Over break, I’ve been planning our next writing unit; persuasive writing. I always grapple with this genre of writing due to an experience I had several years ago in my fourth grade classroom.
The small town I grew up in has always had a third grade field trip to the circus. (For over thirty years, this has been an annual field trip!!) Several years ago there was wintry weather, and the trip was cancelled. When those third graders came to fourth grade, our fourth grade team decided to ditch that field trip for many reasons. To name a few, we saw little educational value in the circus, and we took other high-quality field trips that aligned with our state standards.
So, when it was time for persuasive writing, I thought it would be intriguing to research circuses. At the time, as far as I knew, we weren’t required to go to the circus. So we researched the pros/cons, and looked at both circus websites as well as animal rights websites. We looked at bias and what it means to “jump on the bandwagon.” Students found videos that shocked them when they saw how elephants were controlled with bull hooks. Students saw what went on behind the scenes as tigers and lions were kept in small cages, and elephants swayed back and forth in chains. Needless to say, their eyes were opened and they began to look at the circus through new lenses. In our class, thinking was allowed, especially if it challenged the good ol’ status quo!
Fast forward several months after our unit. It was time for the circus! You could almost hear the music, see the lights, and taste the cotton candy. Two days before the circus, parents began a public outcry on Facebook as to the unfair decision to not send the fourth graders. Administration was contacted (without ever asking the teachers or the students about their opinions). In the end, it was decided, that yes, fourth grade must attend this field trip.
But what about my class? They didn’t WANT to go to the circus. They had done research and had made up their own minds by thinking critically about the issue. Isn’t this what we want for our students? That they should be able to make informed, intelligent decisions about their own lives? Thinking, and acting on that thinking, should be allowed. Just because “we’ve always done it” sure doesn’t mean that we should continue.
Circus day arrived. Students were told if they didn’t go to the circus they would be counted absent, or they could spend the day at school in the library. Three of my students stayed home. One brave student stayed at school in the library all day. The rest went to the circus. What about their teacher? I refused to go. I took a personal day. My wonderful paraprofessional said that when the elephants and the trainers came out, my students stood up shouting, “Bull hook! Bull hook!”I couldn’t have been any prouder of them than I was when I heard what they did.
I think the heart of persuasive writing lies in the ability to really reflect on your opinion; to gather as much information from multiple sources to help you formulate an informed opinion. What do you think and why do you think that? And why do you want others to agree with you? Most importantly, if they agree with you, what can you do to change something for the better?
So, with these things in mind, I chose The World’s Largest Lesson for our persuasive writing unit. I found out about this project last year on Twitter from A. J. Juliani. I figure, if we are going to learn the art of persuasion, let’s do it right and do it BIG! As a teacher, I want students to think critically about issues that really matter, then use what they learn to make a difference. The World’s Largest Lesson allows students to research a global goal like clean water or climate change. Then, they’ll write a public service announcement and Tweet it to the world.
Stay tuned. I can’t wait to see what these kids will do with this unit. Yes, thinking is not just required…it’s allowed!