Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

Category Archives: Critical Thinking

Who Warrants Survival?

We’ve been focused on education, learning, and especially reading for a while now. Let’s take a break and talk about the apocalypse.

First, head back to this post on torture porn and obscenity, scroll down to the section on the Toulmin model, and brush up on claims, support, and warrants. We covered these terms back at the beginning of the year as part of an introduction to cogent argumentation; now you’ll probably find them useful as you prep for the AP exam’s third free-response question. The quick breakdown: Your claims need support, and warrants connect support to a claim. One of  the easier ways to see how that works—as well as the importance of that connection—is the following exercise. Read it carefully, and then use class time and the comments section of this post to explore your reasoning.

If you’re interested in what last year’s group had to say about this, check here.


Adapted from K. Sherlock’s work at Grossmont College in El Cajon, CA. Available in its original form at this website

A sudden, unpredicted asteroid impact has wiped out virtually all life on Earth. The eleven survivors on the North American continent grieve the loss of billions of human beings and billions of species of flora and fauna. Among the remaining is a NASA scientist, who reveals the U.S. Government’s secret plan to send its country’s eight most powerful and richest people to a newly discovered Earth-like planet in a nearby solar system in the event of a predictable Extinction Level Event. The plan remains, but the intended passengers perished in the asteroid strike. In their place, the eleven survivors will leave the Earth to start over.

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Progress Reports: Canned Metacognition

Progress reports will be printed and sent home at the end of this week. In the past, I mentioned these arbitrary moments of review in a different light; now that we are fully embracing Kohn and a “degraded” environment, I can shift my tone considerably. (Note: The language related to grade ranges has been struck through; I’ve left it in to remind us of the changes, because we really ought to focus on your learning, not any attached numbers.)

First, note the three questions you have been asked in class to answer on a regular basis. They are posted on the right side of the site; each asks you to elaborate metacognitively or reflectively on your progress. If you have been keeping up with this, you should have more than enough data to work with this week, when you will finish Friday’s work on this:

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The Case Against Grades

Read Alfie Kohn’s “The Case Against Grades,” which you can load online by clicking here. After you’ve finished reading, complete the following two exercises.

Part 1: One question: In the comment section of this post, ask one specific question that was raised for you about the reading. Is there a concept worth elucidating? Does Kohn raise an issue that you want to explore further? Is there an immediate concern you have about not being graded? Let this question be a sort of preface to the second exercise, which is free writing; keep in mind that we will continue to discuss this process through the beginning of next week, as well.

Part 2: Free writing: Open your Google account and load a blank document. Spend the rest of today’s period writing an answer to the following essential question:

  • To what extent are grades and learning connected in your education?

Use your reading of Kohn to inform your response. Be specific and thorough; this is not going to be shared with me or anyone else unless you want to do that, so there’s no reason to hold back. Get your thoughts down, letting Kohn’s theories and examples guide you.

Feedback: Progress Reports

Or, The Paradox of the Heap

Tomorrow, your progress reports are issued. You will have three grades: an adversarial, a set of questions on rhetoric and style for Edelstein, and a set of questions on rhetoric and style for Ebert. You will not get to see how you did on your timed rhetorical analysis essays until over break; the DAMAGES/C4 analysis was disrupted by my impromptu hospitalization, and I will not give you numbers until you also have feedback—and, of course, the time to study that feedback.

Which brings us to the paradox of the heap.

Twice every nine weeks, your teachers are asked [Note: That’s an interesting passive voice, isn’t it?] to draw arbitrary lines in the sand. When we do this, we look back and articulate, through canned commentary and somewhat oblique grades, how you are doing. Certain grades and commentary indicate that you are learning; others, that you are not. But this is obviously imprecise. Some of you still need to share your Chaos QORAS with me—be sure to check your email, while you’re online—but that’s an easy one; all of you will have progressed further the day after these progress reports are posted. Like the heap linked to above (you are still reading every link, aren’t you?), it’s a vague and sometimes inaccurate kind of report.

