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Teaching and Learning Argumentation

Author(s): Alina Reznitskaya, Richard C. Anderson and Li‐Jen Kuo


Source: The Elementary School Journal, Vol. 107, No. 5 (May 2007), pp. 449-472
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/518623 .
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Teaching and Learning Abstract

Argumentation This study systematically analyzed social and


cognitive processes that underlie the develop-
ment of argumentative knowledge. Group dis-
cussions of controversial issues and explicit in-
struction in argumentation were expected to
Alina Reznitskaya help students acquire a sense of the overall struc-
Montclair State University ture of an argument, or an argument schema. In
a quasi-experiment, 128 fourth- and fifth-grade
students from 2 schools completed the same ar-
Richard C. Anderson gument-related tasks, after receiving different in-
structional treatments. In the first treatment con-
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign dition, students engaged in group discussions of
moral and social issues raised in their readings.
Li-Jen Kuo In the second treatment condition, we supported
group discussions with explicit instruction in
Northern Illinois University abstract principles of argumentation. Students
in the third condition received their regular read-
ing instruction. Postintervention tasks included
responding to an interview designed to elicit
awareness of the criteria for a satisfactory argu-
ment, writing a reflective composition, and re-
calling an argumentative text. We quantified the
data through assigning codes to oral and written
text students produced. Next, we examined
treatment differences using statistical models
and discussed characteristic features of student
responses. Findings revealed the complexity of
learning and transfer in the domain of argumen-
tation. Students who engaged in discussions
with or without explicit instruction provided
well-articulated responses to the interview ques-
tions. Student performance on the reflective es-
say was improved only by participation in dis-
cussions, although mean differences between
some pairs of classrooms did not reach statistical
significance. Recall of the argumentative text
was generally insensitive to variations in treat-
ment; however, the writings of some students
suggested benefits from discussions and explicit
instruction.

The Elementary School Journal The ability to make rational choices among
Volume 107, Number 5
䉷 2007 By The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.
competing alternatives is crucial for active
0013-5984/2007/10705-0003$05.00 and mindful participation in contemporary

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450 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL

society, where social, political, and scientific theoretically motivated instructional prac-
controversies abound. It is skills of argu- tices and their effects on transfer perfor-
ment that help people resolve controversies. mance. These practices were group discus-
According to Kuhn, “thinking as argument sion of controversial issues and explicit
. . . arises every time a significant decision instruction in principles of argumentation.
must be made” (1992, p. 156). Yet, numer- Both instructional activities were derived
ous nation-wide assessments and research from argument schema theory (Reznitskaya
studies have consistently documented the & Anderson, 2002) and were based on a
lack of proficiency in argumentation by the pedagogical framework called collaborative
majority of American students (e.g., Kuhn, reasoning (Waggoner, Chinn, Yi, & Ander-
1991; McCann, 1989; Means & Voss, 1996; son, 1995). We evaluated the effectiveness of
National Assessment of Educational Pro- each activity in a quasi-experimental study
gress [NAEP], 1994, 1999, 2002). Only a frac- with three treatment conditions and three
tion of students (8% of fourth graders, 3% postintervention tasks. We begin our dis-
of eighth graders, and 6% of twelfth grad- cussion of this study by explaining our
ers) can make informed, critical judgments theoretical and pedagogical frameworks.
about a written text (NAEP, 2002). Only 2% Argument schema theory integrates
of fourth graders can present a position multiple and largely independent research
and consistently support it with well- traditions, namely, structuralist views (An-
chosen reasons (NAEP, 1999), with the cor- derson & Pearson, 1984; Mishra & Brewer,
responding percentages similarly low for 2003; Rumelhart, 1980) and social learning
higher grades (NAEP, 1999). Students are perspectives (Rogoff, 1990; Vygotsky, 1981).
unable to recognize and apply argumen- We relied on structuralist notions by assum-
tative text structures (Chambliss & Mur- ing that knowledge consists of generic
phy, 2002; Freedman & Pringle, 1984). They mental structures, or schemas. Learning in-
have difficulty generating genuine evidence volves generation and modification of these
(Kuhn, 1991) and offering relevant reasons, schemas, and successful transfer entails ac-
counterarguments, and rebuttals (McCann, cessing and applying relevant structures
1989; Means & Voss, 1996). The importance (Gentner, 1989; Gick & Holyoak, 1987; Reed,
of argumentation for people’s lives, com- 1993). Common elements of the schema are
bined with well-documented deficiencies in connected by a unifying, explanatory the-
performance, makes it imperative to iden- ory, which accounts for and justifies existing
tify effective educational methods that sup- relations among the elements (Mishra &
port the development of argumentation. Brewer, 2003).
Studies concerned with teaching argu- The concept of a schema can provide a
mentation typically evaluate the overall ef- useful framework for understanding the
fect of an instructional program (e.g., Dolz, development of argumentation because it
1996; Gleanson, 1999; Hidi, Berndorff, & is reasonable to postulate general, “field-
Ainley, 2002; Morehouse & Williams, 1998) invariant” characteristics of an argument
without isolating components of the inter- (Andrews, 1995; Fulkerson, 1996; Govier,
vention and their relative contribution to 1985; Toulmin, Rieke, & Janik, 1979). Al-
the acquisition of intended skills. For ex- though different domains (i.e., moral, sci-
ample, the intervention evaluated by Hidi entific, or legal) may have their own argu-
et al. (2002) included discussions, lectures, mentation standards (Toulmin, 1958), even
exercises, and practice with writing. All of these “field-dependent” rules can be gen-
these activities were evaluated simulta- eralized across multiple contexts. Thus, ar-
neously with no way to distinguish which gumentative knowledge can be viewed as
ones made a difference. an aggregation of field-invariant and field-
In the present study we focused on two dependent rules, principles, and informal

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ARGUMENTATION 451

heuristics, which together comprise an ar- issue, generating and challenging each oth-
gument schema. ers’ reasons, giving examples, and question-
The generality of an argument schema ing assumptions) are “psychological tools”
should enable its application to new situ- (Vygotsky, 1981) that mediate the develop-
ations, or, in other words, enable transfer ment of an individual argument schema.
of argumentative knowledge. Just like en- Thus, group discussions, in which partici-
tering a new restaurant activates a restau- pants collectively formulate, scrutinize, and
rant schema (Schank & Abelson, 1977) ab- modify their perspectives, provide a training
stracted from multiple prior experiences ground for experiencing and eventually in-
with eating out, an encounter with a task ternalizing argumentative knowledge. Once
requiring the use of argumentation may internalized, an argument schema enables
trigger a set of cognitive and social practices individuals to perform well on argument-
that constitute an argument schema. A related tasks, such as deciding between two
structural difference between the restaurant alternatives or grasping an argument pre-
schema and the argument schema is that the sented by others. Importantly, when individ-
restaurant schema typically would not in- uals fully internalize an argument schema,
clude any explanatory knowledge associ- we hypothesized that they no longer require
ated with the process of ordering, eating, external social support to argue well.
and paying for food. In contrast, separate The concept of a schema has been em-
common elements of an argument schema, ployed previously in research on argumen-
such as reasons and counterarguments, are tation and reasoning (Bereiter & Scarda-
related to each other through a theory ex- malia, 1982; Chambliss & Murphy, 2002;
plaining and justifying the meaning, config- Cheng & Holyoak, 1985; van Eemeren,
uration, and uses of a rational argument. Grootendorst, & Henkenmans, 1996; Wal-
The richness of an individual’s argument ton, 1996b). For example, Walton (1996b)
schema depends on the number, variety, used the term “argumentation schemes” to
and quality of prior encounters with argu- analyze several types of inferences that ap-
mentation. We also hypothesized that prior pear in everyday argumentative discourse,
experience with argumentation would af- including arguments from example, expert
fect the ability to use the schema sponta- opinion, analogy, and so on. Other re-
neously, flexibly, and effectively. searchers (e.g., Cheng & Holyoak, 1985)
To explain the acquisition of an argu- employed the notion of “pragmatic reason-
ment schema, we adopted a social learning ing schemas” to describe context-specific
perspective (Mead, 1962; Rogoff, 1990; psychological mechanisms that account for
Vygotsky, 1981; Wertsch & Bivens, 1992). typical responses to conditional reasoning
Following Vygotsky (1981), we believe that tasks. Researchers in writing and reading
individual competency in argumentation is used the term to represent a global structure
acquired through socialization into argu- of argumentative text (e.g., Bereiter & Scar-
mentative discourse in dialogic collective damalia, 1982). The concept of an argument
settings. Pedagogically effective group dis- schema we propose in this article is broader
cussions allow participants to use the dis- than the previously outlined notions be-
course of reasoned argumentation in a va- cause it incorporates both logical and psy-
riety of situations. Although contextually chological aspects of argumentation. In ad-
different, these discussions share important dition, it emphasizes the dialogical nature
structural elements, providing students of argumentation, where individual argu-
with multiple instances from which to ab- ments are modeled after public discourse
stract the rules and practices of argumen- and represent “internalized conversations”
tation. Practices present in a dialogic dis- with a “generalized other” (Mead, 1962).
cussion (e.g., presenting a position on an The educational potential of dialogic in-

