While learning about persuasive writing for my "Teaching the Genre" project, I have found that many educators are anxious about incorporating persuasive writing into their curriculum. However, even though it is often difficult for students or takes extra effort to plan for, persuasive writing is extremely important in the development of students' writing skills. Tompkins (2012) answered teachers' questions and concerns regarding persuasive writing and the ages and content areas in which it could be used; these responses helped me feel more comfortable with persuasive writing and reflect on its future role in my classroom.
One of the major concerns teachers have is the age in which students are able to be successful in writing persuasively. It is a common misconception to believe elementary students are too young to hold and defend a position. Burkhalter (1995) wrote about using persuasive writing with children and gave three specific reasons why it is so difficult; children have a hard time taking a stand on and issue and defending it with sound and convincing reasons, children must learn to write and think in a much different and more organized fashion than their typical speaking-based writing, and children must take on the highly demanding role of understanding the perspective of the reader, which is hard for writers of any age. Burkhalter (1995) also discusses the differences between Piaget and Vygotsky's theories regarding development and persuasive writing. Piaget's beliefs state children are incapable of higher level thinking until puberty, whereas Vygotsky's beliefs state children's learning precedes their development and are therefore cabable of such thought processes as early as they are taught. The author writes "if children are given the chance to read and write persuasive essays, they may very well advance beyond our expectations and set the stage for subsequent gains in learning" (Burkhalter, 1995, p. 193), which I completely agree with. All too often, teachers underestimate their students' abilities, which in turn, doesn't allow them to reach their potential. Students need to be given opportunities in which push them outside of their comfort zone and challenge them to work harder and think deeper. By teaching my students to write persuasively, for example, I will help them to work within their zone of proximal development and achieve more than they would otherwise. First graders obviously won't be writing persuasive speeches on social issues like middle and high schoolers may be, but they certainly could be writing letters to their parents persuading them to go on vacation or drawing a persuasive poster for a favorite kind of ice cream.
One of the other concerns Tomkins (2012) acknowledged was teachers thinking persuasive writing is not applicable across all content areas. It seems easiest to incorporate persuasive assignments in ELA to adapt to book projects, etc. However, I think it would be fun and still very easy to use persuasive writing in all subjects I teach; students could write persuasive essays about social issues in science, persuasive posters about being drug free in health, or persuasive letters about political issues in history. The possibilities are endless and by incorporating this type of creative writing across all content areas, students would be stretching their imagination to take a stance on new and important issues, which they may not do otherwise. My goal is to use persuasive writing practices in my future classroom no matter what age my students are and throughout all the classes I teach. By doing so, I will know I'm helping my students take a stand on many topics and have opinions, consider others' viewpoints, and write and think on a much deeper level than other teachers who don't incorporate this writing genre into their curriculum. Outside of writing, teaching persuasion will help my students of all ages to be better speakers, have higher levels of vocabulary, question others' ideas as well as their own, and to become passionate about all things, writing included. I look forward to making this kind of difference in my students' lives.