Here’s the question that I received from a client of ours – I bet you might be wondering the same thing, so I’ll share!

I have a clarifying question for you…the high school ELA teachers I’m working with are struggling with this issue and its apparent lack of clarity in the standards.  I was hoping you might have been a part of similar conversations and could provide some guidance.

In the W.1.a standard about writing arguments, CCSS wording is:
•    W.1.a–claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
The problems?
•    Problem one is that claim could mean primary, overarching argument (what would have been called a thesis before CCSS).
•    Claim could also mean topics of each paragraph (what would have been called subtopics, represented by topic sentences before CCSS).
•    Teachers, and therefore students, are getting confused.  Before, we’d use the word “thesis” and “subtopics/topic sentences.”  Now, we just use the word “claim” for both.  Confusing!  Also, we know that in college, most classes are using the word “thesis,” not “claim,” so how do we address that?
•    The second problem is that we are used to using the word “warrant” when dealing with explanations about why a certain citation supports an argument.  The word warrant isn’t in CCSS.  Instead, the words “reasons” and “evidence” are there.
•    Reasons could mean warrant, I guess, but it’s generally in the past meant logic- or experience-based pieces of evidence that support your argument (not evidence from a text but evidence from your mind or life).  Once you’ve shared reasons, in the past, you’ve then warranted what you shared, or explained why that reason supports your claim (or thesis or subtopic as the case may be).
Do you have any clarification for in your experiences digging into the standards?  It’s become a problem in our work.  Maybe the solution is as simple as us all agreeing on definitions and teaching them, but what if we interpret definitions wrong and our kids suffer on assessments as a result?

Thanks for any help you can give–we really respect what you have to offer and hope you can bring some clarifying light to our dark, muddled mess!

Here was my response:

We have had long conversations about this ourselves.  Here’s the big picture answer I want to give your teachers (and you!):
Just because the Standards don’t use the language specifically, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t teach it!  We do, however, want to make sure that we are teaching the exact language of the Standards.

So…for example, we are having folks teach ‘claim’ like this: “Okay guys, we are going to focus on the ‘claim’ part of an argument.  Claim can mean two things: ____________________ and ____________________.  Today I’m going to teach you the claim that is _______________________. We will get to the second type of claim later.”

Literally – teaching both, but separately.  Telling kids directly, “Hey – this word can mean two things and I’m going to teach you both.”

As far as warrant, take a look at the 9-12th grade page behind the Opinion/Argument Tab in the Critical Thinking book – we use the term Warrant there – and provide a simple, streamlined definition.  That’s how we’re encouraging people to handle it – teach “Warrant” as part of an argument even though it’s not specifically mentioned in the Standards.

What I would encourage you to do is use our Critical Thinking Book (because your teachers all have it, right?) as  base for the definitions and terms for teaching.  That way everyone will be streamlined.  If there are additions/adjustments to what teachers feel needs to be taught, they can make adjustments on Post-its within the Critical Thinking Book so that they are making the same adjustments and not feeling like they’re missing something and making mistakes with kids. I think that’s an important starting point so they don’t lose their minds!

The other thing that’s really helping is to dig into the released items for PARCC and SBAC – they are really helping a lot of our folks understand the language of the test, therefore clarifying even further where they need to fill in with the Standards themselves.

I think the most important thing to keep in mind is the collaboration amongst teachers and how, through planning together, they can streamline and align what they’re teaching kids.  The Standards can’t possibly give us everything we need to teach (or the document would be a zillion miles long and we would lose our minds before we even cracked them open) and they do provide room for teachers to insert the thing that they know need to be taught (like warrant, for example)…the trick is to figure it out together so that kids are getting the same stuff taught.