Meet Lenny. He and I don't know each other, and I am a bit worried about his first piece of advice to neature walkers. But that discussion is not for today. I do want to focus your attention on one little clip. If you go to minute 1:05-1:18, you will see Lenny make an argument.
How do I know that Lenny found an Aspen Tree? Did you catch that? This is an Aspen Tree, because of the way it is.
If you are like me, you see these kinds of sophisticated logical jujitsu moves enough, and I am always overwhelmed. Just kidding. That is not what I am feeling at all.
While this may make some of you exasperated, frustrated, or any other spectrum of the Emotional Intelligence spectrum, let's just set those emotions aside for a moment, roll up our sleeves, and karate punch that argument in the gut. Lenny, you can do better. All of our Lennys in governerdland can do better. Now that our AP Gov kids have an argumentation FRQ, we need to find a cohesive argument and WE. CAN. DO. IT.
So let's get to it.
Prep: Know your points
College Board's Argumentation FRQ is a six pointer. I do break this FRQ down briefly (ha) in this video for students, but I also am developing a more articulated rubric to use in my classroom. Right now, I am here in my rubric.
Key points? I thought you would never ask.
Point 1: Thesis
I talked thesis in a previous post, but I will resurrect the point of the thesis here to get the ball rolling.
For the purposes of rezesting Lenny's argument, this thesis is going to be very basic. I would argue its really a statement of fact. Let's stick to our friend Lenny's statement of fact that "An Aspen is a tree because it is" because it will make an easy point of entry for even the most nervous of writers.
Remember, I need COUNTER + PROMPT + WHAT + WHY/HOW. I am arguing why here, because this looks at the substance of tree-ness.
Points 2, 3, and 4: Evidence
Evidence can be general, or it can be sourced. That is important to note. College Board prefers sourced evidence, meaning I tell the readers where the idea came from in addition to what the evidence is.
How does this look in an essay? CB wants students to know the Constitution. (For the purposes of the exam, students do not need to do in-text citations or a works cited page, as we all know.) For point two, I can say the Constitution features elected offices. But for point 3 and 4, I have to talk specifically. That might look like a shout-out to a specific clause in the Constitution. I may say Article I Section 2 Clause 1 because that is where it states that the House representatives are 'chosen every Second Year by the People of the several States' as opposed to Constitution.
Okay, back to Lenny. So what about my evidence for my thesis? I suppose I could generally state that "Aspens grow to average mature height of 65 feet." That is not rooted in any particular document; it's a fact that is true of all types of Aspens. That would be enough for point 2.
I want points 3 and 4, so I need to get specific. According to the National Park Service, trees grow more than 20 feet tall (pt 3) and have more than a 2 inch diameter at 4.5 feet off the ground (pt 4).
Be wary that relevant is important. For starters, I cannot talk about things I did not discuss in my thesis. Also, my evidence should be relevant. If I talk about leaf structure or flowering bodies or number of stems, I am using irrelevant evidence... these features are true of many plants. No points. It's not true, and it doesn't relate to my argument that I plotted out in my thesis. And certainly both of my pieces of evidence should be rooted in text (usually the foundational docs and additional details when the prompt allows). I cannot just start making hypothetical arguments. It's about hard evidence.
Here is another way to look at what passes the muster of points 2, 3, and 4.
Point 5: Commentary
I have to move beyond listing facts. Listing facts does not show how I have cobbled together evidence to prove my point. If there is no justification of why or how my evidence supports my thesis, I am forcing my reader to jump to conclusions. Since I am making my argument, I should ensure that my reader draws the same conclusions that I do. Let me give you an example.
Let's say I supported my argument that aspens are trees by looking at what the tree is made of, namely wood and leaves. I argued that trees are made up of leaves and wood and I left it to the reader to figure out if I have supported the argument, I am not positive that everyone would agree leaves and wood make trees. Can't leaves and wood be a table?
It is on me as the author to give my evidence a final pass through, to make sure that I am clear as to why or how the words I used clearly connect back to my argument. I also have to flex my ability to be logical in my analysis of the content as it relates to my thesis. I do this by showing why or how I have proven my point, sometimes clarifying what these passages mean. If I am struggling, I have to write a sentence that finishes the sentence: "My evidence proves my point because it shows..."
Of course, my evidence here is pretty simple, so connecting back to my argument is a bit redundant, but for more complicated arguments or arguments that have several nuanced pieces of evidence, stringing them together to prove my argument is very important.
Point 6: Counterargument
In order to get a perfect score, I have to talk about the counterargument. Sometimes students think this is a mere acknowledgement that someone may not agree with me. Long and short, that is not enough for a point. I have to do more than acknowledge the existence of the counter; I have to give evidence or commentary that introduces the counterargument. Then I should tell you why or how my argument is better, with a shout out to my previous thoughts.
Let's see what that looks like below in two different discussions.
My first attempt below is just an acknowledgement that some fools out there may think Aspens are not trees. It's not enough for that sixth point. I need to spend more time introducing you to the counter argument before I flick it away with my words.
Getting back to the point of this, Lenny's argument that an Aspen is a tree because of the way it is... we would call that a 0. It's not a fully qualified and defensible argument, there is no evidence or commentary to support his assertion, and I just don't see a counter argument. But if Lenny would just pause his tree hugging, animal tracking ways for a minute he may learn a thing or two about what makes that Aspen a tree besides its tree-ness. And I could shift from the red to the green and hug that tree right with him.
When I am not g'ing it up, I am tackling the bigger problem... writing skills. Maybe my kids will write well enough to work at C-Span studios. Maybe.