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452 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL

teractions is endorsed by many contempo- ample, in a study conducted by Klein et al.


rary scholars (Kuhn, 1992; Lipman, 1997; (1997), middle-school students were taught
Paul, 1986), and a major goal of the present argument concepts, such as claim, evidence,
study was to empirically evaluate the effec- and relevance, as well as procedural strat-
tiveness of this highly advocated practice. egies for reading and writing a short argu-
A few researchers have attempted to assess ment. Both concept and strategy groups
the influence of group discussion on the de- showed improved overall performance
velopment of argumentation (Anderson et compared to controls. However, concept in-
al., 2001; Kuhn, Shaw, & Felton, 1997; More- struction affected argument evaluation but
house & Williams, 1998; Reznitskaya et al., not argument writing, whereas the strategy
2001). However, the empirical evidence is instruction had just the opposite effect. The
still limited, especially with respect to tasks used in the Klein et al. study involved
whether argumentative knowledge ac- making inferences about the result of an ex-
quired during discussions transfers to con- periment, either by responding to dichoto-
textually and structurally different situa- mous questions or choosing appropriate
tions requiring the use of argumentation. evidence from a given set of alternatives
Another goal of this study was to eval- and explaining the choice. It is unclear
uate the educational benefits of explicit in- whether results would generalize to assess-
struction in argumentation. Explicit teach- ments that allow greater flexibility in re-
ing of abstract rules and principles can sponding and that focus on the use of
enhance the acquisition and transfer of argumentative discourse in context-rich sit-
knowledge (e.g., Fong, Krantz, & Nisbett, uations.
1993; Gick & Holyoak, 1987). Instruction in In another study on the effectiveness of
relevant abstractions is particularly effec- explicit teaching, middle-school students
tive when students already have an emerg- were explicitly taught “argument heuris-
ing sense of the schema (Cheng, Holyoak, tics” for writing an essay in a context of
Nisbett, & Oliver, 1993; Fong et al., 1993). In classroom debates and persuasive-writing
this case, learners “could take immediate activities (Yeh, 1998). An experimental group
advantage of formal improvements to their showed modest but significant gains on the
intuitive understanding” (Cheng et al., posttest. Students in this study received
1993, p. 169). For this reason, explicit in- practice with writing of persuasive essays as
struction in the present study was delivered part of the intervention. Thus, this study was
to students following their exposure to ar- primarily concerned with the issue of learn-
gumentation in the context of group discus- ing rather than transfer. Also, the study had
sions. methodological limitations, including the
Previous studies that examined the util- use of simple gain scores, which have low
ity of explicit teaching in the domain of reliability when the original measures are
argumentation generally have shown that correlated with each other (Crocker & Al-
presentation of abstract goals and principles gina, 1986).
improves students’ performance (Crow- In the present investigation, we in-
hurst, 1987; Ferretti, MacArthur, & Dowdy, tended to expand prior research on explicit
2002; Klein, Olson, & Stanovich, 1997; Nuss- teaching of argumentation by examining
baum, 2005; Nussbaum & Kardash, 2005; transfer performance, assessed through the
Yeh, 1998). The evidence is far from conclu- use of open-ended measures. According to
sive, however, because there were inconsis- argument schema theory, knowledge of ar-
tencies in results for different assessment gumentation is represented as generic struc-
tasks (Crowhurst, 1987; Klein et al., 1997), tures and principles. Thus, supplying stu-
as well as methodological and design limi- dents with such generalized representations
tations (Crowhurst, 1987; Yeh, 1998). For ex- through explicit instruction might be ex-

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ARGUMENTATION 453

pected to improve learning and transfer. To The schema depicted in the figure is
test this hypothesis, we used a straightfor- modeled after the “pyramid heuristic” Yeh
ward approach to explicitly teach an ar- (1998) used to teach argumentative writing
gument schema to elementary school stu- to middle-school students. This formulation
dents in one of the treatment conditions. To also borrows from the useful framework
facilitate the delivery of explicit instruc- proposed by Toulmin, who pioneered the
tion, we employed a child-friendly meta- effort to identify nonoverlapping functions
phor of building an argument being simi- of argument components, including claims,
lar to building a solid house. Figure 1 grounds, warrants, backing, modifiers, and
depicts the components of a basic argu- rebuttals (Toulmin, 1958; Toulmin et al.,
ment schema and the relations among 1979). Notably, Toulmin’s model does not
them. We also used this basic argument explicitly include counterarguments. Fol-
schema to analyze oral and written argu- lowing other scholars who consider oppos-
mentative discourse of study participants. ing perspectives to be an important part of

Fig. 1.—A basic argument schema

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454 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL

argumentation (Kuhn, 1991; van Eemeren & principles, (2) a reflective essay, and (3) re-
Grootendorst, 1984; Walton, 1996a), we ex- call of an argumentative text. Detterman
panded the model to incorporate counter- (1993) criticized studies claiming to inves-
arguments, or objections. Also, in contrast tigate transfer for using transfer tasks so
to the Toulmin model, the basic argument contextually and structurally similar to the
schema in this study omitted warrants and learning situation that they “would not
modifiers. The latter argument components meet the classical definition of transfer” (p.
were outside the scope of the present inves- 15). To address this and similar criticisms,
tigation, which focused on the most crucial we used postintervention tasks that were
discourse elements that are already present increasingly different from the learning sit-
in the arguments of young children or that uation. Further, research has indicated that
can be introduced through developmen- the quality of argumentative writing can be
tally appropriate instruction. improved by task instructions that encour-
Both instructional activities evaluated in age students to generate arguments and
this study (i.e., group discussion and ex- counterarguments (Ferretti et al., 2002;
plicit instruction) were delivered within the Nussbaum & Kardash, 2005). To assess stu-
collaborative-reasoning (CR) framework. dents’ spontaneous responses, we limited
CR is an established instructional practice our instructions to general prompts (i.e.,
with a developing empirical base (Ander- “Be as thorough and complete as possible”)
son, Chinn, Waggoner, & Nguyen, 1998; and avoided any references to instructional
Anderson et al., 2001; Chinn & Anderson, activities.
1998; Chinn, Anderson, & Waggoner, 2001; We used the interview task primarily to
Clark et al., 2003). It is centered in debates evaluate whether students from the treat-
of controversial issues raised in stories. CR ment conditions improved their awareness
discussions typically address a dilemma of general principles of argumentation. Dur-
faced by the story protagonist. During CR ing the interview, students were prompted
discussions, students take a position on the to name the general components and prin-
dilemma, provide supporting reasons for ciples of argumentative discourse. As Gick
their position, use story information and and Holyoak (1987) explained, effective
personal experience as evidence, present transfer depends on the degree of initial
counterarguments to their peers, and re- learning. If the use of an argument schema
spond to the counterarguments others offer. depends on knowledge of its abstract prop-
The teacher’s role is to provide support for erties, the possession of such knowledge
the development of argumentative skills. must first be established.
During discussions, teachers employ a va- The reflective-essay task required stu-
riety of strategies, such as prompting stu- dents to write an argument in response to a
dents for supporting reasons, modeling the story. The story was generally similar to
use of evidence, or challenging students those used as a basis for CR discussions,
with counterarguments. The amount and although students had not discussed this
type of teacher involvement depend on the particular story or a story addressing a
cognitive and social competence in argu- similar dilemma. We call this task a reflec-
mentation students display. In the present tive, rather than a persuasive, essay because
study, teachers in one of the treatment con- we were interested in measuring student
ditions supplemented CR discussions with ability to deliberate about an issue rather
explicit instruction in argumentation. than to win over an opponent. We were
Three postintervention tasks were used less concerned with the rhetorical power of
in this study to examine student learning the message, and more with the students’
and transfer: (1) an interview designed to ability to expand their repertoire of re-
assess the knowledge of argumentation sponses to a problem through considera-

