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Argumentive Writing as a Collaborative Activity

Albuquerque Matos, Flora

Although converging evidence indicates that argumentive thinking and writing are best promoted by collaboration with others, it is still unclear which instructional approaches exert most benefits. The present study builds on the success of using a dialogic approach to develop argumentation skills in middle school students. The key component of the approach used here is the creation of an adversarial classroom setting in which students engage deeply in dialogic argumentation, which is viewed here as a process involving two or more individuals who hold opposing views. In dialogic argumentation, the focus of students’ attention will tend to center on the discursive goals of strengthening their own positions and weakening the position of the opponents. These goals of discourse ensure that students not only exercise supporting their claims with reasons and evidence but also practice making and responding to critiques, which is said to promote students’ mastery of the argument-counterargument-rebuttal structure. While the literature describes compelling advantages of dialogic approaches, it also reports valid concerns. A main concern is that during dialogic argumentation arguers have diverging goals of advancing their own positions, which may prevent the integration of opposing arguments. In an attempt to explore whether this disadvantage can be minimized, the present study examines whether the addition of a collaborative writing activity, as a form of peer argumentation that draws students’ attention towards a converging goal, to the dialogic curriculum provides students a further degree of support in developing their argumentive writing skills. It is hypothesized that collaborative writing would serve as a bridge between dialogic and individual argumentation by changing the focus of students’ attention from the adversarial to the collaborative dimensions of argumentation. To examine this hypothesis, two classes of sixth grade students participated in a month-long intervention that promoted deep engagement in dialogic argumentation on a series of challenging topics. Groups differed only with respect to participation in collaborative writing. Analysis of individual essays on the final intervention topic indicates that students who participated in collaborative writing showed gains relative to students who didn’t in coordinating evidence with claims, specifically in drawing on evidence to make claims that are inconsistent as well as consistent with their favored positions. On a transfer topic, students in the collaborative writing condition continued to surpass students in the individual writing condition; however, the gains were restricted to drawing on evidence to make claims that are consistent with the students’ favored positions. The results support the claim that the combination of adversarial and collaborative forms of peer argumentation in classroom instruction is a promising path for developing middle school students’ argumentive writing skills. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cognitive Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Kuhn, Deanna
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 1, 2018
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