In my undergraduate international relations course, I’ve noticed that — in comparison to previous semesters — students are presenting malformed and under-supported arguments when they are discussing the reading assignments. Partly this is a reflection of low quality written arguments some of the students have submitted prior to class; in a class of only thirteen students, it only takes a few semi-rotten apples to spoil the small barrel.
I’ve decided to run an experiment to see if I can correct this downward drift. I just sent the class this email:
“I want to try something new with the reading response discussions in class. For the rest of the semester, each group should write down on a piece of paper two reasons or examples that support the argument that the group presents to the rest of the class. Put your names on the piece of paper and give it to me at the end of the discussion.”
Note that I haven’t said that I’ll be grading what’s written on the pieces of paper. I just want to see if a more formal process will help students better identify in a group environment what makes a stronger argument.