Templates can help students master the format, linguistic constructs, and conceptual structure of the more difficult aspects of argument writing. Refutation of counter-arguments certainly falls into the “difficult aspects” category. Through practice with the scaffolding device of the writing template, students can assimilate the formal aspects of written refutation so that they can cultivate the even more higher-order quality of thinking hard about why it is that the best counter-arguments against their position aren’t reasons to abandon their original position, even if they necessitate some concession and adjustment.
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.