklin (day 2). A number of friends had posted their own brief tributes, along with a link to this article in The Atlantic. As I read, I was moved, and at the same time, my teacher brain woke up and started nudging me: “What a mentor text for occasion, audience, purpose, and language strategies!” (I got so excited I wanted to write that comment on my friends' posts, but luckily I know enough about occasion, audience, and purpose to stop myself and come up with the idea to save it for my blog.)
Yes, I realize many of my 16-year-olds may never have heard of Aretha Franklin. That will hopefully create insight about audience—their age bracket is not the article's target. But there is an important occasion and purpose here, one which the power of the language may imbue them with an inkling of.
Look at the words—defied, enraptured, transformed, jubilation, alchemy, strenuous. And that’s just the first paragraph! Look at the sentences—their rhythm, varied length, and figures of speech recreate the music of which they speak. Here are the first 4 sentences of the second paragraph: “To hear Aretha Franklin sing was to bear witness as she constructed a one-woman orchestra from the discords of her own agony. Her musical career spanned the greater part of six decades, but every moment vibrated with a distinct urgency. Franklin’s voice hypnotized. It transmuted.” Look at the first and last sentence, the use of examples, and even the mini-narrative of Franklin’s performance of “Natural Woman” at Carole King’s award ceremony.
I think I’m getting excited about school starting!
But back to the book I started out talking about. Just as one example, Fletcher shares how she introduces students to critical reading of argument by playing 2 different games: the “believing game” on the first reading, and the “doubting game” on the second reading. The “believing game” is what I think of as reading with intellectual empathy, or what Steven Covey called seeking first to understand. Suspend disbelief and read it “on the author’s side.” Read to see what she’s saying, why she’s saying it, how she’s supporting it, what’s working well. Next, the “doubting game” involves prodding and testing for any holes, weaknesses, inconsistencies, jarring notes, insufficiency of support, rhetorical fallacies. The book includes questions, examples, and graphic organizers for every idea (and a 25-item appendix!).
“Are you ready for school to start?” That’s the big question around here. My answer is “No. But I will be by Tuesday!”