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ARGUMENTATION 455

tion of multiple perspectives. In other words, involved moral dilemmas, the instructional
we wanted to examine whether participation intervention and the reflective-essay task
in group discussions with and without ex- shared not only field-invariant rules of ar-
plicit instruction helped students to acquire gumentation but also the field-dependent
an individual ability to engage in an internal rules, thus increasing the likelihood of suc-
dialogue. Consistent with the focus on re- cessful transfer.
flection, indicators of student performance The task of recalling an argumentative
used in this study included the number of text was the transfer task most removed
relevant and acceptable reasons generated from the learning situation. Students were
for and against a chosen position. expected to reproduce an argument written
The reflective essay assessed whether by someone else rather than to construct
students could apply the knowledge ac- their own argument. Also, the text to be re-
quired in group oral discussions to a writ- called contained a combination of moral
ten task performed individually. Such a and scientific arguments, requiring students
switch in communication modality can re- to apply different standards of reasoning.
duce, or even preclude, the possibility of Although the text-recall task differed
transfer (Pellegrini, Galda, & Rubin, 1984). from the learning situation, it shared ele-
Although knowledge of some discourse ments of the basic argument schema. The
structures, like narrative, can easily transfer text unambiguously exemplified the prin-
from an oral to a written mode, knowledge cipal structural relationships in argumen-
of argumentative discourse may not readily tative discourse and used the same organi-
transfer because it may depend on feedback zational signals as those presented during
from conversational partners (Bereiter & the explicit instruction and encouraged dur-
Scardamalia, 1982; Crowhurst, 1987). In ing CR discussions. Based on the assump-
fact, it has been suggested that oral argu- tions of argument schema theory, readers
mentation provides “no model” for written with developed argument schemas are ex-
discourse because in an oral argument “each pected to have a different experience inter-
idea is produced in response to the imme- acting with an argumentative text. Once
diately preceding point,” whereas a written they recognize the text as an argument, such
argument requires “a new solitary ability” to readers should proceed to make use of the
generate the material (Freedman & Pringle, “slots” in the activated schema. They can
1984, p. 79). Contrary to this claim, the pos- be expected to look for claims, supporting
sibility of a positive transfer from oral to reasons, counterarguments, and rebuttals.
written argumentation has been supported They should be able to comprehend, en-
in empirical studies (Kuhn et al., 1997; Rez- code, and recall an argumentative text more
nitskaya et al., 2001). proficiently (Anderson, 1984; Armbruster,
In this study, the reflective-essay task Anderson, & Ostertag, 1987; Carrel, 1992).
shared several structural features with Transfer is influenced by surface as well
collaborative-reasoning discussions. The as structural similarities between the learn-
common elements included formulating a ing and transfer tasks (Detterman, 1993;
position on the issue, providing support for Gentner, 1989; Gick & Holyoak, 1987).
one’s claims, appealing to story information Learners, especially children and novices,
for evidence, as well as generating and re- rely on surface similarities for access and ap-
sponding to counterarguments. Also, the plication of abstract schemas (Gentner, 1989).
reflective-essay task required students to re- The transfer tasks employed in the present
spond to a moral dilemma, applying the study progressively differed in surface fea-
standards and principles of argumentation tures from the learning situation. Consider-
appropriate for resolving ethical issues. Be- ing how difficult it is to obtain transfer
cause the majority of CR discussions also (Detterman, 1993; Mayer & Wittrock, 1996;

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456 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL

Salomon & Perkins, 1989), we were aware American families (98% of student partici-
that students might be distracted by the vari- pants were European Americans, 2% were
ability in surface features and fail to perceive Hispanic); 22% of study participants re-
the underlying structural correspondence. ceived free or reduced-price lunch. Student
However, we designed the postintervention participants in School B were fifth graders.
tasks to be increasingly dissimilar from the Practical constraints precluded us from
learning situation because the goal of this selecting all six classrooms from the same
study was to explore the possibilities for and school and the same grade. However, three
limitations of transfer performance in the do- same-grade classrooms in each school were
main of argumentation rather than to create assigned to the three treatment conditions
conditions that were optimal for finding examined (see Table 1). Thus, within each
treatment differences. school, students in one treatment condition
To recapitulate, based on the tenets of can be considered comparable to students
argument schema theory, we expected oral from the other two conditions in terms of
discussion and explicit instruction to help age, demographic characteristics, and school
students acquire a sense of the overall culture. The comparability of participants
structure of an argument, or an argument within each school was supported by the
schema. Students with a more developed finding of no difference (p ⳱ .14) among
argument schema were expected to perform the students’ scores on a standardized
better on several tasks related to argumen- Reading Comprehension Test from the
tation. We used three tasks to evaluate stu- Metropolitan Achievement Tests (MAT)
dents’ acquisition of argumentative knowl- (Farr, Prescott, Balow, & Hogan, 1986). Be-
edge following their engagement in CR cause the MAT is highly correlated with
discussions with and without explicit in- the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (r ⳱
struction in argumentation: (1) responding .71) (Farr et al., 1986), the finding of no dif-
to interview questions designed to elicit ference also implies comparability in terms
knowledge of general principles of argu- of general cognitive abilities.
mentation and criteria for a good argument,
(2) writing a reflective essay, and (3) recal- Design
ling an argumentative text. The study employed a quasi-experimen-
tal design, using intact groups. We assigned
Method three classes from each of the two partici-
Participants pating schools to one of the three treatment
Students and teachers from six class- conditions, as shown in Table 1. Using mul-
rooms in two public elementary schools in tivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA),
central Illinois participated in the study. Al- student performance on transfer tasks was
together there were 57 boys and 71 girls for compared across conditions, with school/
a total of 128 student participants. The av- grade being a fixed factor. Thus, including
erage number of children in a class was 21. different schools/grades in the study broad-
School A was a small-city school serving ened its generalizability without compro-
an ethnically diverse population (66% of mising internal validity.
study participants were European Ameri- Children in the CR-only condition (class-
cans, 27% were African Americans, and 7% rooms 1 and 4) and in the CRⳭlessons con-
were from other ethnic groups). At School dition (classrooms 2 and 5) took part in four
A, 29% of student participants qualified for collaborative-reasoning discussions, which
free or reduced-price lunch. The partici- typically lasted for 15 to 20 minutes. Teach-
pants in this school were enrolled in the ers in these treatment conditions were asked
fourth grade. School B was a rural school to organize their students into groups that
with students primarily from European were heterogeneous in terms of student

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ARGUMENTATION 457

Table 1. Study Design

School/(Grade)/Classroom N Condition Description of Activities

School A:
Grade 4:
Classroom 1 24 CR-only 4 CR discussions
Classroom 2 26 CRⳭlessons 2 CR discussions Ⳮ 2 lessons on
argumentation Ⳮ 2 CR discussions
Classroom 3 20 Routine Regular classroom instruction
School B:
Grade 5:
Classroom 4 17 CR-only 4 CR discussions
Classroom 5 21 CRⳭlessons 2 CR discussions Ⳮ 2 lessons on
argumentation Ⳮ 2 CR discussions
Classroom 6 20 Routine Regular classroom instruction

Note.—CR ⳱ collaborative reasoning.

ability, gender, and personal traits such as know about her painting. The fourth story
talkativeness. These groups, which ranged is called Marco’s Vote (Nguyen-Jahiel, 1996).
in size from five to nine children (median Marco is a student on a special committee
⳱ 6), served as discussion groups in the to decide whether his school should pur-
study. chase new math textbooks or, instead, buy
Each discussion was based on a story computers and computer software that
that students read silently at their seats teaches mathematics. The story contains
prior to gathering for the discussion. The purported scientific evidence supporting
stories and the order of discussions were and opposing either decision. The question
identical across classrooms. The first story, students were invited to discuss was, “How
Amy’s Goose (Holmes, 1977), is about a should Marco vote?” As can be seen from
lonely farm girl who befriends a goose that the story descriptions, the issues the stu-
has been injured by a fox. Amy becomes at- dents discussed varied. Three stories fo-
tached to the goose, and, when the goose cused on moral and practical dilemmas,
gets better, Amy finds it difficult to let it fly whereas the last story posed a problem that
south with the rest of the flock. The “big could be informed by a discussion of sci-
question” to launch a CR discussion was, entific evidence.
“Should Amy let the goose go free?” The In addition to four collaborative-reason-
second story, Ronald Morgan Goes to Bat ing discussions, children in the CRⳭlessons
(Giff, 1990), features a boy named Ronald condition (classrooms 2 and 5) received ex-
who is making his baseball team lose be- plicit instruction in argumentation, deliv-
cause he is a bad player. Ronald is a cheerful ered in two scripted lessons. In order for
boy, and he really wants to play. However, students to see the relevance of presented
he is afraid of the ball and he can neither hit abstract principles of argumentation, the
nor field the ball. The discussion question teachers delivered explicit instruction after
was, “Should Ronald be allowed to play on students participated in the first two collab-
a team?” In the third story, What Should orative-reasoning discussions. The teachers
Kelly Do? (Weiner, 1980), Kelly is a girl who presented the lessons strictly following the
really wants to win a painting contest. Her script and using the transparencies we
main competitor, Evelyn, has carelessly left provided. Each lesson contained teachers’
her painting on the playground. Kelly no- questions along with criteria for evaluating
tices that it is starting to rain and Evelyn’s student answers. The first author gathered
painting may be ruined. Students discussed information regarding possible student an-
whether or not Kelly should let Evelyn swers during a pilot study and incorpo-

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458 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL

rated it into the lesson scripts. The lessons discussions into the basic argument schema
employed the basic argument schema de- (Fig. 1) displayed in front of them. This ac-
picted in Figure 1. Although the frame in tivity was designed to further familiarize
the figure depicts only two elaborated rea- students with the elements of the schema,
sons and one rebutted counterargument, following Gick and Holyoak’s (1987) sug-
the lesson script emphasized that adding gestion that students need practice with in-
further reasons, counterarguments, and re- stantiation of abstract structures. Students
buttals would make the argument more in the routine treatment condition (class-
convincing—and “the house even more rooms 3 and 6) had their regular language
stable.” arts instruction and did not participate in
During the first lesson, children were any collaborative-reasoning discussions or
presented with the definition, purpose, and lessons on argumentation.
uses of an argument and the teacher briefly
described five parts of an argument. Con- Procedure
sistent with the basic argument schema de- Teachers in the CR-only and CRⳭlessons
picted in Figure 1, these parts were position, conditions met with the first author prior
reasons, supporting facts, objections, and re- to the first discussion to learn more about
sponses to objections. During the second les- the CR approach, as well as the design,
son, the teacher further defined each of the procedures, and schedule for the study.
five parts, explained the relations among During these meetings, teachers were pre-
them, and gave examples. The lessons used sented with the CR model, introduced to
the second collaborative-reasoning discus- collaborative-reasoning teaching strategies
sion to illustrate abstract concepts and prin- (Waggoner et al., 1995), and given reading
ciples. Below we present a short excerpt materials, including a transcript of one
from the teacher script of one of the lessons. discussion with comments regarding the
moves of participants. Teachers saw video
Say: An argument usually starts clips of exemplary CR discussions con-
with presenting your position. ducted by other teachers. Teachers from
Display: The “roof” of the house, over- the CRⳭlessons condition had additional
head 3.
Say: A position is a statement of
meetings during which the lessons on
belief—it is your opinion, argumentation were discussed. Both teach-
what you think is true, or ers assigned to the CRⳭlessons condition
what you are trying to con- practiced delivering the lessons using the
vince others to believe. script and transparencies we provided.
Ask: When you discussed Ronald
Morgan Goes to Bat, what was
Questions regarding the content and pos-
your position on the “big sible student responses were addressed.
question?” (Students should The study was conducted in three
reply by stating only their phases. During the first phase, the MAT
positions. For example, “I Reading Comprehension Test (Farr et al.,
thought Ronald should be al-
lowed to play.”)
1986) was administered to assess the read-
Say: In a strong argument, a posi- ing level of participants. We also obtained
tion is supported by good rea- information about students’ demographic
sons . . . characteristics.
During the second phase, classes as-
Following the lessons, children in the signed to the CR-only and CRⳭlessons con-
CRⳭlessons condition participated in the ditions met twice a week to participate in the
remaining two collaborative-reasoning dis- activities scheduled for their respective treat-
cussions. At the end of these discussions, ments. CR discussions and lessons were con-
students classified propositions from the ducted by the teachers and were monitored

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ARGUMENTATION 459

closely by the first author. The first author as needed. Interviews typically took less
videotaped all CR discussions and lessons, than 10 minutes.
promptly viewed the videotapes, and of- The second task was a reflective essay
fered guidance to the teachers on the use of written in response to a story similar to
CR strategies via e-mail and additional meet- those used as a basis for the collaborative-
ings. Based on in-class observations and re- reasoning discussions. The task was adapted
view of videotapes, the first author judged from the Reznitskaya et al. (2001) study of
all teachers to be successful in conducting written argument. In the story, an unpopular
CR discussions. Specifically, teachers consis- boy named Thomas wins the school pine-
tently and appropriately applied CR strate- wood derby race, but he breaks the rules by
gies taught during the teacher training and not making his car by himself. He confides
reinforced during the study (i.e., asking for to his classmate, Jack, that he has received
clarification, prompting students to use story help from his older brother in making his car.
information as evidence, challenging stu- The students were asked to write an essay
dents with counterarguments, etc.). During reflecting on whether or not Jack should tell
explicit instruction, teachers in both schools on Thomas. Children were given 40 minutes
followed the lesson scripts precisely. to work on the essay.
During the last phase of the study, after The third task was to recall an argumen-
the treatments for the CR-only and CRⳭ tative text, a 297-word passage about ban-
lessons conditions had been completed, the ning smoking in public places. The text was
first author administered three tasks to stu- adapted from Crowhurst’s (1987) research
dents in all six classrooms. The tasks and in- on sixth graders’ argumentation. It is a well-
structions were identical in every room. Stu- organized piece of persuasion with a clearly
dents performed one task per day, with a identifiable top-level structure. The text
typical lag of 2 days between tasks. contains all the parts of the argument that
The first task was an interview designed were taught to CRⳭlessons students, as
to elicit students’ knowledge of abstract well as organizational signals in connection
principles and criteria of an argument. with each part. For example, following the
We subsequently refer to this task as the argument schema depicted in Figure 1, two
schema-articulation task. Students were in- reasons in the passage are labeled “The first
terviewed by the first author individually in reason is” and “The second reason is,” and
a separate room. Interviews were tapere- the counterargument is introduced with the
corded. During the interview, participants rhetorical form “Some people might say.”
were presented with a photograph of a dis- Students read the passage silently at their
cussion, given a scenario as the basis for the seats, with the instructions to “study it until
discussion shown on the picture, and asked you are sure you understand it and you are
six scripted questions. Specifically, partici- prepared to write about it.” Then the first
pants were asked to consider the “types of author collected the text from the children
statements that students on the picture are and they were asked to write everything
saying to each other.” Students were also they could remember from the passage. Stu-
prompted to think of statements one “should dents were allowed 25 minutes to complete
be saying to make it a really good discus- the recall task.
sion,” the “type of statements one would
have to use to convince others” and “to re- Analysis
spond to those who disagree,” and the Interviews, reflective essays, and text re-
“things to look for” in a reflective essay and calls were first transcribed. We gave each
in a group discussion. All interviews fol- student an anonymous identification code
lowed the same script, although minimal to keep us blind to the treatment when eval-
clarifications and elaborations were made uating students’ written and oral responses.

