Our Storytelling & Advocacy Coordinator, Jake Adler, had an opportunity to speak with Carolyn Greenberg and Rebekah Coleman—a pair of expert educators, curriculum writers, and literacy coaches at LitLife—about their latest book release and the importance of bringing persuasive writing into classrooms.
How did you two team up?
We’ve been working with LitLife for around 10 years, and teamed up with LitWorld’s founder, Pam Allyn, on the Core Ready textbook series. We both work in content development at LitLife, and decided to join forces on My View, My Voice: 21 Strategies for Powerful Persuasive Writing.
Tell us a bit about your new book series. What made you want to create these texts?
We feel the moment is now—children are learning the importance of speaking up and people are in need of learning how to listen to each other’s views and share their own views in intelligent, thoughtful, and respectful ways. We wanted to provide educators and students with key strategies to strengthen student’s persuasive writing. We both noticed there was a need for curriculum around persuasive writing—we wanted to provide strategies and techniques to expand and enrich the teaching of persuasive writing. We decided to get at the heart of understanding what persuasive writing is and to help educators and students shift from opinion writing into the more formal and complex genre of argument writing.
In My View My Voice we provide 21 age-appropriate strategies and 10 model lessons that lead students to research topics, form and support opinions and arguments, and present their ideas in a variety of engaging ways. These learning opportunities are provided to empower students to both become critical consumers of persuasive messages and strong crafters of persuasive writing. We hope our books help educators teach persuasive writing with expertise, confidence, and joy.
Do you feel there is a gap in many curricula that these new lessons you’ve created can address?
There wasn't a lot of existing curriculum around persuasive writing, particularly around reading persuasive texts in order to learn how to become critical consumers. Teachers were telling us that they wanted to move beyond overdone topics like, “Why Smoking is Bad for You,” and the tired format of the 5-paragraph essay. They told us they didn’t have decent, credible sources to give students on topics that were as appropriate as they were relevant to students’ lives. We understood that teachers were looking adjust their approach to rhetoric and make it more inspiring, exciting, and authentic.
In these new texts, we’ve expanded what persuasive writing can look like in different genres and forms. We have also created age- appropriate original model texts at a range of reading levels for teachers to use with their students. We believe students ought to be learning how to read persuasively, too, in order to write persuasively. When fake news and ‘alternative facts’ are in the mainstream, we feel very strongly that there is a need to educate children about credible sources in order to raise a generation of thoughtful readers.
Is persuasive writing too ambitious a topic for the K-5 age group? Why is it important to foster these skills so early?
Kids love telling us about their preferences from an early age—“My favorite color is, I don’t like that food, etc.”— so it's a perfect time to teach kids how to express themselves more articulately. We ask them to provide a reason for their statement. We teach them how to provide evidence to support their opinion, which is truly an important life skill. Kids can certainly do it, but we don't always teach it. But we believe it’s vital that we teach our kids how to be persuasive.
When we frame it around making a difference in your community—as a sort of superpower one can use for good—kids get very interested in learning about how to structure their arguments in a more powerful way.
Especially with younger students, do you find it difficult to explain the importance of using logical reasoning over experiential or emotional evidence? How can teachers make the difference clearer for their students?
When working with younger kids, teachers will definitely hear a lot more of that emotional reasoning—“Purple is the best color because my stuffed animal is purple.” In My View, My Voice, we dive into ethos, pathos, and logos argument styles, and provide concrete strategies to combine feeling with facts. It sounds challenging, but when you put it in simpler terms, kids can really follow along. They get it.
Want to write a persuasive piece about whether dogs or cats make a better pet? Take a poll of your fellow students! Kids can then use that data they collect to state credible facts and defend their opinions on age-appropriate subjects.
It’s all about learning to discern the difference between fact and opinion and to gain an understanding that when something is a fact for you, i.e. pizza is the best food, it doesn't mean it’s a fact for everyone. True facts are things that are always true for everyone.
How do these new texts and lessons engage students of various ages in the 21st century?
We encourage teachers and kids to look in their own community for issues where people have many opinions. By doing that, students become more invested. They learn that, in catering an argument to the right audience, they have a chance to make a difference in their world. We look at topics that are personal and expand to classroom-wide, school-wide, community-wide, nationwide, and worldwide issues, gradually expanding scope to recognize a wide breadth of subjects.
We provide tips on how to become critical consumers of social media, too. With our texts, students learn how to determine whether a source is credible. They learn to ask, “Who is the author? Are they affiliated with any university or publication or organization? Does this author have a career or experience that demonstrates expertise on the subject they’ve written about?”
Depending on who students are trying to reach with their argument, they learn how to determine whether social media could be a good method of getting their message out. We discuss logical fallacies and call them T.R.A.P.S., which we use to identify weaknesses in the arguments of others.
My View, My Voice is easy-to-use, easy-to-pick up, and contains ideas you can use tomorrow, by threading our strategies into existing lesson plans without changing the entire curriculum.
In some marginalized communities, kids are not encouraged to express their perspectives or opinions at all. If they counter the teacher’s point-of-view, it’s considered bad. We feel that's problematic. We want to empower students and teachers to have healthy, strong conversations that will help everyone grow as a class.
Kids need to learn how to share their views with logical reasoning and hard evidence. We hope that by using these strategies, we will empower students to both argue to learn and learn to argue. Understanding that arguments are not a shouting match, but an opportunity to share your views with others (and visa versa) and an opportunity to learn and grow and be open to shifting your views in the face of new information. We want kids to become learners while they have conversations, and we want kids to be unafraid of those who don't agree with them.
Together, we feel that people are doing a lot of arguing but not a lot of listening these days. We have to differentiate between the concepts of learning to argue and arguing to learn.
Rebekah Coleman, M.A. Ed.
Rebekah has been an educator for over 15 years as a public school classroom teacher and curriculum writer. She is currently the Team Leader for Curriculum Development at LitLife, an internationally recognized literacy professional development group.
Carolyn Greenberg, M.A. Ed. Leadership, M.A. Elementary Ed.
Carolyn has been an educator for over 25 years, Carolyn has served as a public school classroom teacher, literacy coach, and curriculum director. She is currently the Executive Vice President of Literacy Content and Team Development for LitLife, an internationally recognized literacy professional development group.