Because, of course, you are in charge of your progress. For the adversarial, you were given explicit annotations on exactly which comments earned what number of points; you spent an entire day looking this over to prepare you to discuss online the next adversarial, which will be tabulated and scored beginning on 12/20. For the QORAS covering Edelstein, you were given emails and exemplars through Google Drive—so many, in fact, that you were given another day in class just to read that feedback. And for the QORAS you wrote on Ebert’s review, you have just received a set of similarly scaffolded feedback: an exemplary response, plus the option to conference with me for further feedback on your grade. Again, you should check your email for that feedback. I will give you your actual group responses tomorrow, after I know you’ve had a period to look at the exemplars.

In general, the paradox of the heap tells us that grades, while important, aren’t the key. As long as you check your email, pick up all handouts, and take full advantage of the time you are given, you should know exactly how you are doing in this class. The final piece of that puzzle came today in the form of those grades, however, so take the time to look at all this. And if you are wondering about how you can improve those grades, well, just make sure you’ve read that last post.

Adjustments: 11/19

For Monday, November 19:

  1. Continue working on Edelstein as necessary today. We will have to adjust the time spent on our collaborative work on his argument, so your baseline understanding—what you are able to answer accurately from that list of questions on rhetoric and style—is essential. You should continue to use Google Drive or to talk to each other through that original post on Edelstein.
  2. If you have not already done so, take your timed general arguments from my desk (the folders are labeled by period), finish typing, and share the work with me in Google Drive.
  3. If you have not already done so, finish the process for those general arguments that is outlined in this post. If you have finished this, recognize that you will need to revisit the Singer Solution arguments once I’ve shared some of your classmates’ exemplars with you.

We will study Dustin Rowles’ two arguments next, most likely, and you can look at those by loading the original post for this unit. I will take stock of where you are with Edelstein tomorrow, and then we will either begin studying Rowles, profanity, and the images and words that offend us; or we will work our way through Edelstein, paragraph by paragraph, so that you can practice rhetorical analysis in a way that helps you (instead of simply chopping the text up until it loses all magic and meaning).

If you are ready, you can load and read the two Dustin Rowles’ texts. Start with the assignment posted first; then read his response to Stephen King; then read his review of Captivity (the censored version first).

QORAS: Edelstein’s “Now Playing”

The following article and attendant set of questions on rhetoric and style have been edited and altered somewhat from the unit overview. Use these in place of those.

You’ll have a day to read the article and start to answer the questions, and then we will break up a collective read-through by addressing as many of them as we can. This will be done as an adversarial, which means that you will be called on directly; after the initial attempt, you will be able to work in groups to flesh out answers, and you will earn points both individually and in groups toward a Q2 adversarial score. On Friday, you will be able to choose which of these questions we begin with; if you prepare in advance, you can accelerate your learning of the material by quite a bit.

Because next week is truncated by Thanksgiving, we will revisit our plans then. We may continue with Edelstein, switch to Dustin Rowles and Captivity, or break entirely for three days on Native American mascots. Regardless of the decision there, you can use the comments section of this post to earn adversarial credit for discussing and refining your understanding of these questions. [Note: Comments closed 11/28 at 7:30am.]

Note: You may also with to create a Google Drive document in which you collaborate in groups or as an entire class on these questions. That kind of work will earn you adversarial credit; just make sure to share the document with me before you get going.

Update: 11/5

If you load the last update and scroll down to the last sentence, you will find a particularly (albeit darkly) funny subordinate clause:

I will continue to set up the physical space in our classroom, and if all goes well, you’ll have a place reserved by next week for your portfolios, scored work like those group quizzes, and other resources.

As you may have noticed over the last ten days, all did not go well. We needed that time to edit and revise your letters; now we are on the eve of the election, and for us to honor the hard work you put in, we’ll have to adjust almost everything.

