ONE YEAR WITH AN ENGLISH TEACHER
Day 58, November 30, 2007
Today a parent spoke to my 8th grade students about the kind of writing and speaking he does as an attorney, and listening to him started me thinking about how I might bring some of the tension and excitement of courtroom law to my English classes. He repeatedly made the point that his writing must be utterly organized and clear because it has to convince a judge or a jury. He's not just writing for a teacher or to complete an assignment; he writes in order to convince, and to win the case for his client. It's a win-or-lose situation every time he sits down to write -- and lawyers often lose. He told the class that an attorney might prepare a case for three years only to have a judge summarily rule in favor of the opposition. Three years of hard labor for nothing.
I certainly don't want to put that much pressure on my students, but the right amount of pressure could bring some positive and much-needed exhilaration to my assignments.
So…what if each assignment was phrased as an arguable proposition, like in a debate? And what if I divided each class into two sections, one writing for the affirmative and one for the negative, and then had members of each side present their "oral arguments" (their essays) before a "judge" -- a different student each week? Perhaps, to save time, each student would orally present just one paragraph from his or her essay (of course, standing at the podium and speaking in a dignified manner). The judge for that week would be excused from the writing assignment (which would be a much appreciated gift); his or her only task would be to write a paragraph after the oral arguments, explaining the decision, and then to read the decision to the class the next day.
Problems? Well, first of all, it would take up a full class period each week, which, in a way, is a big problem. I already feel the pressure of a packed curriculum, and to add 40 minutes of oral arguments each week would pack it even more.
However, it may be worth it, considering the weekly anticipation and enthusiasm it might bring to the class.
Hmmm….worth thinking about.