When asked what to do when they and a peer had a disagreement over a project, 6th graders replied:
28% Defer to another
SOURCE: Deanna Kuhn
Researchers Try to Promote Students' Ability to Argue
A little-developed skill gets fresh recognition as essential for school, life
By Debra Viadero
In a back-to-school commentary published this month in The New York Times, Gerald Graff, the well-known University of Chicago scholar, offered some advice to college students. “Recognize that knowing a lot of stuff won’t do you much good,” he wrote, “unless you can do something with what you know by turning it into an argument.”
Indeed, researchers say, the ability to argue is getting fresh recognition as a skill that is vital to success in college and the workplace.
That students need to learn how to argue may come as a surprise to parents of strong-willed children. More than ever, administrators and educational technology leaders need reliable information and resources to guide the technology decision making process. But logical arguments differ from the kinds of emotional arguments families experience, experts say, and most students possess only weak knowledge of how to recognize, understand, and construct one.
A small spate of studies—13 financed since 2002 by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, or IES—is beginning to offer some clues, though, on how students’ argumentation skills can be improved in the right kind of educational setting.
“The good news is that a little bit of instruction seems to help,” said M. Anne Britt, an associate professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University, in DeKalb. “It’s not like the problem is so bad that you need drastic measures.”
While educators have espoused the virtues of skilled argumentation at least as far back as Socrates, schools typically don’t spend a lot of time teaching students how to make a reasoned case for or against a particular position.