This week, in honor of our Sixth Annual Student Editorial Contest, which begins on Thursday, we’re publishing a series of ideas by teachers who work with argument writing in various imaginative ways.
Below, Charles Costello, who teaches English at Greenwich High School in Connecticut, explains how a column by David Leonhardt inspired him to create “a yearlong exploration in inquiry and open-mindedness for my students” based on following New York Times columnists.
Do you have an idea for teaching with The Times? Please tell us about it here. You can also browse our full collection of Great Ideas From Our Readers.
The Inspiration: David Leonhardt’s Call for Inquiry and Open-Mindedness
In July 2017, the New York Times columnist David Leonhardt challenged readers to look beyond their familiar sources and opinions and consider opposing voices and views. Mr. Leonhardt’s column, “A Summer Project to Nourish Your Political Soul,” begins with an acknowledgment of the polarized times we live in, then puts forth a course of action “for the sake of nourishing your political soul.”
Mr. Leonhardt vowed to “devote part of my summer to thinking through vexing issues.” He provides an outline of three — immigration, abortion and education — and concludes by saying: “The only way the country is going to make progress on hard issues is if a substantial number of people change their minds. By questioning your own beliefs, you may discover a better answer.”
Here was his challenge:
Pick an issue that you find complicated, and grapple with it. Choose one on which you’re legitimately torn or harbor secret doubts. Read up on it. Don’t rush to explain away inconvenient evidence. Then do something truly radical: Consider changing your mind, at least partially.
Mr. Leonhardt’s column led me to the creation of “Follow a Columnist,” a project I devised and continue to assign in which, instead of focusing on a particular issue (though this does sometime occur), students meet Mr. Leonhardt’s objective by first following a columnist whose ideology is in sync with theirs, then switching to a columnist whose ideology is very different. Along the way, students dig deep into issues, exploring complex subjects and uncovering many different facts and perspectives.
How the ‘Follow a Columnist’ Assignment Works
The first thing I do is point students to The Times’s opinion section, where they can scroll through the columnists and articles and get a sense of what subjects the writers tackle and where each may fall on the political spectrum. (It’s important for them to differentiate between editorials, which are written by The Times’s editorial board, and columns, written by individual columnists, so this also serves as a good lesson on media literacy.) I also have them visit the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post opinion sections.
Next, I’ll work with students to choose their columnists. They usually start with someone whose ideology is similar to their own to help build a strong base of knowledge before they challenge themselves with different perspectives.
Here is how I explain it to students:
Columnists have agendas and strong political views that shape their work. Your job is to find one with whom you agree. This will take some research and perhaps some discussion with me.
Once you have your writer, you’ll follow that columnist for the next two months. Most write once or twice per week. You’ll need to choose a recent column three times first quarter. For the second quarter, we’ll reconvene and you’ll find a columnist who is the polar opposite of the one you first chose. (This doesn’t have to be issue to issue; we’re looking more at overall ideology.) You’ll then read three columns from that writer during the second quarter. For each column you read, you’ll need to complete an annotation and written response. The requirements for each assignment will be provided in writing. Each entry will count as a formative assessment grade for the quarter during which it’s completed.
You will consider columnists from the three leading newspapers. You’ll need to find the political bend of each, but it might help you to note that The Times and The Washington Post generally employ more liberal columnists (though you will find a number of conservative writers at both papers), while Wall Street Journal columnists tend to be more conservative.
Students then complete a variety of assignments intended to engage them in a range of issues; expose them to a variety of perspectives; and reinforce skills in critical reading, thinking and writing. While some assignments focus on argument, some on rhetoric, and others on claims and evidence, they are all based on Mr. Leonhardt’s call for “inquiry and open-mindedness.”
Additional Ways of Using Newspaper Opinion Sections
In addition to this main Follow a Columnist assignment — which I introduce to both my Advanced Placement English Language and Composition classes and my literature classes at the beginning of the school year — there are specific unit-based assignments I give to students that draw on newspaper opinion sections to help students explore ideas and themes they encounter as we move through the different curriculums.
Here is what a few of the most successful have looked like. For more detail on each, follow the links below to find both the original assignment and examples of the student work that resulted.
• As part of a unit on gender, students read, annotated and wrote reactions to a column that addressed the essential question: “What is the impact of gender roles that society creates and enforces?” One student read “Boogie Down, Bronx Girl” by Maureen Dowd, which reflected on everything from the outfits women in government wear to their tweets, and, following a close read and annotation, wrote this reaction that focuses on Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
• To help foster skills in civil discussion, this assignment asked students to identify an issue that was presented in one of their columnists’ articles, summarize the issue, then identify three options for addressing the issue and three drawbacks to those options. To write up their findings, students were instructed to follow the outline used by the Kettering Foundation in this piece, “What Should We Do About the Opioid Epidemic?”
For example, one student who was reading David Brooks chose his column “Two Cheers for Feminism!” and explored what we can do to “relieve the effects of toxic masculinity and encourage empathy and connections.” She came to three conclusions: focus on teaching, focus on treatment and focus on destigmatizing male emotions.
• In my A.P. English Language and Composition class, students read a column and identify the writer’s argument and overall effectiveness, as well as explore the rhetorical strategies the writer used to achieve his or her purpose. In my literature-based classes, students instead identify a writer’s claim and the evidence he or she uses to support it. As an added feature, I have my students post their work to a discussion thread, read through their classmates’ responses, and reflect on two or three other columns and reactions.
Here are two student examples, one from my A.P. class and one from my literature class.
First, an excerpt from a student analysis of Gail Collins’s effective rhetoric in “The Sunny Side of the Senate.” (You can find the student’s full response here.)
Collins uses humor as a way to build an emotional connection with the reader, therefore employing pathos. While the article discusses sexual assault, a rather dark and heavy topic, the conversational tone and breaks of humor not only add brief levity when needed but also show the reader that the author is “just like us.” An example of this can be seen when Collins states, in paragraph five, “Stop throwing fruit at me … Although hey — that apple looks very tasty.” After just stating her opinion — that she feels the Senate members really failed during the trial this week — Collins acknowledges that her opinion is a bit controversial, showing the general public throwing fruit at her and her ideas. Yet, this also shows the audience that she is able to acknowledge the controversy that comes with her argument, while also being able to make fun of herself.
In this one, we go back to Ms. Dowd to see how another student sums up her argument in “Sick to Your Stomach? #MeToo.” (You can find the full response here.)
Dowd makes the argument that despite all the progress women have made from the time of the Anita Hill vs. Clarence Thomas sexual assault case to now, when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh have found themselves in a parallel situation, it is a shame that we see such an event repeating itself. She describes the factors and key people and events in the Hill/Thomas case, clearly siding with Hill. After carefully analyzing what she views as injustices to Hill during Thomas’s trial, she brings in the more recent conflict: Ford vs. Kavanaugh, which she reminds readers is happening shortly after a surge in the #MeToo movement. And, although we are supposed to be progressing as a nation after this, Dowd argues that even though we remember the events that occurred during Thomas’s trial, we seem “doomed to repeat it.”
A ‘Summer Project’ that Became a Yearlong Inquiry
