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Teaching At-Risk Students to Argue Like a Lawyer

School of Education Initiative Led by Margaret Sheehy Supported by a $1.4M U.S. Department of Education Grant

A typical Common Core use of argumentative reading and writing to advance student literacy.

Albany, NY (July 15, 2014) – University at Albany professors from its School of Education (SOE) and College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Sociology are collaborating to develop a literacy course “Arguing Like a Lawyer,” specifically geared toward high school freshmen who are at risk of dropping out of school.

The UAlbany research team will partner in the study with teachers at Troy and Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk high schools.

Margaret Sheehy of SOE’s Department of Literacy Teaching and Learning (formerly Reading) is principal investigator on the three-year project, which is awarded $1.4 million from the U.S. Department of Education.

“Arguing Like a Lawyer” is designed to develop literacy skills which meet Common Core standards in an innovative and engaging way. Since Common Core standards emphasize argumentative reading and writing in English language arts, science, and social studies, the project will engage at-risk students in academic, college-focused, argumentative literacy practices.

Development of the intervention will occur over two years, and the final version of the semester-length course for ninth grade students will be tested for efficacy and piloted in the third year.

Sheehy is joined in the study by department colleague and co-principal investigator Donna Scanlon, as well as Glenn Deane of Sociology and Heidi Andrade of SOE's Division of Educational Psychology and Methodology.

"The authentic educational activities that will be developed and studied in this project seem ideal for engaging all students in literacy, but perhaps particularly suited for students at risk of dropping out," said Dean Robert Bangert-Drowns.

Sheehy has been exploring elements of an "Arguing like a Lawyer" course for several years in high schools and in courses taught at UAlbany. The research team and teachers at Troy and Ravena will collaborate to extend, integrate, and evaluate this approach.

Sheehy said, "It is our hope that in three years the course will make a difference for students in the participating schools and ultimately show promise for implementation and research on a greater scale."

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