By Jackie Migliori of The DBQ Project
On any given evening during my undergraduate studies at the University of Florida, I would receive an invitation to spend the evening at that campus’s favorite hang-out, the Purple Porpoise. It would usually come in the form of a knock at my door around 7:00 p.m. If I accepted, and I usually did, I would do so with the full intention of returning to my abode around 9:00 p.m. to complete a paper that was due at 8:00 in the morning. However, after some rationalization and the application of situational ethics, my return time turned into the wee hours of the morning. At which point, I would fall back into my dorm ready to write. “This”, I would tell myself, “was going to be a piece of cake” because I had all the necessary information stored away in my head. However, as I began to type I discovered that what I thought I knew was not so clear. What I found was that as I wrote I was forced to ask myself “Is this correct?” “Do I know that for sure?” “Does this information align with what I wrote in an earlier paragraph?”
As a freshman, if only I had stayed home to test my thesis before I attempted my paper, the experience would not have been such a painful one. If I had called a friend to discuss my paper I could have challenged my thoughts and clarified my position before I was frustrated by contradictions and inconclusive claims. But that is not how I was trained.
I think back to this time whenever I have students “thrash-out”. The “Thrash-out” is a DBQ Project term for a debate amongst students in the class once all the evidence is in and before the formal writing process starts. Many teachers choose to skip the thrash-out in order to save time when in fact skipping this step costs much more in the end.
An unsuccessful attempt at writing a paper around an untested thesis can lead to a drop in morale and unwillingness to write. Having students verbalize their arguments is a key step to writing a successful paper. In the thrash-out students extend their thoughts to have them affirmed or refuted. They listen as other students make clear the points they themselves wanted to make but could not quite articulate. They become more confident as they make a point others find valuable. And they learn as different points of view are offered on the same topic.
I do not want my students’ experience with writing to be unpleasant and unsuccessful. By affording students the opportunity to test their thesis with their classmates, many of the struggles of writing argumentative essays can be headed off. If I can help their writing experience to be a good one, I have a much better chance of getting them to do it again. I can’t think of a better way to set them up for success than the thrash-out.