Sunday, 7 October 2012

Making Claims and Providing Evidence

Something amazing happened this week.  Unfortunately, it wasn't a peace deal in Syria, or an end to the global economic down turn.  No, what happened was that Big Bird may have finally been put on notice.

If you weren't one of the 70 million plus viewers or a contributor to the 10.3 million tweets, you may have missed the US Presidential Debate on Wednesday night.  Regardless of political affiliations, many analysts, pundits, and viewers alike attribute Romney with winning the debate.  He "emerged from the fog" as David Brooks wrote.   And while some reported that the debate lacked a bit of luster, I was blown away, not necessarily at what the candidates said, but on how people reacted.

At one point during the debate, Romney said, "I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS.  I'm going to stop other things.  I like PBS.  I love Big Bird.  I actually like you, too (Jim Lehrer).  But I'm not going to--I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for."

Instantly a flood of reactions hit the twittersphere peaking at 140,000 tweets per minute.  The next day, the CEO of PBS was interviewed on Nightly News, and since then even young viewers voiced their opinions.  Not all reactions were negative though.  Ari Fleischer tweeted, "Big Bird needs to ask Dora the Explorer how she manages 2live without tax payer money.  Try it Big Bird.  You'll be just fine."  Unfortunately for Romney, he just can't get his claims to come out right.  Remember the 47%?  And this time, his claim on stopping spending got lost in a cloud of yellow feathers.         
My point is, we're reacting to claims more than ever before. As soundbite scavengers, we look for simple take-aways that make lasting impressions.  For better or worse, political campaigns are built on this, and so too is our 24 hour news cycle society.  Claims are captured, replayed, and double-checked more than ever before.  It seems like the term "fact check" appears in the news daily now, and there's even an organization dedicated to it,

It's no wonder then that the Common Core emphasizes the teaching of making strong claims and supporting them with valid evidence so much. 

The words "claim" and "evidence" only appear a couple of times in the Common Core, but  if you look across the standards in reading and writing, it's everywhere really.  In the following charts, I pulled the standards for Grade 6 and turned them into claims that I want my students to be able to make or do.  For each claim, there is accompanying evidence that students need show or use to support their claims.

I may have gone claim crazy, but I used this framework when I had my students set goals for reading and writing.  I told them that a goal is just a claim that you want to be able to make in the future.  The steps to achieve the goal, I told them, will become the evidence you accumulate along the way to prove that you achieved the goal.

In today's world, we can't avoid making claims nor should we.  Being part of a democratic society depends on it too much.  What we should do is teach to it more directly.  Students need to state strong claims and provide supporting evidence often.  They need to notice when others state claims and ask whether the evidence is valid or not.  In doing so, they'll become more effective communicators and critical members of society.  That's my claim, now prove me wrong.

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