Beyond facts and statistics: Restoring order to how we understand logos in writing

Beyond facts and statistics: Restoring order to how we understand logos in writing

Introducing vocabulary and elaborating on how logic functions within a text

How I think about, examine, discuss, and, ultimately, teach logos within the classroom has drastically changed over my teaching career. In the beginning, I pretty much told students to look for statistics or facts, but now I think that was reductive and didn't really challenge them to think about the structure of text in a critical manner. I wasn't asking them to think about how writers begin with the end in mind. I wasn't asking them to consider the ideas that precede a piece of writing or the a speech's delivery. Everything I was doing with logos was rather shortsighted, and logos, because it involves the notion of order, is never shortsighted and by its very presence in all writing is there for the long haul. Reason isn't statistics--it outlasts statistics.

I spend a great deal of time now in AP and general education classes introducing students to the following terms:

  • Deduction, syllogism, principle, assumption, enthymeme, premise, conclusion
  • Induction, empiricism, evidence, backing, warrant, qualifier, reservation, claim
  • Validity and soundness.
  • Here is a helpful video detailing the difference between Inductive and Deductive reasoing:

Sometimes I give these terms out all at once. Sometimes I disperse them like breadcrumbs. Some years I have thought it would be better to do the former, and other years I have thought it would have been better to do the latter. And, as probably should be expected, this task is much easier in AP classes. However, in AP classes, I also hold them to mastering these concepts and being fluent in them as opposed to simply being introduced to them. 

What I find most important here is that students come away understanding that there is a top-down (deductive) way of seeing the world that is very much in line with how mathematics and religion tend to function and believe as well as a bottom-up (inductive) way of understanding the world that is very much how science, memoirs, and research-based writing tend to grapple with what might be true. The former often (but not always) moves towards or with more certainty. Meanwhile, the latter often moves towards or with a more questioning tone. What looks for answers (X is . . . .) while the other suggests possibilities (X is most likely . . . .). 

With AP students, I think it is important for them to often file writers into categories: so and so is inductive in her approach while so and so is deductive in his. Admittedly, though, students and I find that some writers are both deductive and inductive and that such a blending of the approaches is often quite necessary. I probably should work on having general education students do the same. 

I believe most teachers feel fairly comfortable with introducing vocabulary to students, and everyone has personal preferences as to what are the best practices for doing so with the particular groups of students gathered into a classroom, so this section will end simply with some ideas on how to familiarize students with the previously bulleted terms. Many of these activities could be completed by individual students or small groups. They are all lowrisk assignments/assessments. 


  • After students have been given or looked up definitions to the bulleted terms, have them complete a sorting activity where they separate the terms into groups. Start by asking for students to sort the terms into four or five categories. Have them title those categories. Then have them combing the four or five categories into three or four categories. Have them retitle the new categories to account for the changes. Then have them sort the terms into two categories and retitle them once more.
  • Give students index cars. Have them create a valid syllogism one side and an invalid syllogism on the other. Collect these cards or have students swap cards with other students and attempt to explain the validity or invalidity of a given syllogism. Students could also be asked to create syllogisms that are valid but not sound or sound but not valid. The main idea here is to have them seeing that logic is something of a game that can be manipulated or twisted beyond being practical. Feel free to conclude the creation of syllogisms by introducing them to the terms apriori and aposteriori and attempting to apply them to their syllogisms. 
  • Have students use inductive terminology to argue for why an umbrella might be necessary today or why an individual should eat breakfast. Then see if they can craft deductive arguments (opinions) for these same behaviors and activities. Ask them to decipher whether the inductive or deductive lines of reasoning might have a broader or narrower audience. Ask them which line of reasoning might be more universally accepted or rejected and by whom. The idea here is to have students start to understand that certain audience may be more willing to accept or reject deductive and inductive lines of reasoning based off previously held values, beliefs, and experiences. 



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