An Example of Analytics on a Refutation Activity in a Unit on the Little Rock Nine

October 17, 2016 Les Lynn Argument and Literacy, Argumentative Writing, The Debatifier


Timely, detailed, standards-referenced feedback is a teacher practice that credible, persuasive research demonstrates can effect dramatic results on student learning and academic performance (see, for example, Hattie, J., & Timplerly, H. (2007). “The Power of Feedback,” Review of Educational Research, 77( 81), 81–112; Hattie, J., Fisher, D., Frey, N. (2016), “Do They Hear You,” Educational Leadership, 7 (73), 16-21).  Argument-Centered Education recommends producing what we call “analytics” in response to student formative assessments of argumentation skills.  Analytics should identify patterns in student understanding, identifying leverage points for student growth, and they should isolate individual student work samples to demonstrate current proficiencies, and ways to accentuate these, and deficiencies, and ways to redress these, relative to specific performance criteria.

This post is a sample of actual analytics that Argument-Centered Education produced for one of its partner schools.  Students in an English class submitted a refutational paragraph, addressing contrary views to their thesis in response to this debatable issue:

Who had the most power in the Little Rock Nine incident in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957.

The criteria for assessing the level of effectiveness of a student’s refutation, as we know from the Academic Argumentation Key Components, are:



Depth of thinking

Level of difficulty


The student work samples demonstrate varied performance and developmental status on each of these criteria.  These examples have been chosen in part for their representativeness of the work of students overall in these classes.  None of the student samples are either perfect or devoid of any merit, but they have been categorized approximately as either “glowing” for the proficiency they demonstrate, or “glowing,” for its current deficiency and the opportunity it suggests for growth.



Student Sample A:

Some might say that the soldiers aren’t even allowed to physically touch the protesters but if it gets too extreme Eisenhower has the power to change that. He also has full knowledge of all his lawful power and is prepared to use it. Opponents may argue that there is nothing that tells us that Eisenhower will go through with any of his plans, but he’s stated many times that he will go through with what’s necessary to force Faubus into integration.


This student is arguing that the soldiers have the most power. He responds directly to the counter-argument that the soldiers are limited in how they are able to respond to protesters by arguing that if they need to do more they will be commanded to do more.  Then he follows up with the next-level counter-argument by stating that Eisenhower has demonstrated a consistent commitment to doing what’s necessary to enforce integration.  This student sample demonstrates exactly what is expected of students in being directly responsive in their refutation of opposing arguments, and does so not just on the first level of counter-argumentation but on a more advanced level as well.


Student Sample B:

We say the president has more power because he controls the military, the government and national guard but they say the segregationists have more power. They say this because even with the National Guard and 101st at the school, the Little Rock Nine is still being verbally and physically abused. This does not prove anything, however, the president can strictly carry out the laws and he already furtively threatened Governor Faubus. They say that because the segregationsists created a huge mob in protest, they can take down the school. We say if this is true then why haven’t the mob stopped integration? If their so mighty and powerful why is integration still being enforced?. . . There are more powerful forces, such as the president, that will make sure everyone follow the rules! We say the president is more powerful than the segreationists because he has the law on his side.


This is an example of a highly comprehensive refutation of the counter-argument.  The refutation undermines the reasoned basis for the counter-argument by referring to the greater legal and political power of the president compared to the segretgationists.  It also invokes the empirical state of integreation at Little Rock H.S. at the time.  There is a fullness to this refutation that is exemplary.

Its comprehensiveness could be improved in two ways.  One, it could be more specific about the presidential powers that can be used to enforce integration despite the abuse and opposition of the segregationists.  Two, it could defend the standard that legal and political control of the situation is more important than on-the-ground obstacles and resistance to integration.  The standard is potentially in question – why is one form of power greater than the other? – beyond the empirical fact that integration was at least officially taking place.

Depth of Thinking

Student Sample C:

Some may argue that since the 101st can’t interfere with the students they’re practically useless, but this isn’t so. Before when there was just the National Guard the LR9 could barely survive at Central High, causing them to leave early, but once Eisenhower got involved the LR9 can actually go to school and the 101st is a big help. For example, Donny has saved Melba’s vision and life. Without Eisenhower this wouldn’t be possible. Melba would’ve potentially be dead.

