By Sarah Sullivan and Anna Mills
Background on culturally responsive teaching
As many of us have become aware, there is a fierce and urgent call in education to close equity gaps and fulfill the promise of education as a democratizing force of social empowerment, community empowerment, and mobility. Indeed higher education is in a transformative period. Many of us are critically examining the structures, policies, and practices that have left out so many students, particularly African American, Latinx, first-generation college students, students from low socio-economic status families as well as other racially and linguistically diverse communities. One of the realizations that has emerged from our critical examination is that Euro-centric and mainstream dominant curriculum and pedagogy, in addition to leaving historically underserved students out, has also failed to build upon diverse students' capacity for rigorous and strategic critical thinking and learning. As Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, writes, “the chronic achievement gap in most American schools has created an epidemic of dependent learners unprepared to do the higher-order thinking, creative problem solving and analytical reading and writing called for…” (12). While Hammond focuses on students in the K-12 system, this indictment of our current educational practices certainly applies to higher education.
For college and university instructors, the call to equity requires an intentional and critical examination and reform of our pedagogy and curriculum. Of course, culturally responsive teaching (CRT) and teaching for equity are deep and multifaceted fields. One key concept which Hammond emphasizes, however, is the need to shape pedagogy around the neuroscience of how people learn in culturally informed ways. In part, Hammond defines CRT as the educator's responsibility to design instruction that is based on the science of learning, with high expectations for students within a critical thinking, problem-solving and active learning curriculum in a culturally relevant, highly supportive and culturally affirming learning community. She further argues for the inclusion of rigor as a fundamental principle of CRT and the incorporation of neuroscience principles of learning so that students’ minds are challenged and intellectual capabilities are strengthened.
The book you hold in your hands (or more likely that you view on your screen) is a step towards culturally responsive teaching in the college composition classroom. The biggest CRT strength of the book is that it equips and empowers linguistically and racially diverse, historically underserved groups of students to engage with rigor to be able to think, read and write critically, strategically, and powerfully. This is achieved through scaffolded instruction that breaks down analytical reading and writing into steps and makes explicit the moves that will lead to success.
Strategies for working toward equity with How Arguments Work
Make sure students know your course has no textbook cost
Verify that your course has any appropriate labels--such as "no-cost," "Zero Textbook Cost," "ZTC," or "low-cost"--in your college's course catalog. As we know, offering a no-cost textbook with no-cost digital ancillary resources is key, since these costs are a major barrier for low-income students. Access to the book and resources will never expire, unlike access to paid commercial textbook digital resources. Students may be used to commercial publishers’ pricing structures which direct them to purchase limited-time access. Emphasize to them that this textbook can serve as a free reference before, during, and after the course.
Use culturally relevant examples
Of course, teachers and textbooks have an obligation to show diverse student identities as part of the academic conversation. We imagine that you will already be thinking about this, but it never hurts to hear more reminders that the examples we highlight as teachers send a message about whose voices we value. Students struggle to feel confident in the academy when they don’t see their own identities represented. This book chooses examples that refer to diverse ethnicities and class backgrounds, public issues of broad personal relevance and familiarity with popular culture. Many sample essays refer to social justice issues such as immigration policy, gender, and racial identity. Examples also touch on transgender issues and questions around disability and neurodiversity. We continue to add images that represent diverse identities and readings that address more topics of relevance for first-generation, traditionally underserved communities in higher education, particularly African American and Latinx.
Emphasize the step-by-step approach
As we know, students who are the first generation in their families to attend college and students whose K-12 preparation has been inadequate may not have internalized habits of mind for academic thinking and writing. The popular commercial textbook, They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Kathy Birkenstein, offers a how-to approach to those habits of mind, an approach that has inspired How Arguments Work. Here, chapters are explicitly centered on moves we can make as readers and writers. We try to place each skill in the context of the larger project of a particular kind of writing assignment. To complement the text, consider drawing students' attention to the ways in which the skills in this book build sequentially to prepare them for more challenging projects. For example, their reading, summary, assessment, and response writing skills from Chapters 2-5 help them once they juggle multiple sources in the research paper.
Build in scaffolding
The gradual release model of I do/We do/You do calls for multiple iterations of engaging with and practicing a new concept. First the teacher models; then students collaborate with each other and the teacher; then finally students are asked to work independently. Below are some resources you can use to scaffold the skills taught in How Arguments Work.
- Practice exercises at the end of each section, some of them with Google docs templates.
- Quizzes with feedback and links to relevant sections of the textbook. See Quizzes, Essay Assignments, and Other Learning Management System Ancillary Materials to access them.
- Sample papers with annotations that point out the techniques described in the chapters. See Sample Student Essays for a full list.
- Brainstorm exercises to help students generate ideas for specific types of essays. See Quizzes, Essay Assignments, and Other Learning Management System Ancillary Materials to access them.
- In addition to the LMS quizzes, we have begun to build in interactive practice exercises with tips and automated feedback, all embedded directly in the textbook sections. 2.2: Types of Claims to Look out for offers an example in its practice exercise. These activities explain why an answer is right or wrong and guide students to the areas of the text that will help them understand. Students can build confidence and understanding by retrying any they get wrong until they get them right.
- In future, we hope to add more video modeling, lesson plan ideas for collaborative work, and Google Doc templates. We know video can help scaffold concepts by modeling strategic thinking and metacognitive reflection for students as they engage in the writing process. This could help make difficult concepts like argument mapping more accessible and appealing.