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460 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL

The first author did all coding in this study, dents’ essays and recalls were discrimi-
using Qualitative Solutions and Research nated in terms of the number of acceptable
(QSR) NVivo computer software (1999). and relevant reasons supporting the main
QSR NVivo allows a code-based analysis of claim. Second, the extent to which essays
qualitative data. One can assign a code to a and recalls incorporated alternative perspec-
text segment and perform searches of the tives was evaluated. The coding schemes
coded segments. Once all codes for a certain employed in this study did not assess me-
task were assigned, the students’ written or chanics of writing as reflected by spelling,
oral propositions given the same code were grammar, or punctuation.
searched and checked to ensure consistency The first author scored reflective essays
with coding schemes. The third author as- using a scheme adapted from a similar
sisted with the interrater reliability analysis study of written arguments (Reznitskaya et
of 90 randomly selected student responses al., 2001). The essays were first parsed into
(see below). idea units, as defined by Mayer (1985), who
Six interview questions for the schema- noted that an idea unit “expresses one ac-
articulation task used alternative wording to tion or event or state, and generally corre-
prompt students to name five components of sponds to a single verb clause” (p. 71). A
argumentative discourse emphasized dur- list of all reasons for and against Jack’s tell-
ing explicit instruction. Transcripts of inter- ing on Thomas was compiled. The list was
views were repeatedly read to search for ut- consulted to assign a unique code to each
terances that corresponded to the following distinct, acceptable, and relevant reason
five components of an argument schema: students advanced in their essays. Ideas
(1) position, (2) reasons, (3) supporting facts, that were close in meaning, yet were not
(4) objections, and (5) responses to objec- simple restatements, were assigned the
tions. The summary measure of the com- same code. This treatment of semantically
pleteness of a student’s argument schema related reasons lowered the scores of stu-
was the number of argument components dents whose essays contained many state-
stated during the interview. Importantly, stu- ments that were close in meaning. For ex-
dents’ statements were credited when they ample, all three of the following reasons
expressed the underlying concept, whatever had to do with Thomas not building the car
the exact wording. For example, credit for by himself. All these reasons were assigned
naming an “objection” was given to all of the the same code:
following responses to the interview ques-
1. Thomas did not build the car.
tion “What if some people disagreed with
2. Thomas had help making the car.
you, then what would you do?” 3. Thomas’s brother did all the work.

Try to listen to their objections [CRⳭ There were two summary measures of
lessons].
Ask them what they had in mind, or see reflective-essay performance because we
why they disagree with you [CR-only]. wanted to separately evaluate students’
I would ask them why do they think that ability to (1) generate reasons consistent
[routine]. with the chosen position and (2) consider
and refute opposing arguments. On the first
Thus, the wording could differ from that in- measure, called essay-for, students were
troduced during the CRⳭlessons interven- given one point for each unique supporting
tion, allowing children from all conditions reason in an essay and one point for all
to demonstrate their knowledge of argu- other propositions semantically related to
mentation. that reason (i.e., elaborations). The second
When evaluating students’ writings, two measure, essay-against, represented the to-
general criteria were employed. First, stu- tal number of counterarguments and rebut-

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ARGUMENTATION 461

tals. For counterarguments, one point was students’ ability to comprehend and recall
given for each distinct reason inconsistent statements supporting the main claim. The
with the chosen position and one point for smoking-ban text presented two reasons
all semantically related propositions. Re- why smoking should be banned in public.
buttals were defined as distinct reasons that One reason was related to health problems;
were produced in response to the counter- the other was concerned with environmen-
arguments. The essay-for and essay-against tal issues. Each reason was supported by
scores for the CRⳭlessons essay presented several propositions that gave examples or
below are 5 and 0, respectively. (The spell- cited scientific evidence. These propositions
ing of all student writings has been cor- were termed elaborations. On the recall-for
rected; the content and the grammar are un- measure, a student was given one point for
changed.) recalling each of the following: the main
claim, the first reason, the second reason,
I think he should not tell on Thomas. I one or more elaborations of the first reason,
think that because maybe he might not and one or more elaborations of the second
have ever won anything before. Also no one reason. Students could get a maximum total
likes tattletales. He helped a little. Also Jack
feels sorry for him and he is not very pop- score of six points on the recall-for measure.
ular. These are my reasons why Jack The recall-against measure represented
should not tell on Thomas. propositions advanced for the alternative
perspective. The original text contained one
Although this study focused on the elaborated counterargument and one elab-
quantity of supporting and opposing rea- orated rebuttal. Students received one point
sons, only reasons judged acceptable and for recalling each proposition from the
relevant were counted. The consistency of original text that expressed a counterargu-
scoring was continually reviewed by com- ment, a rebuttal, or their elaborations. The
paring all instances of each reason across maximum score on the recall-against mea-
the cases and within the context. The re- sure was five points.
sulting consistency of the scoring system For each of the three postintervention
was confirmed through high interrater re- tasks, we randomly selected 30 student pro-
liability estimates (see below). ductions to evaluate interrater reliability of
The analysis of attempts to recall the assigned scores. The second rater was given
smoking ban text was similar to that of the written scoring criteria and a short oral ex-
essays. The first author divided the text into planation of how to apply them. We corre-
idea units as defined by Mayer (1985). Next, lated the total scores given by the two raters
students’ writings were parsed in the same on each of the five outcome variables de-
way. Each idea unit from student recall pro- scribed in Table 2. Interrater reliability was
tocols was compared to the corresponding high for all five measures, ranging from r ⳱
idea unit in the text. If the recalled idea unit .87 on recall-against to r ⳱ .95 on schema-
contained the same key terms and expressed articulation. (The correlation coefficient for
the same meaning, the researcher scored it the recall-against is likely to be underesti-
as present. Thus, the list of idea units from mated due to the low variability of the recall-
the original passage was functionally com- against scores.)
parable to the list of all acceptable and rele-
vant reasons used in scoring the reflective
compositions. Both lists served as templates Results and Discussion
against which student writing was evalu- Statistical Analyses
ated. The primary reason for administering
There were two summary measures of the MAT Reading Comprehension Test was
text recall. The recall-for score represented to evaluate whether the treatment groups

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462 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL

Table 2. Means and Standard Deviations for Outcome Variables

Method

CRⳭLessons CR-Only Routine

Variable M SD M SD M SD

Schema-articulation (number of argument components


named in interview):
Grade 4 4.52 .87 2.08 .93 1.60 .75
Grade 5 3.43 1.25 1.94 .83 1.90 .85
Essay-for (number of supporting reasons in reflective essay):
Grade 4 6.69 3.32 8.37 4.56 6.74 3.67
Grade 5 6.29 3.06 14.82 10.38 5.85 3.18
Essay-against (number of counterarguments and rebuttals in
reflective essay):
Grade 4 1.65 1.99 2.33 2.76 3.11 3.14
Grade 5 1.09 1.76 4.12 4.76 1.70 2.66
Essay length (number of characters in reflective essay):
Grade 4 527 208 1,036 585 514 252
Grade 5 383 161 1,336 1,132 453 173
Recall-for (number of supporting reasons in text recall):
Grade 4 3.92 1.84 3.21 1.91 3.44 1.96
Grade 5 3.38 1.88 4.12 2.15 3.72 1.97
Recall-against (number of counterarguments and rebuttals
in text recall):
Grade 4 .72 1.43 .58 1.02 .54 1.13
Grade 5 .33 1.06 .53 .80 .48 .96