Some may argue that without the media the President wouldn’t know about the issue, but he would find out regardless, besides the media doesn’t have the power to take action, but Eisenhower does. He made a clear impact – a step forward – in integration. Therefore President Eisenhower has the most power regarding integration.


This example of refutation demonstrates a significant depth of thinking.  The student thinks through the underlying impact that the 101st had in the situation and argues that even if it couldn’t prevent the bullying and verbal abuse, it did provide the Little Rock Nine with sufficient physical protection to enable it to continue to integrate the high school.  She includes a convincing example, as well.  She could have been explicit that it was Eisenhower who called in the 101st, though the thinking here to address the counter-argument is very clear.

The student also cuts to two very fundamental points about the media: that even without it the President would have found out about the situation in Little Rock, and that the media doesn’t have the power to command events the way that Eisenhower demonstrated he did in Little Rock.  Not many students would have done the thought experiment implicit in this first counter-point, that in a world without mass media, the President would still be aware of events.  To make this thought even more compelling she might have cited a historical example from the 19th century when the President – Lincoln, perhaps – became aware of and acted to shape events even prior to the rise of the broadcast media in the 20th century.


Some students didn’t include a counter-argument and therefore didn’t make any refutation in their writing sample.  For these students, they should be instructed first on the need to address the best reason or reasons that their argument might be opposed or might not be true.  They must first learn that academic argumentation is always dialogic, not monologic. But many did include refutation.  Here is how they can improve. 


Student Sample D:

A counter-argument might be that yes the Little Rock Nine might have a voice, but it’s not giving any power to the media. And others might say that the press can give light to the situation.


This student is arguing that the media has the most power in the Little Rock incident of 1957.  The counter-argument is that the Little Rock Nine has as strong a voice as the media itself.  The refutation to that counter-argument is not responsive.  For some reason, the student thinks that if the Little Rock Nine’s voice doesn’t augment the media’s voice, their voice isn’t powerful on its own.  That isn’t responsive.  Then, the student repeats their original argument, that the media has a powerful voice.  This is also not responsive to the counter-argument.  An example of responsive refutation would be if the student had said that the voice of the Little Rock Nine was magnified numerous times by the power of the media.  So, even if the Little Rock Nine had a powerful voice on its own, their voice had much more impact because of the systematic communicating power of the media.


Student Sample E:

Now someone might say that the President holds the more power and that he has more information about the incident but he doesn’t because the media gets all the information then releases it and that’s when everybody knows and then the President notices.


There are two parts to the counter-argument this student includes.  The first part – simply that the President holds more power than the media – is not addressed by the student’s refutation.  This is a particularly stark example of refutation that doesn’t address all of the counter-argument, refutation that doesn’t reach a portion of an opposing point.  But even beyond this, the student’s refutation doesn’t address the implication of the counter-argument that the President has access to other important sources of information about the incident that doesn’t come directly from the media.  Comprehensive refutation would have to address that portion of the counter-argument as well.

Depth of Thinking

Student Sample F:

Others might say the 101st kept them [the Little Rock Nine] safe. This is untrue because if this was a smaller project and only the 101st knew about integration they could have still been lynched without attracting too much attention. Some also might say President Eisenhower had the most power because he has a whole army, but again this is untrue. If the segregationists knew that the 101st couldn’t engage in physical contact the mob would still be there knowing they couldn’t get hurt.


This student sample doesn’t demonstrate the kind of thinking that would bring together information from the text (Warriors Don’t Cry) and the other background that was delivered in class in order to make its refutation cogent and coherent.  The 101st had as its mission and directions from the President to protect the Little Rock Nine; the media’s role in magnifying the visibility of the incident didn’t affect what they were deployed to Little Rock to do.  The second example of refutation doesn’t consider, again, that the 101st doesn’t take its directives from the media, but rather from the President.  This student’s refutation unfortunately doesn’t reflect on the levels of information presented in the unit.


The use of analytics requires a time investment, of course, but real growth in student argumentation and argument writing may be more demonstrably and measurably realized through this type of substantive, criteria-referenced feedback than by any other technique or method we have. , research and common professional experience would suggest, be