A significant portion of all of the argumentation done in K-12 education today is rooted in the Toulmin model of argument. Every time you see claim – evidence – reasoning in the curriculum, in any of its multifarious guises, you are in the presence of a descendant of Toulmin. Few curriculum writers or teachers – and even fewer students – have a grounding in Toulmin’s argumentative theory. Because Argument-Centered Education draws on his thinking in our argument-centered resources and pedagogy we believe that it is important to dig a little deeper here.
This is Part 2 of my introduction of the Observation of Argument-Centered Instructional Capacity Inventory, an instrument that helps teachers and administrators know what proficient and masterful incorporation of argumentation and critical thinking throughout curriculum, instruction, and classroom culture specifically looks and sounds like. This allow teachers to take stock of what they are doing well already, and where they want to grow as professionals. And it enables administrators to monitor and support the process of professional capacity building, toward a school that provides authentic college preparation for every student.
Part 1 of this introduction can be found here. Part 2 will pick up with a close examination of the eight items in each of the domains after Curriculum – namely, Instruction and Culture. Then we will discuss the utility of the Form used to tabulate and collect ratings and comments, which formalizes the inventory (whether it is self-performed or not) of current professional capacities.
One of the more under-acknowledged factors in improving student college readiness is the difficulty students have with the language of argument. The language of argument has a very wide Venn Diagram overlap with the academic discourse, the set of terms and rhetorical constructs privileged by standardized testing (like the NWEA, NAEP, SAT, PARCC, etc.), in college classrooms, and (it is generally believed) in the professional workplace. One of the paramount objectives of all college-readiness programs, and of all college prep schools, should be to equip all of their students with a deep understanding of and control over the language of argument.
Last month the science department chair at one of our partner schools — Daniel Hale Williams College Prep — worked with us to argumentalize her excellent and engaging poster project on endangered animals in her environmental science course. The result upgraded the project by integrating more critical thinking, social learning, and intentionality about bringing evidence together with thoughtful claims about the species’ possible extinction that students study and work on.
This is an argument-centered adaptation and iteration of the small group discussions strategy, designed for a middle school English language arts unit on the award-winning young adult novel “The Goats,” written by Brock Cole in 1987.
Our students can often best make meaning from an extended text through discussions with their peers. Through the social engagement of these discussions, middle and high school students can clarify, organize, and deepen their thinking about a literary work, and become closer in their relationship to the text and to the act of reading, analyzing, and interpreting literature.
Argumentalizing these small-group discussions can enhance their academic impact, and at the same time give students a more vigorous cognitive and communicative experience using this fundamental classroom routine. We can argumentalize small-group discussions in several familiar ways.