Follow a Columnist has proved to be a perfect assignment for a variety of high school English courses. In A.P. English Language and Composition, for example, the focus is on the writer’s rhetoric and his or her argument. For a literature class, the emphasis is on a writer’s claim and the evidence he or she uses to support it. A social studies classroom could explore key issues like the ones Mr. Leonhardt mentions in his article, which also include tax reform; the debate over minimum wage vs. tax credits vs. universal basic income; and Obamacare vs. single-payer health care. As Mr. Leonhardt says in his column, “there is no shortage of issues to consider.”
There are a lot of possibilities here. Mr. Leonhardt’s “summer project” has turned into a yearlong exploration in inquiry and open-mindedness for my students.B:
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【镣】【铐】【锁】【着】【清】【虚】【道】【人】【坐】【在】【干】【草】【上】，【听】【到】【脚】【步】【声】，【抬】【头】【看】【向】【牢】【外】【的】【三】【人】。【他】【的】【头】【发】【有】【些】【凌】【乱】，【道】【袍】【也】【被】【人】【换】【上】【囚】【服】。【眼】【眸】【仍】【有】【些】【清】【澈】，【唇】【角】【动】【了】【动】，【却】【什】【么】【也】【没】【说】。 【牢】【门】【上】【的】【锁】【链】【被】【衙】【役】【拉】【的】【直】【响】，【大】【门】【缓】【缓】【被】【推】【开】。【衙】【役】【等】【清】【虚】【站】【起】【来】【后】【将】【清】【虚】【推】【出】【牢】【房】，【在】【接】【到】【厉】【见】【微】【的】【示】【意】，【拉】【着】【清】【虚】【的】【锁】【链】【往】【前】【走】。 【因】【为】【年】
【我】，【叫】【马】【戈】。【我】【的】【身】【份】，【是】【董】【家】【紫】【衣】【杀】【手】，【也】【是】【梅】【家】【送】【入】【董】【家】【的】【暗】【桩】。 【暗】【桩】【这】【行】【当】，【其】【实】【我】【很】【早】【很】【早】【之】【前】【就】【做】【过】【了】，【对】【的】，【这】【个】‘【很】【早】’，【是】【早】【在】【我】【入】【梅】【家】【之】【前】。 【我】【是】【一】【个】【被】【用】【了】【两】【次】【的】【暗】【桩】！ 【某】【种】【意】【义】【上】【来】【说】，【可】【能】【是】【我】【在】【这】【方】【面】【的】【天】【赋】【太】【好】【了】【吧】，【以】【至】【于】，【先】【被】【派】【遣】【入】【了】【梅】【家】，【专】【门】【替】【那】【位】【爷】【监】【视】【梅】【家】
∠(ᐛ」∠)_【新】【文】《【网】【恋】【奔】【现】》【正】【在】【火】【热】【连】【载】【中】，【快】【来】【收】【藏】【吧】！ 《【听】【说】【我】【有】【靠】【山】》【里】【戚】【池】【和】【靳】【野】【的】【故】【事】。 【靳】【野】：【一】【时】【网】【恋】【一】【时】【爽】，【一】【到】【奔】【现】【火】【葬】【场】。 【说】【好】【的】【撩】【的】【是】【妹】【呢】？【妹】【呢】？！ 【靳】【野】【气】【的】【砸】【手】【机】，【妈】【的】，【骗】【子】，【我】【死】【也】【不】【可】【能】【跟】【你】【当】【社】【会】【主】【义】【兄】【弟】【的】！ 【三】【个】【月】【后】。 【真】【香】。 …… 【网】兰姐三中三 555507.com【英】【雄】【联】【盟】145【位】【英】【雄】，【每】【一】【位】【英】【雄】【的】【技】【能】【机】【制】【都】【不】【相】【同】，【那】【么】【你】【知】【道】【公】【认】【设】【计】【最】【完】【美】【的】4【位】【英】【雄】【都】【有】【谁】【吗】？【锤】【石】【是】【毫】【无】【疑】【问】【的】，【是】【官】【方】【承】【认】【的】【最】【完】【美】【的】【英】【雄】【了】，【技】【能】【机】【制】【非】【常】【的】【平】【衡】，【控】【制】【能】【力】【非】【常】【的】【强】，【而】【且】Q【技】【能】【还】【能】【作】【为】【位】【移】【使】【用】，【并】【且】W【技】【能】【还】【能】【给】【队】【友】【增】【加】【一】【个】【位】【移】，【不】【管】【是】【在】【进】【攻】【方】【面】【还】【是】【在】【保】【护】【方】【面】【都】【是】【非】【常】【的】【强】【的】【一】【位】【英】【雄】，【不】【管】【搭】【配】【哪】【位】ADC【都】【是】【可】【以】【的】。
【是】【他】【们】B.H.【娱】【乐】【不】【好】【吗】？【为】【什】【么】【那】【么】【多】【人】【多】【喜】【欢】【去】【跃】【然】【娱】【乐】【应】【聘】？ 【做】【什】【么】【不】【好】，【非】【要】【做】【这】【种】【偷】【鸡】【摸】【狗】【的】【事】，【顾】【北】【城】【实】【在】【是】【想】【不】【通】。 **【洋】：“【不】【是】【解】【无】【忧】【的】【棋】【局】【大】，【莫】【岐】【是】【他】【偶】【然】【发】【现】【的】，【具】【体】【过】【程】【不】【知】【道】，【只】【知】【道】【解】【无】【忧】【给】【了】【她】【一】【些】【好】【处】。” 【有】【钱】【能】【使】【鬼】【推】【磨】，【几】【年】【前】【的】【解】【无】【忧】【还】【没】【有】【像】【现】【在】【这】【般】【能】
【楚】【谣】【还】【在】【吗】？ 【也】【不】【在】【了】。 【她】【什】【么】【时】【候】【死】【的】？ 【或】【许】【在】【被】【抓】【进】【研】【究】【所】【的】【那】【一】【刻】，【就】【已】【经】【悄】【无】【声】【息】【离】【开】【了】。 “【楼】【衿】！【你】【那】【边】【有】【吗】？”【时】【九】【臻】【看】【着】【满】【空】【间】【的】【虚】【空】【之】【花】，【整】【个】【人】【都】【不】【好】【了】。 “【没】【有】。”【楼】【衿】【脸】【色】【有】【些】【难】【看】，【黑】【的】【和】【锅】【底】【一】【样】。 “【也】【不】【知】【道】【阿】【谣】【这】【小】【烂】【混】【蛋】【躲】【到】【哪】【里】【去】【了】，【多】【亏】【了】【蓝】【蝶】【帮】【我】