Monday, October 25, 2010

A Review of Rhetoric, Logic, and Argumentation: Small Book, Great Potential

Every once in a while, a resource comes along that you can’t wait to use. Such is the case with a recent publication from Prestwick House.

Rhetoric, Logic, & Argumentation: A Guide for Student Writers is misleading. Its size suggests lightness and minimal treatment of critical skills. However, it is precisely this succinctness that makes the resource so remarkable. In about 100 pages, this guide for students introduces the basics of logic and applies them to writing. Students not only learn to recognize sound thinking but also to produce and communicate it.

A few years ago I developed the instructional writing program, Writer’s Stylus. The instructional model for this program includes an activity known as “Acquaintance and Analysis” in which students read an example of excellent writing and then analyze the text to identify how the author communicated so clearly. We search for elements like word choice, sentence variety, and effective transitions. This simple activity not only exposes students to great writing but trains them to look at writing beyond the writer’s intended meaning. It is a powerful activity that accomplishes more than a series of lectures ever could.

Rhetoric, Logic, & Argumentation takes a similar approach. Well-chosen text passages illustrate important ideas, such as the various forms of appeal that can be used to construct an argument. These, combined with additional activities that emphasize knowledge and application of critical concepts, engage students in thinking about thinking—that of others as well as their own. Such an approach makes instructional sense; students learn what to look for, have the opportunity to see it in action, and then put it to use themselves. Then, because they’ve had the experience of analyzing writing for similar characteristics, students are better able to evaluate and edit their own thinking and writing.

The book provides just enough background and guidance for students, never overdoing a topic nor resorting to endless, often mindless, practice exercises. Its combination of thinking and writing enables students to communicate their improved thinking, increasing their potential influence.

In the hands of an effective teacher, this small resource could energize and empower student thinking and writing. I can’t wait to see this misleadingly small resource used in classrooms. Apparently great thought can come in small packages!


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Kevin D. Washburn holds a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership with an emphasis in instruction and curriculum. His experience as a teacher in elementary through college level classrooms and positions in curriculum and instruction combine with his penchant for reading and research in both educational and scientific areas to uncover important implications for learning. Whether speaking in the classroom or convention setting, Kevin seeks to imbue a passion for quality instruction.

Kevin is the author of the Architecture of Learning™ instructional design model and its training program, Writer’s Stylus™, an instructional writing program, and co-author of an instructional reading program used by schools across the country. He is a member of the International Mind, Brain & Education Society, the Learning & the Brain Society, and is a contributor to The Edurati Review.

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