Theses Doctoral

How Construction of a Dialog Influences Argumentive Writing and Epistemological Understanding

Zavala, Julia Hope

Argumentive writing is not an easy skill to master. Students from middle school through college demonstrate weaknesses. In particular they fail to take a dialogic perspective, emphasizing their own position without considering addressing alternatives. Research has shown that engaging in dialog with peers is effective in enhancing students’ argumentive thinking and writing. The present study examines whether college students (n=30) show similar benefits when asked to engage individually in a dialogic argumentive writing task. They were asked to construct a dialog between two people holding opposing positions on an issue. Students in a comparison group (n=30) were asked to write an essay on the same issue. Subsequently students in both groups were asked to write a brief TV script conveying their view. Differences in students’ argumentive skills produced in the dialogs and essays were examined. Results showed that the dialog group more frequently included opponent-directed statements (sum of Critical single evaluation, Compare, Integrate other, and Integrate own/other) and integrative statements (sum of Integrate own, Integrate other, and Integrate own/other) in their writing, compared to the essay group. Differences in students’ writing of their TV scripts were also examined. On this assessment, the effect of the dialog largely disappeared, with students in both the essay and dialog groups focusing largely on their own position. Students’ level of epistemological understanding was also examined – that is, whether they regarded knowledge claims as largely facts (absolutist level), opinions (multiplist level), or judgments subject to scrutiny in a framework of alternatives and evidence (evaluativist level). Level of epistemological understanding was assessed immediately after the writing task to determine if constructing a dialog influenced students to take on a more evaluativist perspective in which the need for comparison of multiple perspectives is recognized. Students who had constructed a dialog were more often assessed to be at the multiplist or evaluativist levels of epistemological understanding (and never at the absolutist level), compared to students who had written an essay rather than constructed a dialog. Although the benefit of the dialogic writing task largely did not generalize to the more self-focused TV script writing task, these findings indicate that promoting a dialogic perspective, even without engaging in dialog with an actual person, can be beneficial in supporting argumentive thinking and writing and mature epistemological understanding.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Developmental Psychology
Thesis Advisors
Kuhn, Deanna
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 29, 2016