Start here:

These are copies of the letters you submitted before Sandy visited us. Each of you has editing access to each letter, but the first step you must take is just to read them all. Skim and look for patterns; these are the data (yes, that’s a plural noun) we’ll use for the second step, and you must be familiar with them before we move on.

Step #2 is how we will use these strange circumstances as a learning opportunity: You are going to help me write a letter. I will collect your work under a cover letter, and we will send it out. But to whom, and in what format, and for what purpose—well, that’s the part we have to adjust.

Once you’ve skimmed and processed all 17 letters, load this page:

You’ve probably already seen it, since it was emailed to you as a resource for the letters you wrote. Now it is a requirement, and you have only tonight—Monday night—to develop a working understanding of SOAPSTone as an organizational strategy. I will send you another email later, and we will use this tomorrow in class; you need to keep the following list in the back of your mind today, however, because this is real-world rhetoric:

  1. Our speaker has shifted from your groups to me.
  2. Our details are now nested: I will write about your letters, which analyze ad campaigns, which use logical fallacies.
  3. Our immediate occasion has changed entirely; we have to account for the storm and the election, which will be over by the time we finish writing together.
  4. Our audience has to be carefully considered: Do we write to both candidates? Do we write to the eventual winner? How do we account for that result before it happens?
  5. That means that our approach will have to be carefully considered, too: Is this a letter to the president, regardless of which candidate wins? Are we opening with the original assignment, or is our purpose bigger?
  6. That purpose must also shift and mutate a lot. What do we hope to accomplish here?

And so on. More to come; for now, read and prepare yourself for a brand-new kind of collaboration.

Moment of Truth: Letter Writing

Die Blitzkriegkinder,

You have 72 hours to answer the letter-writing prompt that is posted below. It has also been emailed to you. You will be in a computer lab for two days, so that you have access to a printer and Microsoft Word, in addition to Google Docs. The printed letter is due on Thursday at the start of class.

This, like the rest of your week, is really about applying to a particular task the skills and knowledge you’ve ostensibly been developing. You’ve studied logic and logical fallacies; you’ve studied the elements of effective writing; and you’ve been immersed in a collaborative atmosphere, whether working on quizzes or post-mortems. Writing this letter is as much about that collegiality as analysis and argumentation.

The rest of the week is about isolating your skills and knowledge to a certain extent:

Wednesday: Timed general argument essay | Given as a state pre-test, which means that it counts both as a grade this quarter and as a score for the state’s evaluation of us. If you’ve been doing what you should have been doing with those first essays, the course rubric, and the analytical portion of this political unit, you will write a timed response that reflects your abilities. You must write in black ink for this, so pens will be provided; you must also write using the lined response paper that will be set aside for you on Wednesday.

Thursday and Friday: Timed multiple-choice questions | Given as a local pre-assessment, which means it will not count as a grade this quarter, only as a score for the state’s evaluation of us. You will be given passages from various sources and asked to answer multiple-choice questions on rhetoric, style, and meaning. It will take two days to finish all 50 or so questions. You must have a pencil for this, as your responses will be keyed in on a Scantron.

Note that if you are absent for any part of the above two assessment, you will have to schedule a retake immediately.

The letter-writing prompt and rubric-driven outline are below.

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Presidential Debate Analysis

Use this post to continue our discussion from Thursday’s class. I will fold these comments into the ongoing point aggregate that also includes your artifact analysis. Remember to stay focused on logical fallacies and other kinds of manipulative rhetoric; don’t turn this into a melee.

Logical Blitzkrieg

It’s October. The elections are only five weeks away. Time to build the machine.

To the right of this post, you will see a list of resources (it mirrors the tabs at the top of the site, so you can also look there); the first link is called Logical Blitzkrieg, and you should click on it as soon as you’ve read the rest of this post. Over the next three class periods, you must use some of the tools I’ve given you there and in class to deconstruct the specious or illogical reasoning of one of the artifacts you and your group have brought in. You must also decide what form your deconstruction will take. Whatever you produce will be shared with the class using the Groups function of Google.

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