I wanted to know what was happening with writing in state policy, so I started by reading about ELA, then Writing Assessment, then grade level standards:
I focused on W.CCR.1: “Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.” I followed a link for examples of units in which students might develop an argument:
This unit explores the documentary work of writers like Walker Evans. Students are asked to respond to Evans’ argument that it is “curious…obscene and thoroughly terrifying to pry intimately into the lives of other human beings” (5). All literacies discussed in NCTE policy documents are in evidence here—reading, writing, speaking, listening, visually representing, viewing. There’s heavy integration of the standards (see 15-16) but the classroom, planning, and pedagogy appear to be deeply informed by NCTE values, policies, and positions. However, as the Human Readers petition reminds us, the end point of all this inquiry and writing is a machine scored test of writing.
I am reminded of Berliner and Biddle’s argument in The Manufactured Crisis(Addison-Wesley, 1995) that teachers should focus on enlarging the goals of curricula, especially “developing thoughtful learning environments where the emphasis is on skills needed for membership in a democratic society” (298). While the projects address the standards, they aspire to much broader goals.
The planners of this unit also use NCTE resources (40) as instructional supports:
There are some school-based understandings of argument (47-48) that don’t account for the ways that argument is practiced publicly. And, the questions students are to ask themselves of their drafts appear to subordinate the writing task to the rubric (51). But overall, these educators are pursuing the aims of ELA as an aesthetic, rhetorical, cultural, and literary experience. They answer to national pressures, sometimes compromising what NCTE would embrace, at other times, pushing ELA forward.
My journey from NV state policy to an NYC plan for a 12th grade writing project shows how educators can address constraints in creative ways.I hope that this sequence of documents can prompt a discussion about how teachers are pursuing professional aims and values as a way of addressing school and state standards.