Make the most of the multiple means of representation of the content
According to Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles developed by the nonprofit education research and development organization CAST, it is important to represent the same content in multiple ways so that students with different learning styles and abilities can absorb it in different ways. We hope you will familiarize yourself with How Arguments Work content in alternate formats and highlight these resources for students:
- We have provided an audio version of each page of How Arguments Work accessible from a play button at the top of the page.
- We include images that are not merely decorative but which reinforce concepts. We continue to add more such images.
- We have included annotated sample essays which provide another way of representing the concepts described in Chapters 3, 4, 5, 7, and 11.
- The self-correcting quizzes are designed to be taken as often as the student wishes and include automated feedback, providing another, more interactive way for students to engage with the concepts of each chapter. See Quizzes, Essay Assignments, and Other Learning Management System Ancillary Materials.
- In future, we hope to include a collection of curated and original video to complement the text. In the meantime, consider supplementing with your own video.
Remind students of the practical academic and career applications of the skills
How Argument Works is explicit about the ways a student will likely use each writing or thinking skill in other classes, in professional settings, and in life. Examples are often drawn from assignments and sample essays in other disciplines, so students will have a sense of how this required class prepares them for the writing they will do in all their other classes and in their career. For example, 4.1: Use a Summary to Launch an Opinion details writing assignments in other disciplines that follow the same summary and response format. This is especially beneficial for students who are trying to educate themselves against the odds, who have to make efficient use of their time and prioritize practical concerns given family and work obligations.
Keep the emphasis on relationship and conversationConsider using a social annotation tool like Hypothes.is or Perusall in your Learning Management System to create conversation around the textbook readings. Students will be able to see and reply to each other's comments and questions.
CRT emphasizes the importance of a warm, culturally affirming community of learners. Ideally, academic writing should feel like an invitation to relationship and conversation. We hope that the tone of this book communicates a sense of recognition and valuing of student ideas. This textbook uses “we” as often as possible instead of “you” to cultivate the sense that they are already part of the community of writers that teachers belong to as well. Traditionally, African American, Latinx, and other minoritized students were intentionally left out of academic conversations. This book is part of an educational equity movement to include them by equipping them with the tools and encouraging belief in the relevance of their voices. They are authors developing authority.
In the spirit of writing as conversation, we also invite students to comment on the textbook itself through the Hypothes.is Student Feedback Group. Going forward, we want to explore open pedagogy possibilities for collaborating with students to improve How Arguments Work. In addition to feedback, we seek original student contributions such as sample essays, practice exercises, and quiz questions. Please contact us if interested.
Focus on everyday language rather than technical terms
Consider emphasizing rhetoric concepts over terminology. We are convinced that in most cases it is possible to use terms students already know to express rhetoric concepts without loss of rigor. We have found that the focus on technical terms with elite, academic, Greek and Roman associations can intimidate students and distract them from the critical thinking practice the terms represent. Those terms can be barriers for students on an affective level because they send the message that rhetoric as a domain of learning belongs to traditional, patriarchal, white, western heritage. Thus, we have de-emphasized technical rhetoric terms where possible, including them in parentheses and never making them the focus. Instead, we focus on teaching students to apply each critical thinking skill.
Streamline student access to the text by bringing it into your Learning Management System (LMS)
We recognize that the wonderful richness of LibreTexts offerings given the current layout can be overstimulating for some students and occasionally confusing. One way to help with this is to embed the textbook pages you want to assign directly in your LMS. We offer .LMSCC files to facilitate this, or you can add embedded links directly in your LMS. Moving forward, we are considering how we can improve the user interface of the book to make it more intuitive.
Offer individualized, responsive learning opportunities
Teaching practices that offer differentiated learning paths will work well with this book. Armed with the tools to write a particular genre of essay, students can choose to write about arguments or sources with a thematic focus that interests them. The textbook covers developmental writing concepts, college composition, and quite a bit of more advanced rhetoric, so teachers can differentiate assignments without pointing students toward what they might see as a remedial text. Going forward, we are exploring creating embedded practice opportunities that adapt to the student’s level of understanding of the material. We are hoping to create question sets in LibreTexts Adapt that respond to learner level. Adaptive quizzes would create more enriching and confidence-building practice for those who need it and more challenging questions for those who are ready for them.
Aspire to anti-elitist rigor
We hope that the book's approach makes challenging rhetorical practices more accessible without dumbing them down. We have attempted to make the book both approachable and rich in mental exercise for all, from those with a lot of cultural capital and intellectual confidence to those whose cultural capital has not been traditionally valued by the academy. For example, we have included extensive coverage of fallacies in Chapter 4 and made these more intuitive by breaking them into categories according to the type of logical problem involved.
How can we revise this book to better support culturally responsive teaching?
Textbooks have often consciously or unconsciously perpetuated injustice and left many people’s perspectives out--especially people of color and low-income communities. Our textbook is certainly imperfect, and while not meaning to, in some ways very likely continues to perpetuate societal inequities. We recognize this, and we intend to do further equity reviews and revisions. Designing equity pedagogy and curriculum is an iterative and continual process of reflection, learning, and intentional research-based improvement. The beauty of Open Educational Resources is that we can keep questioning and revising. This book is imperfect, but we can keep revising and adding to it continuously without asking students to pay for new editions. If you have ideas for this, or would like to be involved in any of these efforts, please contact us!