12 Oct

The Five Steps to Argumentalizing Instruction

Les Lynn Argument and Literacy, Argument and Math, Argument and Science, Argumentative Writing, Assessment, Professional Capacity Development, The Debatifier

One of the signature features of the services model developed and employed by Argument-Centered Education is its embeddedness. Not only is its teacher coaching embedded within schools and active classrooms, so that teachers get observation-based feedback and targeted modeling support, but its curriculum design and adaptation works from curriculum that its partner schools and teachers are currently working with and to which they are committed. Instead of importing argument-based curriculum from outside, we work to build argumentation from the inside of an individual teacher’s, or department’s, or school’s, or district’s in-place instructional content and methodology.

External curricular components can often feel like diversions from the trajectory of a course. They can be and often are tried a couple times then quietly dropped. They can generate understandable even unspoken resistance from educators who entered the profession in part because they have an intellectual passion for certain fields of learning, things they know, and have dedicated their professional lives to sharing with the next generations. And they can impair the effectiveness of an on-going and embedded professional development strategy because they restrict demonstration of the use of argumentation to an external curriculum.


08 Oct

Why Argument Writing Is Important in Middle School

Les Lynn Argument and Literacy, Argumentative Writing, The Debatifier

By Leslie Skantz-Hodgson and Jamilla Jones

Is argumentative writing important for today’s middle school students to master?

This past summer we were among six educators who thought diving into the argument aspect of teaching academic writing was important enough to gather during the break and share thoughts on a close reading of They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing (W.W. Norton, 3rd edition, 2014) by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein.

In addition to learning together, we also argued and debated together (a lot) about the strategies and beliefs reinforced in the text.

Looking inward and outward

We were a mixed group of teachers of disciplines — science, English language arts, humanities, special education — across the grade levels. Our inquiry work was supported by a grant from the National Writing Project.

Our common goal was to learn how to impress upon our students the value and importance of developing their arguments “not just by looking inward but…by listening carefully to what others are saying and engaging with other views.” (Birkenstein/Graff, p. xxvi)


05 Oct

Book Review: ‘Argue with Me,’ 2nd Edition (Routledge, 2015), by Deanna Kuhn et al

Les Lynn Argument and Literacy, Argumentative Writing, Assessment, Classroom Debating, The Debatifier


Dr. Deanna Kuhn, professor of education and psychology at Columbia University, has been writing about and closely researching the use of argumentation strategies in K-12 education for 20 years. Professor Kuhn’s work has helped blaze a trail for the application of an argument-centered instructional approach throughout the K-12 curriculum. She has the force of a triple-threat: her books present the pedagogical theory for classroom instruction through argument, she (along with her co-authors on Argue with Me) have put together some of the basic building blocks of an argument-based curriculum, and she has conducted highly credible academic research demonstrating the undeniable performance gains that middle school students experience when required to build and make arguments throughout their literacy instruction.

So the new publication of a second edition of her most recent book is an event for professionals in the argument-education field, like us at The Debatifier. We are very pleased to report that Argue with Me: Argument as a Path to Developing Students’ Thinking and Writing (Routledge, 2015) doesn’t disappoint our keen anticipations.

Professor Kuhn begins this work with a reminder of argument’s significance as an intrinsic educational process.

Arguing in fact has been claimed by cognitive scientists to be not just central to human thinking and reasoning but its central objective. Oaksford et al characterize argument as the umbrella under which all reasoning lies: it is ‘the more general human process of which more specific forms of reasoning are a part.’ Possibly, then, the new standards [e.g., Common Core] are getting to the heart of the matter of thinking well.


01 Oct

Generative Blanks: Using ‘They Say/I Say’ Templates in a Writing Center

Les Lynn Argumentative Writing, The Debatifier

by Janel Atlas

Much of the current scholarship published in the Writing Center Journal, Praxis, and College Composition and Communication reveals that minimalist tutoring is still very much the dominant philosophy in writing centers. While I agree that writing center sessions should keep student writers in control of the focus and direction of appointments, I still maintain that offering rhetorical templates and formulas can empower writers rather than stifle them.

Those two sentences do not make for spell-binding prose, but they do indicate clearly the space I’m carving out to share my ideas. The formula I used is based on the ur-formula put forward by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein’s They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing, first published in 2006 and now in its 3rd edition (W.W. Norton, 2015). My opening two lines of this paper employ the ‘they say/I say’ construction Graff and Birkenstein encourage academic writers to use.


28 Sep

First Things First (and Last): Formulating Debatable Issues (Pt. 2)

Les Lynn Professional Capacity Development, The Debatifier

In The Debatifier’s previous post we examined the ways in which debatable issues are like and unlike framing moves and essential questions, and we identified the five key criteria for the effective formulation of debatable issues:

  • Openness
  • Balance
  • Focus
  • Authenticity
  • Intellectual Interest

In this post we will explore how debatable issues organize the structure and influence the full trajectory of a unit in an argument-centered classroom.

Not to pre-empt the inquiry, but the sum of it really is this: all the elements in a unit should be connectable to the debatable issue(s) in argument-centered instruction. A line should be traceable from the debatable issue(s) out to all of the activities, assignments, projects, and assessments in a unit. Debatable issues give units their thematic coherence. They give context for tasks and exercises conducted a unit, and they allow for the gradual building of understanding in a unit to then have full expression in culminating performance task assessments.