Note.—CR ⳱ collaborative reasoning.

were comparable at the outset of the study. comparing student postintervention perfor-
We conducted an ANOVA with two factors mance across treatment conditions within
to examine whether MAT performance dif- grade.
fered across treatment conditions. The first Descriptive statistics for the five out-
factor was method and had three levels: come measures are summarized in Table 2.
CRⳭlessons, CR-only, and routine. The sec- The table also includes the essay-length
ond factor combined several demographic variable, which represents the length of stu-
measures of study participants, mainly dents’ reflective compositions as indicated
grade level, school culture, and school lo- by the total number of alphanumeric char-
cation. The factor is termed grade because acters. The variables summarized in Table
grade differences are perhaps more influ- 2, with the exception of the essay-length
ential than differences in school culture and measure, were analyzed simultaneously us-
location. This is also why we considered the ing MANOVA, with method and grade as
second factor to be fixed, rather than ran- fixed factors. We rejected the null hypothe-
dom. The grade factor had two levels: grade sis of no difference for method (Pillai’s Trace
4, which corresponds to School A, and ⳱ .75, p ⳱ .00) and the method ⳯ grade
grade 5, which corresponds to School B. The interaction (Pillai’s Trace ⳱.22, p ⳱ .00).
individual student was the unit of analysis. Grade was not significant (Pillai’s Trace ⳱
Method of instruction was not signifi- .08, p ⳱ .09). Univariate ANOVAs for each
cantly associated with MAT score (p ⳱ .14), outcome measure were performed for the
nor was the method ⳯ grade interaction two factors found significant in the multi-
significant (p ⳱ .92). Not surprisingly, the variate analysis. We found significant
grade factor was statistically significant method effects for the schema-articulation
(p ⳱ .01). These results lend credibility to (F ⳱ 72.84, p ⬍ .01), essay-for (F ⳱ 14.13,

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ARGUMENTATION 463

p ⬍ .01), and essay-against (F ⳱ 4.22, p ⬍ the results entirely confirmed theoretical ex-
.05) measures. Significant method ⳯ grade pectations. Students in the CRⳭlessons con-
interaction effects were found for the dition displayed significantly better knowl-
schema-articulation (F ⳱ 5.99, p ⬍ .01), edge of the argument schema than did the
essay-for (F ⳱ 6.60, p ⬍ .01), and essay- other two groups. Although not statistically
against (F ⳱ 3.28, p ⬍ .05) measures. There significant, the difference between the CR-
were no statistically significant effects for only and routine conditions was in the ex-
the two recall measures. pected direction.
Multiple comparisons were performed A notable feature of students’ perfor-
following statistically significant ANOVAs. mance on the schema-articulation task was
We used the Bonferroni post hoc test be- the impressive depth with which some stu-
cause it is recommended as one of the most dents discussed principles of argumenta-
conservative procedures for controlling tion. This particularly applied to students
Type I error rates (Kirk, 1995; Pedhazur, from the CRⳭlessons condition and, to a
1997). Because of the significant method ⳯ lesser extent, the CR-only condition. These
grade interaction, treatment differences students did not seem to be merely repeat-
were examined separately for each grade. ing canned phrases picked up during the
On the schema-articulation measure, the intervention. Instead, many appeared to
mean for the CRⳭlessons condition was have internalized important properties of
significantly higher than the means for the an argument. Consider the following re-
CR-only and routine conditions (p ⳱ .00) at sponses to the interview question: “If you
both grade levels. Also, at both grades, the were one of the people in this discussion, or
means of the CR-only and routine condi- in any other discussion, what would you
tions were not statistically different. Thus, have to do to convince others?” These are
treatment differences within both grades the responses of three fourth graders, the
had the same direction, but unequal mag- first two from the CRⳭlessons condition,
nitudes. the third from the CR-only condition.
Proceeding next to reflective writing, in
grade 5, the mean for the essay-for measure
I probably, yeah, normally, I will look at
in the CR-only condition was significantly their point of view to see what they are
higher than the means in the CRⳭlessons saying, so I can find out a response to
and in the routine conditions (p ⳱ .00). The their objection.
difference between the CRⳭlessons and
You have to give good reasons to make
routine conditions was not statistically sig-
sure the other kid doesn’t agree with the
nificant. In grade 4, none of the differences other side . . . the other kid’s idea doesn’t
reached statistical significance, although, as gain the upper hand, the upper part. So
in grade 5, the CR-only mean was higher you need to keep on putting in good rea-
than the means in the other two conditions. sons and supporting facts, and the re-
sponses to their objections, and more
For the essay-against measure, the only
supporting facts, and reasons for that.
significant difference was between the CR-
only and CRⳭlessons conditions (p ⳱ .02) Probably just make my point, and try,
in grade 5, with the CR-only mean being you know, all the good things about why
higher. Because MANOVA revealed no sig- I think that, and maybe other people will,
like, help me as I am talking.
nificant differences for the two recall mea-
sures, we did not perform further analyses.
The first two responses stress the impor-
Schema-Articulation Task tance of listening to alternative perspectives
The schema-articulation task was the and finding flaws with the arguments of
only measure in the present study for which others. In the third response, the student

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464 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL

takes a different stance toward an argu- and that the teaching of argumentative dis-
ment, using a discussion to collaborate with course ought not to be delayed until later
others rather than to persuade an opponent. grades (Anderson et al., 1998; Crowhurst,
The idea that through a reasoned dia- 1988; Lipman, 1997; Paul, 1986).
logue with others one can explore multiple
perspectives and find a better solution is also Reflective Essay
expressed in the following responses to the In both grades, the length of CR-only
interview question: “What if some people compositions in number of characters was
disagreed with you, then what would you far greater, compared to the writings by
do?” The first response is from a fourth other students. The essays of fifth-grade stu-
grader in the CR-only condition, the second dents in the CR-only condition also con-
and third from fifth graders in the CRⳭ tained significantly more argument-relevant
lessons condition. propositions than the compositions written
by the students from the other two condi-
Well, if they are really convincing, then I tions. Although the mean differences in
would probably go to the other side, cause grade 4 were not statistically significant, the
I might understand the idea of the other direction of the differences was the same—
people, cause I change my mind some- that is, the CR-only group had a higher mean
times. [Interviewer: And what makes you
change your mind?] Well, people, they re- than the other two conditions.
ally get out their feelings, they tell you These results are consistent with the
why, and you never thought of that be- findings of three other quasi-experimental
fore, so, then you think, and you are, like, studies of collaborative reasoning (Dong,
well, maybe that is true, and so you say. Anderson, Li, & Kim, 2006; Kim, 2001; Rez-
Well, I would give them some of the rea- nitskaya et al., 2001). Together, these studies
sons why, and I’d listen to what they had examined CR in 14 experimental and 10
to say about this discussion, and if they control classrooms. Their results generally
had a good reason for it, a very good rea-
son, I might change my mind about it,
support the idea that group oral discussions
just maybe. improve an individual’s ability to generate
more argument-relevant propositions in
I would try to make a better example for writing, although not all comparisons re-
them, and try to listen to their objections,
so to see what they are talking about too, sulted in statistically significant findings.
just in case if I, like, figured out that I was Contrary to our expectation, the ten-
wrong and they were right. dency to present more reasons disappeared
when students were given explicit instruc-
The principles stated in the foregoing tion in argumentation. We propose two ex
excerpts may represent an ideal that is post facto explanations for the poor perfor-
hard for many students to reach when they mance of CRⳭlessons students on the re-
engage in oral or written argumentation. flective writing task, both representing in-
Yet, it is encouraging to see that children at teresting directions for future research.
this young age can grasp and competently First, we suggest that the low level of mas-
verbalize desirable standards of reason- tery of the argument schema interfered with
ing. Conceivably, awareness of such stan- students’ ability to write extensive compo-
dards will eventually enhance their perfor- sitions. Students in the CRⳭlessons condi-
mance on argumentative tasks. Students’ tion had a more complete knowledge of the
reflections during the schema-articulation components of an argument schema, as in-
task support the position that elementary dicated by their superior performance on
school children are developmentally ready the schema-articulation task. At the same
to become acquainted with argumentation time, they had not fully acquired the ability
(Crowhurst, 1988; Stein & Trabasso, 1982) to use the schema flexibly in new contexts.

