Complex Texts and Argumentative Writing for Education Leaders

Part of the Common Core and a focus for K-12 educators is advanced reading and writing. Teachers work on strategies to help students comprehend, analyze, and evaluate complex texts. Similarly, students are expected to deliver high-level expository writing that is thorough, well-structured, and persuasive.

Reading strategies might include highlighting important passages or pair reading while alternating summarizing and commenting. Expository writing will include outlining, organizing, drafting (many times), sharing, and review.  We see these strategies pervasively in our classrooms using both analog and digital tools.

Although educators are pushing students to read complex texts and write persuasively, I seldom see school and district leaders pushing themselves.

As a district leader myself I see hundreds of emails daily, none of which would qualify as a complex text. I think emails constitute most our district leaders’ work related reading and writing. The email content most probably is a first draft and not reviewed by a peer. The style and  organization most likely is a stream of consciousness and the proofreading is done by machine intelligence. Although it may be argumentative writing, usually the email should have had more thought and maybe should not even have been published (sent).

Emails may be the majority of writing and reading for the leaders with whom I work, but a close second for our leaders is the presentation deck: PowerPoint, Keynote, or Google Slides. A title and three or four bullets does not qualify as a complex text! The writing (and thinking) process for these decks more often resembles an outline for a true complex text. Although the goal may be to presuade, the thoroughness, defensibility,  and references are thin at best.

Email and presentations are perhaps the antithesis of the complex texts and argumentative writing that we are expecting from our students. I will dare to suggest a few alternatives. If you think about it, these two principle means of writing and reading for school and district leaders is relatively new historically.

Let’s take the deck and play “52 pickup” the kids card game where you take a deck of cards and throw them in the air. What if we chuck the deck? I heard that Amazon has no projectors. Amazon leaders are expected to write a 6 page well-written memo to present to a team. Jeff Bezos requires the meeting start with study hall where everyone reads the memo closely. The rest of the meeting is co-working interaction. For us Education leaders, this would improve our thought processes needed to produce a detailed final product that can stand alone. It would get us to then spend more time discussing and refining solutions and plans.

Email could also get the boot. Some major companies have gone as far banning email. It is replaced with other tools ranging from phone calls, memos, and new services such as Slack. Think of Slack and similar tools as a cross between AOL Instant Messege and an intranet where email conversations are organized as topics and posted for all. The New York Times uses this to keep conversations open so far flung editors and writers stay connected and aware.

I could see this working for our Education leaders. Remember that public educator emails are subject to Freedom of Informaion Act release to the public so posting the content internally in the first place should not be considered radical. It would make leaders think before posting (emailing). It could lead to well written persuative arguments we expect from students. We could use new tools like Slack or familiar,  but underutilized, tools like Google Docs, Drive, and Sites.

So let’s do what we expect from students. Let’s move to practices and tools that lead to  producing persuasive, argumentative expository writing and reading complex texts.

Comments 1

  • John, I worked for Amazon for a few years. You’re right that PowerPoint is almost unheard of at Amazon. The “6 page doc” is a better way to present information, build an argument for resources for a particular project or idea, and engage colleagues in substantive discussions in meetings. It’s harder to prepare a 6 page doc than it is to make a PPT deck and that’s the whole point. If an idea is worthy of a group discussion than the presenter should take the time to prepare. And the edtech startup I’m now with uses Slack, which is a much better tool for short, frequent communication than email. I sometimes Slack chat with the person sitting next to me; somehow it seems easier than talking!