I don't know if you heard, but College Board's redesign requires the teaching of actual writing skills. I was pretty excited about this revelation, and hurried myself in the direction of developing materials to teach this skill. It's been a minute since I taught writing, so I zested my approach. I thought I had learned a thing or two about writing.
A few weeks ago, I thought I cracked the code on thesis writing. I was convinced I knew how to teach a thesis to my students in a manner that would ensure points. It was more or less an equation that my students could memorize and use on the AP Exam. It looked something like this.
Despite Z, X caused Y because of A, B, and C.
I hacked this thesis equation mostly from my experience in teaching Document-based questions (DBQs). DBQ's equation was a bit juvenile (I hate the concept of buckets) but it was a great place to start an easy approach to writing. I taught the equation, my students practiced, and then talked to their previous teachers. They had lots of complaints that they did not understand my approach.
I heard about it through the grapevine (eh), reflected and then set about to the task of trying to figure out how every else teaches thesis writing. Here is what I learned. EVERYONE DOES IT DIFFERENTLY.
Some teachers say "it's one sentence!" Others mention historical thinking skills direct the structure. Still others talk of "fully qualified" paragraphs that talk about WHAT and HOW/WHY.
I was overwhelmed. How do I make sense of what my kids already know and tailor it to the six point thesis in front of them? How do I keep the disciplinarian and reasoning skills outlined by College Board in the forefront of their minds?
I collected information and sat down with College Board's fixed rubric. This is the part of the rubric that will not change. I am assuming that CB will still have a content rubric that will accompany the argumentation FRQ. So how do I prep my kids with skills?
This rubric is hard to understand for kids, but in essence there are a few things I have clarified.
The thesis is critical information. It does provide a road map, and has to take a clear, defensible position using foundational docs. At this point, CB has directed that each argumentation FRQ will utilize foundational docs as evidence. What is a clear, defensible position? One that does the following:
This can be one or two sentences, but as long as I see all four of these items clearly identified in a thesis, it is a clear, defensible position. Thus, the equation below.
Despite Z (counter) (reword prompt as a statement), Y (dependent) is caused by X (independent) because why/how.
What does this look like? Let me share some theses I thought were successful from a recent argumentation FRQ I assigned my kids. First, the prompt and my equation.
Breaking the equation down into the four parts listed above, I look to see that each component is accurately and adequately addressed. Then, I assess them for validity.
This prompt does answer the question and provide an accurate and valid argument and counter, but it does not tell me WHY. Failure to identify WHY means this student does not have a fully qualified thesis and no point is awarded. They can only obtain one point for evidence in points 2-4.
Here, the answer is split over two sentences. The answer is rambling, but I do see evidence of all four required components: counter, prompt, argument, and why. I might recommend to the student to strip out some of the prose as the timed prompt is not assessing linguistic and lyrical skills. A clear response is what is necessary to demonstrate the disciplinarian and reasoning process outlined in the FRQ.
So, I walked away from this experience feeling like I identified equation that is transportable into the testing environment but leaves enough room for students to be creative. While this thesis may not be applicable in all college courses (it would not necessarily work on my Masters coursework) it is tailored to the disciplinarian and reasoning processes warranted for the assessment. Students will have to learn moving forward that theses can vary depending on the writing assignment, but all theses have basic components that can definitely be hacked into an easy to remember equation.
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.