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ARGUMENTATION 465

The second possible explanation is that a children interacted freely, without being
more controlled, “school-like” exposure to called on by the teacher. Within reasonable
argumentation in the CRⳭlessons condition limits, they were free to allocate discussion
had a negative effect on students’ motivation time to any topic in any way relevant to
to use this discourse genre in writing. the discussion question. In contrast, stu-
Short-term negative transfer attributable dents in the CRⳭlessons condition were
to low levels of learning and motivation, fol- presented with two lessons on argumen-
lowed by long-term positive transfer (also tation in addition to participating in the
called delayed transfer), has been found in discussions. During the lessons, students
various domains, including problem solving received guidelines on how to construct an
(Luchins & Luchins, 1970), text processing argument. Further, during the two CR dis-
(Thorndyke & Hayes-Roth, 1979), verbal cussions following the lesson, students
learning (Postman, 1971), and programming practiced matching propositions from the
(Singley & Anderson, 1989). Especially rele- discussion with components of the argu-
vant to the present research is a study on ment frame. Thus, their experience with
written argumentation by Morehouse and argumentation was more structured and
Williams (1998), who evaluated the effects of cognitively demanding because it incor-
a 3-year instructional intervention based on porated additional rules to be learned and
the Philosophy for Children program (Lip- applied.
man, 1988; Lipman & Sharp, 1994). The abil- These differences in treatments appear
ity of middle-school students to write an ar- to have influenced student writing. The
gument declined during the first year of the compositions of CR-only students con-
program, followed by a significant increase tained many more supporting reasons. At
in performance in the subsequent years. the same time, they were much more ver-
One explanation for negative or delayed bose, often suffering from a lack of planning
transfer is that, at the initial stages of learn- or critical monitoring. CR-only composi-
ing, the rules that are being acquired inter- tions frequently displayed what Maimon
fere with ability to perform the transfer task (1979, p. 364) termed “an innocent lack of
(Mandler, 1962). Negative effects may be consideration for what their readers are or
more evident when learners have some are not interested in.” The following essay
competency in performing the transfer task by a fourth-grade student in the CR-only
before learning the new principles. In this condition illustrates Maimon’s point.
case, students need not only to learn to ap-
ply the new principles but also to abandon I think Jack should tell on Thomas. Mr.
partially successful strategies. With addi- Howard specifically say for you to do all
tional learning and practice, principles can the work. Even if he did put on the stick-
ers and paint that car, you are supposed
be mastered and eventually enable en- to do all of the work. I bet it said it in the
hanced performance on transfer tasks (Gick instructions too. I disagree with Mr.
& Holyoak, 1987; Mandler, 1962; More- Howard. He should let the son and the
house & Williams, 1998). dad to do the car. In Cub Scouts they do
A closer look at the essays of students in the same thing but you have your dad
help you and you make cables. I think
the CR-only and CRⳭlessons conditions before they do the pinewood, they
provides some support for the suggested should learn safety rules about all of the
explanations. The qualitative differences in equipment they are going to use. The
students’ compositions seem to correspond teacher should tell them why they are go-
to the differences in their respective treat- ing to use all of that equipment. He
should also say why they are doing the
ments. The intervention for the CR-only Pinewood Derby. After they do the pi-
students was limited to collaborative-rea- newood they should celebrate their vic-
soning discussions. During the discussions, tories and hard work they have done. I

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466 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL

still think that Jack should tell. 75% of the quantitative scoring of this essay counted
me says that Jack should tell on Thomas, only acceptable and relevant reasons. Al-
because they said that you need to build
this by yourself. 25% says that he though the length of this essay (1,997 char-
shouldn’t tell on him because if he tells, acters) is more than one standard deviation
Thomas is going to keep on picking on above the group mean, it essay-for score is
Jack for the rest of his life. If I were in below the group mean because much of the
Jack’s position, I would go to Mr. How-
ard after the school and tell him what
content was coded as irrelevant.
Thomas did. I would tell Thomas that I The essays of other CR-only students
told on him because he hates me any- also displayed linguistic patterns unchar-
way, so what is the point of not telling acteristic of argumentation. For example,
on Thomas? I wonder how Mr. Howard several students used the forms “I can make
got the idea of doing the Pinewood
Derby? Everybody deserves at least a a connection . . . ,” “if I jumped into the
patch for the thing because everybody story . . . ,” and “if I were to change one
did and everybody won, so they should thing . . .“. Such rhetorical strategies are
get something. My favorite character is more representative of a general “literature-
Jack. My least favorite character is
Thomas. The main characters are Jack,
response” discourse schema, which chil-
Thomas, and Mr. Howard. I think the dren are likely to learn through their regular
track is a slanted piece of wood and at language arts instruction. Research on text
the end there is a computer device and processing suggests that students often ap-
tells who got in first and who in last. If ply familiar discourse structures to new
I can ask anybody a question it would
be Mr. Howard. I would ask him, “Mr. reading and writing tasks, even when these
Howard, where did you get this idea?” structures are not optimal (Scardamalia &
His answer would probably be, “I was Bereiter, 1986; van Dijk & Kintsch, 1983).
in a thing called Cub Scouts and they do Participation in oral discussion enabled
the Pinewood Derby. That is where I got
my idea.” I think Jack should tell on
CR-only students to generalize and transfer
Thomas. several desirable features of argumentative
discourse, notably, the ability to support
This essay, which received a score of 5 one’s position with reasons. However, the
on both essay-for and essay-against mea- acquired competencies were not refined. The
sures, presents an unambiguous position on essays of CR-only students often consisted
the issue along with several supporting rea- of numerous ideas unconstrained by the
sons. There is an explicit awareness and a conventions of argumentative discourse.
serious consideration of the alternative po- Compared to the writings of the CR-only
sition (i.e., “25% says that he shouldn’t tell students, the essays of students in the
on him because if he tells, Thomas is going CRⳭlessons condition were much shorter
to keep on picking on Jack for the rest of his on average and contained significantly fewer
life”). Some counterarguments are rebutted supporting reasons. At the same time, at
(i.e., “even if he did put on the stickers and least some of the children in the latter con-
paint that car, you are supposed to do all of dition successfully applied the argument-
the work”). However, a substantial portion discourse structure that was taught to them
of text is not suitable for the genre and only during the two lessons and that they prac-
tangentially relevant to the topic. The stu- ticed in subsequent discussions. The follow-
dent does not have a clear idea of the pur- ing essay of a CRⳭlessons fourth grader il-
pose for his composition. The essay con- lustrates this point (emphasis added).
tains discourse elements that are not
appropriate for argumentative writing, I think Jack should tell on Thomas. One
such as “my favorite character is . . . ,” “the reason is Thomas should have worked on
main characters are . . . ,” “if I can ask any- the car by himself. For example, in the
body a question . . . ,” and so on. Note that story the teacher called Mr. Howard said

