“How Long Should My CERCA Be?” This is a great question and the answer that the students crave is quantitative. They want to know how many pages, paragraphs, sentences per paragraph, pieces of evidence per paragraph, etc. Let’s face it, we all want to know what it takes to be successful and students equate longness with goodness in school work. They have a completionist mentality and long to complete ever-greater quantities of work and be rewarded with ever-greater grades. (The shortest answer I can give is that it can be 1 paragraph or a multi-page essay. The components remain the same, the quantity is up to the teacher).
There are two major challenges to consider when answering this question.
To the first question, most of us will probably answer: “No, because the kids can’t keyboard! They can barely mouse!” This is a problem that needs to be tackled and ThinkCERCA time isn’t necessarily the place to tackle it. In fact, if their only keyboarding time is ThinkCERCA, it will hinder their achievement. There are many free keyboarding apps that provide gamified skill development. If your team can find the time to provide keyboarding skill practice it will increase your results in a number of ways. (See Why We Need to Teach Kids How to Keyboard for the Common Core)
Trying to grade any part of an argument outside of the context of an entire argument is where we run into problems with formulas. Ideally, students should start with a summary of the debate at hand, then write a Claim. To support the claim, they need evidence (start with requiring only one piece of evidence if technology access is limited). To explain how that evidence supports their claim, they need Reasoning. Don’t let them submit evidence without it. Reasoning is where content knowledge and academic language is developed. This is where higher order/critical thinking happens. The best way to start this work with beginners is with a quote sandwich-reason to support claim, the quote itself, and an explanation of the reasoning that helped the writer link that quote back to the claim.
As students develop their skills, they’ll encourage them to mimic the awesome writing they’re studying in ThinkCERCA-Don’t forget to point out the sample stems in the models section of the writing step. New York Times authors, they’ll start to notice, can get away with providing only the evidence, which seems to speak for itself when it is nestled in a fabulously well-developed argument. But remember Rome wasn’t built in a day and we have to choose our battles wisely with individual students in mind.
My advice, in short, is find time for kids to improve keyboarding skills outside of literacy instruction time. Then go for greatest quantity the students can manage.
The more advanced writers and keyboarders can begin working on the real battle-being concise. Being concise is far more difficult and far more impressive than writing long, fluffy things. See the Common Core exemplars for proof. As Mark Twain once said, “if I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”