We frequently discuss the inter-connectedness of argumentation skills and content learning and knowledge. To think critically, and to enter an argument-based dialogue, about an issue or controversy, we have to have a baseline of content knowledge. Students are unable to generate much in the way of counter-arguments, for instance, when they are unfamiliar with the terms, context, and specific elements of an issue. Likewise, if content knowledge is taught outside of an argument framework it can be quickly forgotten, lacking purpose and relevance for students. It is also limited to the surface unless students think critically and apply higher-order thinking to this subject-area content.
Refutation is probably the most under-appreciated, under-taught, and the most essential and irreducible of all of the components of academic argument. To Argument-Centered Education, refutation should be broadly conceived, but very rarely omitted from argument-centered instruction, or held off till later.
Defined capaciously, refutation is anything a writer/speaker does when they differentiate their own view from that of another view. In effect, when someone is agreeing with a difference, or partially agreeing, or partially critiquing, or anything else they do other than 100% complete agreement, we understand this as “refutation.” Writers or speakers are asking that their view substitute for the other person’s view — even if their view is the other person’s view plus or minus some small correction, etc.
We’re working with a partner school right now that wants to do argument-based final assessments in their Civil War unit in their History/Humanities curriculum. The students are very capable but they’re in a relatively early stage in their study and use of academic argumentation. So we put together two argument-templated final assessments, which are now being given to students in various ways: some students are taking both assessments, some students are taking one, and some the other.
By Patti Minegishi Delacruz
Those who have taught each grade level of high school will argue for a favorite – and perhaps least favorite – age group to teach. Five years ago, I would have claimed that sophomores are the most challenging group; this age group is arguably at one of the most difficult developmental junctures of their lives. However, this also makes them the most fearless and formative creators of arguments.
Over the years, I have observed how our “Joining the Conversation” unit is the most empowering unit of study for my sophomores in intermediate English, a course that serves a wide and unique range of skill-levels and social identities. This unit focuses on engaging students in argumentative thinking through accessing burgeoning opinions on timely issues, listening carefully to real voices speak on real problems, and developing own argumentative voices through verbal discussions and written products for an audience.
Working with one of its middle school partners, Argument-Centered Education recently supported but largely observed an English language arts class building arguments from a single source, on the debatable issue of what U.S. policy should be on undocumented residents. The debatable issue was specifically formulated:
Should the United States offer a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented residents currently living in the U.S.?
This argument writing activity was designed to be brief, its full duration only a few days, so after a short video clip introducing the issue, followed by a think-pair-share discussion emphasizing the factual backdrop and issue-specific vocabulary, students read a single article, from the New York Times Upfront Magazine, from which they were expected to derive most of their evidence, and a good portion of their ideas.