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ARGUMENTATION 467

that you need to work by yourself, and should get the credit”), adding to the
that is one of the most important rules. breadth of her argument.
Another good reason is Jack worked really
hard and put a lot of work into his car. Essay-for score for this composition is 9,
For example, the story said that Jack essay-against is 2, with essay length of 771
worked on it every night for 3 weeks. characters. This again supports the validity
Also, if Thomas’s brother made the car of the coding scheme used in this study to
he should get the credit, and if he isn’t in evaluate important features of student ar-
the class Thomas should have done it by
himself. Some people might say that Jack
guments. This essay is much shorter than
shouldn’t tell, because Thomas finally the one by the CR-only student discussed
got noticed, but it would be better if above; however, it is more focused and thus
Thomas did it by himself. This is why I gets a higher score on the essay-for mea-
believe that Jack should tell the teacher sure.
Mr. Howard what Thomas did.
Unfortunately, many students in the
CRⳭlessons condition were not as success-
This composition presents a well-articulated ful at using the argument schema in their
position, several supporting reasons, a coun- writing. For example, in the following es-
terargument, and a rebuttal. Textual infor- say, a CRⳭlessons fourth grader apparently
mation is marked as coming from the story. failed to instantiate the remembered com-
In contrast to the essay of the CR-only stu- ponents from the argument frame with suit-
dent presented earlier, this essay makes ex- able concrete propositions.
cellent use of the argument schema to orga-
nize, and, perhaps, generate the content. The One good reason why I think he should tell
student may also have relied on the dis- on Thomas is because he should not have
cheated. Thomas knew he was supposed
course schema to suppress propositions that
to do it himself. I think he should tell on
came to mind but were not appropriate for him. For an example, why would he want
the topic and genre of the composition. to cheat, that’s not right. Also the teacher
Note the effective use of “argument was shaking his hand for nothing. In real
stratagems” (Anderson et al., 2001), such as life people aren’t suppose to cheat on
anything. Others might say cheating is
“One reason is [reason],” “For example, good. However, I still think that’s not
[evidence],” and “Some people might say right.
[counterargument].” Knowledge of these
stratagems may have provided the student Several components from the argument
with tools that focused her thinking and frame are present in this essay. However, al-
constrained the otherwise unrestricted flow though the student can provide an instan-
of associations. Importantly, the student’s tiation of “one good reason,” her example
application of the argument schema is flex- and counterargument are inadequate. This
ible in two respects. First, while preserving student might have presented more reasons
the underlying function of the argument and written a better essay if she had not
stratagems taught during the intervention, been trying to follow argument principles
the student could change the surface form. that she did not fully understand. That is,
For example, the second reason in the ar- awareness of the rules, and the attempt to
gument frame presented during the lessons apply them, might have interfered with the
was introduced with “The second reason is student’s ability and motivation to generate
[reason].” The student modified this to “An- more argument-relevant statements, result-
other good reason is [reason].” Second, al- ing in negative transfer. As other research-
though the argument frame used during in- ers have noted, there are “costs and benefits
struction contained only two reasons (Fig. associated with the use of schemata in
1), the student provided a third reason (i.e., learning” (Thorndyke & Hayes-Roth, 1979,
“also, if Thomas’s brother made the car he p. 87). One may suppose that, as students

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468 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL

acquire a better grasp of the argument smells bad and pollutes the air. For ex-
schema, the benefits outweigh the costs. ample, drivers aren’t allowed to drive 90
mph, so why should smokers go around
The goal for teaching children an abstract polluting everyone’s air and displaying
argument schema was neither to limit them bad habits at the same time? Smoking in
to a five-paragraph essay format nor to con- public places should certainly be banned.
strain them to specific ways of introducing
argument components. Good argumentative This recall protocol contains all the im-
writing does not have to follow the position- portant argument components from the
reasons-counterargument-rebuttal sequence. smoking-ban text. It also includes several
There are many effective ways to present organizational signals used to introduce
reasons or alternative positions, so the these components, although the instantia-
ability to use certain rhetorical forms, such tion of the first reason represents a mis-
as “Some people might say [counterargu- stated elaboration of the main claim. The
ment],” does not necessarily bring forth a student does not repeat the text verbatim;
better argument. By making argument prin- he is generally able to find his own way to
ciples explicit through the use of a basic communicate, which implies that he has in-
argument schema, we intended to focus stu- ternalized the deeper meaning of the text. It
dents’ attention on major argument com- is reasonable to suppose that heightened
ponents, facilitate the generation of reasons awareness of the argument schema enabled
on both sides, and provide criteria of con- this student to comprehend and recall ar-
tent relevance. The essays of some of the gumentative text more proficiently.
CRⳭlessons students illustrate that these Text recall was a transfer task most re-
goals of explicit instruction can be achieved. moved from the learning situation in terms
Unfortunately, many students in the present of surface and structural features. Similarity
study were not able to improve their argu- between the transfer and learning tasks,
mentative writing using the explicitly taught whether surface or structural, is often sug-
schema. gested to be the central determinant of
transfer (Baldwin & Ford, 1988; Bassok &
Recall of Argumentative Text Holyoak, 1989; Brown, 1989; Gentner, 1989;
Students’ recall of the smoking-ban text Gick & Holyoak, 1987; Ross, 1987). Thus,
did not differ among the three treatment the absence of treatment differences for this
conditions. However, a closer look at the re- task is not entirely surprising. Nevertheless,
call protocols revealed that, similar to the we were disappointed that the students, es-
better reflective essays, some of the better pecially in the CRⳭlessons condition, did
protocols clearly manifested effective and not show improvement. Discourse features
flexible application of the argument schema, of an argument were explicitly taught in the
as shown in the following recall of a CRⳭ CRⳭlessons condition in hopes that these
lessons fourth grader. features would become sufficiently salient
for transfer to occur. In several previous in-
I feel smoking in public places should be vestigations, familiarizing students with
banned. One good reason is that smokers text structures has resulted in improved
shouldn’t be able to smoke everywhere
but grocery stores, buses, and movie the- comprehension and memory (Armbruster
aters. It isn’t fair if smokers mess up ev- et al., 1987; Oulette, Dagostino, & Carifio,
eryone else’s air. Another reason is that 1999; Samuels et al., 1988). Further, the top-
smoking is hazardous to your heath. You level structure of the smoking-ban text and
can get bad diseases like lung cancer the rhetorical strategies (i.e., “some people
from it.
Some people might say that banning might say”) were identical to those used
smoking in public is denying smokers’ during the explicit instruction through the
human rights. But smoking in public visual representation of the basic argument

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ARGUMENTATION 469

schema. Evidently, teaching students the mensions of performance. For instance, the
schema in the context of oral discussion was quality of the proposed reasons can be taken
not sufficient for the application of the into account through assigning differential
schema in reading and recalling a persua- weightings to student propositions. In their
sive text. Crowhurst (1987) found that stu- study of children’s arguments, Means and
dents did not benefit from explicit instruc- Voss (1996) proposed a hierarchy of reasons,
tion unless they also practiced reading suggesting, for example, that appealing to
argumentative texts. In the present study, direct consequences of a given action is bet-
collaborative-reasoning discussions were ter than appealing to authority or to personal
based on short narratives. An interesting di- experience.
rection to be taken in future studies would Our study reveals the complexity of
be to have well-structured argumentative learning and transfer in the domain of ar-
texts as the foundation for student group gumentation. Many of the CR-only and CRⳭ
discussions. lessons students provided well-articulated
responses to the interview questions, show-
Conclusions ing a sophisticated understanding of argu-
Taken together, results from the three tasks mentation functions and criteria. At the time
used in this study suggest possible limita- of the interviews, these students were not
tions of explicit instruction. The analysis of explicitly reminded of their experience with
reflective essays shows that performance argumentation. Yet they were able to rec-
can, at least initially, decline as explicitly ognize the relevance of this experience and
taught but as yet incompletely learned prin- to offer more complete answers to the in-
ciples undermine the ability to write an ar- terview questions than the students from
gument. Furthermore, awareness of princi- the routine condition.
ples of argumentation does not ensure Transfer turned out to be a more elusive
proficient application of these principles. phenomenon. Performance on the reflective
CRⳭlessons students displayed signifi- essay appears to be improved as a result of
cantly better knowledge of argument prin- participation in collaborative-reasoning dis-
ciples than students from the two other cussions; however, recall of the smoking-
groups; however, their reflective essays and ban text was insensitive to variations in
text recalls were generally not better than treatment. We should emphasize, though,
those of other children. that even when we did not find overall
The findings of the present research effects consistently, the oral and written
should be interpreted with caution due in productions of some students suggested
any quasi-experiment. Although the lack benefits from collaborative-reasoning dis-
of mean differences in the students’ MAT cussions and explicit instruction in argu-
scores at the outset of the study is reassur- mentation.
ing, not all performance differences may
have been captured by this measure. Be-
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