One of the things that our students often find the hardest to achieve is writing a well considered evaluative essay. Ultimately we want them to be able to present a thesis which they can then write a sustained argument for. As they do this we want them to be able to explain opposing perspectives and justify their dismissal of them. No wonder they find this hard – it is after all requiring higher level thinking, and to get to this point they need to be well equipped with sound knowledge and understanding of whatever the topic is.
We have been working with one method of teaching this recently and for many of our students it has been really helpful.
The strategy has three parts to it;
1 – The students start with a template of a see-saw (see above) and on it they write the contentious statement that they will be required to respond to. For example “Voluntary euthanasia is wrong”. On one side of the see-saw they write ‘agree’ and on the other side ‘disagree’.
2 – The students are then given a set of opposing views on the topic or they are asked to generate opposing views on the topic. So in this example a set of opposing views on euthanasia. (A sample of this can be found on my padlet resources to go with this blog.) The students have to sort the opposing views into two groups, for and against the topic.Having done this they place the views on the correct side of the see-saw.
3 – Now for each argument on the see-saw the students assign it a score. For example 5/10. Obviously the higher the score the stronger they feel the argument is. As they go through this process they need to consider whether they believe each argument has any flaws and to what extent these flaws affect the strength of the argument. When working in pairs or groups of up to four this process creates significant discussion and helps develop the students’ thinking.
Having scored each argument they can total up the score on each side of the see-saw and identify the relative strength of each side of the argument, setting the see-saw at an appropriate angle.
Having completed the task the students now have a clear visual impression of which side of the discussion holds the greatest sway. From this they can go on to write a thesis, select the strongest individual arguments and create an essay plan. We have used this across different year groups, including with year 13 last week as they were evaluating Via Negativa. Students have generally found it helpful and the process helps to both embed knowledge and engage students in meaningful discussion about the value of an argument.