Tools to Help Writers Explain Good Evidence
By Sarah Tantillo with Jamison Fort
In Part I of this two-part series, I wrote about how we can help students rule out ineffective evidence when they are attempting to build arguments. The flip side of this work is to help them find the best evidence. In this post, I’d like to share a tool teachers can use to do just that.
To give students more practice in finding relevant evidence on their own and explaining it, my friend Jamison Fort, who teaches 6th and 7th grade social studies, created the following organizer for students to analyze one text that has multiple claims. (We use “claim” and “argument” interchangeably.)
Note: This example is based on 2015 reports of an Argentine court decision to grant basic human rights to Sandra, a captive orangutan at the Buenos Aires Zoo.
Download a Word version of this organizer
The rest of Jamison’s lesson
The day after this exercise, Jamison explained that the ultimate goal was to make sure that by the end of the next three days, every student would be able to evaluate evidence and choose the strongest possible evidence to support a claim. Then he launched the following lesson:
Students pair-shared, then responded to cold-calling. Their answers—that the evidence must be relevant or related to the claim, or must prove a point—showed that they evaluated evidence with single isolated indicators in mind. They had a partial understanding with responses that outlined segments but missed the full process.
To expand their understanding of how to select effective evidence, Jamison turned to this activity: Students paired up and compared and contrasted the quotes they had chosen, then answered the following questions:
Once the pairs finished their responses, students shared out and had a discussion around evaluating the quality of evidence. The discussion prompt was:
The class scribe recorded the responses onto a brainstorming poster. Jamison then told his students they were only allowed to keep the four most valuable characteristics of effective evidence. His students then decided what could be eliminated or synthesized and what needed to stay. Once four characteristics were determined, Jamison challenged the class to create an evidence evaluation checklist. Here is what they produced:
As there seemed to be general consensus around this checklist, Jamison decided to provoke students’ thinking further: he presented a blatantly faulty piece of evidence as “the best possible choice.”
Students became highly animated in challenging his assertion, asking him to “explain his logic.”
He told them he didn’t need to explain his logic, adding, “I just know I’m right.”
Jamison could see his students’ frustration; they clearly knew he was wrong but couldn’t express how they knew. This was how he pushed them to use the tool they had just created. He wanted to show rather than tell them of its value.
After a moment of this student-teacher standoff, he diverted their attention back to the poster they had just created and asked them again, “Is there no one who can tell me why I am wrong?”
And then the connection was made, that “aha” moment. A girl who had taken up the role of class spokesperson said his answer was wrong because it didn’t meet all the necessary checkpoints: “It was related to the text, but not relevant to your claim.”
Once kids have the essentials, do some practice
Once you’ve helped students grasp the essential characteristics of effective evidence, they can practice analyzing multiple texts, identifying arguments and key evidence. Here is a tool for that:
After developing some proficiency in evaluating evidence, students can move on to Argument vs. Evidence Step 3: Given arguments, students must support them with their own relevant evidence and explanation. For more information on that step, see this post at my Literacy Cookbook blog.
Sarah Tantillo is the author of The Literacy Cookbook (Jossey-Bass, 2012) and Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action (Jossey-Bass, 2014). For more information, check out her Website, The Literacy Cookbook, and her TLC Blog.
Jamison Fort has been a teacher for seven years, impacting the lives of students in Baltimore MD & Trenton and Plainfield NJ. Jamison challenges his students to constantly be critical thinkers and bring learning to life. In his two years at Maxson Middle School he’s created a competitive debate team and has had students present proposals to the mayor of Plainfield to create a community garden in the city. His collaboration with Sarah Tantillo has resulted in useful literacy tools and examples for other educators to use in their practice.