Theses Doctoral

Making Use of the Dual Functions of Evidence in Adolescents' Argumentation

Khait, Valerie

Changing demands of the workplace require that schools teach students to think critically. The new Common Core State Standards stress that to prepare for college and careers, students must be capable of engaging in skilled evidence-based argumentation, which entails use of evidence to support one's own claims and to weaken arguments of the opposing position. In Study 1, middle-school students who had participated in a one or two-year curriculum designed to develop argumentation skills were recruited. Previous use of the curriculum had shown it effective in developing students' skills in supporting arguments with evidence.
However, they displayed only limited use of evidence to address and weaken opponents' arguments, a finding replicated in the present study. A prompt was therefore instituted, explicitly instructing them to undertake this goal in a post-intervention essay assessment. This simple instruction enhanced middle school students' use of evidence-based arguments to weaken an opposing claim, indicating that the skill to do so was within their competence but they possibly were insufficiently aware of its relevance to use it without prompting.
Study 2 was undertaken to determine whether a novice group of middle schoolers similarly needed only a prompt to display this skill critical to argumentive reasoning. They were provided with only minimal experience in discourse with peers on the same social issue used in Study 1 (whether cigarette sales should be banned), following which they were asked to write individual argumentive essays, first without any prompt and then with the prompt instructing them to attempt to weaken an opponent's position. In this group, essays following the prompt showed no greater use of arguments to weaken, compared to essays with no such instruction. Nor was there an effect of whether students' prior dialogs had been with agreeing or disagreeing peers. These results indicate that the weaknesses of Study 2 participants, in understanding the objectives of argumentation and in executing the strategies to achieve these objectives, were more fundamental and not ones remediable by a simple prompt. Overall, the results of both studies thus point to the need for extended engagement and guided practice in order for students to master the skills of argument.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Developmental Psychology
Thesis Advisors
Kuhn, Deanna
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014