Complex Argumentation is Hard

Creating and responding to cogent arguments requires that students take a position and that they understand the limitations of their own perspective. An accumulation of research on this topic has demonstrated that it is difficult for secondary students to consider multiple perspectives simultaneously while navigating complex topics in classroom debate or while producing argumentative writing.

Recently, Karen Taylor (lead author, UC Irvine), Carol Connor (UC Irvine) Catherine Snow (Harvard University) and I have published a paper that examines the cognitive and linguistic features of adolescent argumentative writing. We analyzed the persuasive writing essays of 40 middle school students who were participating in the Word Generation program, a program that supports student academic language through classroom discussion and classroom debate. Each clause in these essays was coded as presenting one of four categories of argumentation, listed below:

levels of complexity in argumentative writing

Table from Taylor, K. S., Lawrence, J. F., Connor, C. M., & Snow, C. E. (2018). Cognitive and linguistic features of adolescent argumentative writing: Do connectives signal more complex reasoning? Reading and Writing. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-018-9898-6

Connectives: An important class of academic word

Karen also tallied the number of connectives used in the essays. Connectives are kind of general academic word which help to connect ideas. For instance, adversative connectives signal that two statements contradict each other (alternatively, although). Additive connectives are used to signal that two statements are similar (again, further). Causal connectives signal that one thing leads to another (hence, since). In a series of multiple regression analyses, we found a connection between students use of these words and the level of their argumentation. These results suggest that if we want students to do advanced argumentative thinking they need specialized words to do so.

Graphic Organizer For Argumentative Writing

Reading Ways has created two graphic organizers which provide both conceptual and linguistic support for students argumentative writing (in collaboration with the Understanding Teachers as Designers Project at the University of Olso). In the first section of this organizer, students develop their own arguments and consider counter-arguments. In the next section, they consider opposing arguments and prepare rebuttals.

argument and counter argument

Detail from the Argumentation Organizer

On the second page, students respond in writing. They’re given a list of adversative connectives, additive connectives, and causal connectives at the top of the page so that they might more easily access them for use in their argumentative writing.

 

Detail from the Argumentation Organizer

Rebuttal Battle: Putting the Critical in Critical Thinking

A second organizer is focused around preparing students for a classroom debate. It helps them consider their side of the issue, the opposing side of the issue, and rebuttals that each side might make.

Rebuttal battle helps student prepare for classroom debate!

Detail from Rebuttal Battle. Icons help students keep track of positions, arguments, and rebuttals.

One of our core interests is understanding teachers as designers. We know that most teachers will want to adapt these organizers to fit their particular needs, so we made them available both in both Word and PDF at the links below.

Argumentation Organizer

ReadingWays-ArgumentationSheet-GA-UiO.docx

ReadingWays-ArgumentationSheet-GA-UiO.pdf

Rebuttal Battle

ReadingWays-Rebuttal_Battle-GA-UiO.docx

ReadingWays-Rebuttal_Battle-GA-UiO.pdf

 

For more information see Taylor, K. S., Lawrence, J. F., Connor, C. M., & Snow, C. E. (2018). Cognitive and linguistic features of adolescent argumentative writing: Do connectives signal more complex reasoning? Reading and Writing. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-018-9898-6

Special Thanks to Jenny Michelle Hughes Thorbjørnsen at the Understanding Teachers as Designers Project at the University of Oslo, Deanna Kuhn at Teachers College for her scholarship on argumentation, my collaborators Karen Taylor, Carol Connor, Catherine Snow, the Strategic Educational Research Partnership and the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education which supported this research through Grant R305A090555 (Catherine Snow, Principal Investigator) to the Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP), and through Grant R305F100026, awarded to SERP as part of the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative.