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Theses Doctoral

Expert Modeling in Argumentive Discourse

Papathomas, Lia Natassa

Educational standards increasingly emphasize argumentation skills as goals fundamental to academic success, but schools largely fail to develop these skills in students, particularly among those in educationally disadvantaged populations. The present study examines development of argument skills among disadvantaged middle schoolers by engaging them in dialogs with a more capable adult over the course of a school year, in the context of a twice-weekly argumentation curriculum. Over four successive topics, participants in the curriculum engaged in six sessions of argumentive dialog per topic. Dialogs were conducted electronically between a pair of peers holding the same position on the topic and successive peer pairs holding the opposing position. Students were randomly assigned to treatment and comparison conditions. For students in the treatment condition, unknown to participants (due to the electronic medium), for half of the dialogs the opposing peer pair was replaced by an educated adult. These alternated with dialogs with peer pairs. Students in the comparison condition participated only in peer dialogs. The adult model arguers sought to concentrate their input on advanced argument strategies, identified as Counter-C (critique) and Counter-U (undermine), to the maximum extent possible. Effects on students were evaluated by their performance in their peer dialogs over the year and in a final dialogic assessment on a new topic in which students argued individually with an opponent (rather than in collaboration with a same-side peer). By the second of four topics, the more advanced argument strategies began to appear in a greater proportions of utterances in the dialogs of students in the treatment condition, compared to those in the comparison condition. The effect of condition increased over successive topics. It also persisted beyond the treatment context to the transfer task. These findings are suggestive of the power of engagement with a more competent other as a means of developing higher-order cognitive skills, as well as less complex social and cognitive competencies, where learning through apprenticeship has already been demonstrated to be a powerful learning mechanism. These findings are of particular significance for the educationally disadvantaged population studied here, who often are afforded inadequate opportunities to develop higher-order cognitive skills. Pedagogical and social implications are discussed.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cognitive Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Kuhn, Deanna
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 13, 2016