Tools To Support Engaging In Argument From Evidence

How can you support students as they practice engaging in argument from evidence?

Argumentation – or engaging in argument from evidence – which we’ve been focusing the last several posts on – is a challenging skill that is often misunderstood.  It can take many forms – from classroom talk to elaborate essays.  In addition to providing students the opportunity to engage in argument from evidence, we can also provide supports to help students master this skill.

Argumentation In Writing

For one, you can help students identify elements of argumentation in scientific writing.  Students can highlight claims, pieces of evidence, and the reasoning to support that evidence in scientific texts — current event articles or resources taken from scientific journals can be used for this task.  There are many current events texts adapted to middle and high school reading levels available on the web, but you can also pull abstracts from scientific journals for students who read at higher levels.  Seeing examples can be a powerful way for students to develop their understanding of each component. 

Card sorts are another strategy I love to use with students as they develop their understanding of engaging in argument from evidence and the CER format.  There are a number of variations to this approach, but essentially I provide students with two claims, several pieces of evidence, and several pieces of reasoning that connect the evidence to the claims.  Students are first tasked with sorting the evidence from the reasoning and then matching the reasoning to the evidence and reasoning it supports.  To increase the difficulty of the task, you can add pieces of evidence and reasoning that are not relevant or do not support the claim.  

While these scaffolds are not a substitute for engaging students in developing their own arguments, they can support students understanding of the individual components and how they are connected.  I recommend always trying your activities to the content you are studying, so the claims, evidence, and reasoning you are presenting students in your activities should absolutely support the disciplinary core ideas students are developing at the time. 

Argumentation In Discussion

When it comes to discussions, providing students with sentence stems or starters can encourage better discussion – as students are more likely to truly listen, respond, and add to others’ ideas and offer polite feedback and critiques. 

Additionally, while the skills relevant to engaging in argument (forming claims, evaluating evidence, providing and receiving feedback) may be happening throughout a learning experience, keeping it all together can be a challenge — both for students and for teachers.  Documenting the process can help teachers understand the evolution of student ideas AND help students engage in better reflection and analysis.

Briefly, the process begins by students investigating a question and documenting their observations. These observations will become their data and evidence.  During the observation process, students will naturally make connections to prior knowledge to create basic, informal claims — “I think it’s a” “I think it did this because” 

In the second phase, students identify several claims (or are provided by the teacher with several possible claims) and identify which evidence supports each.  This lends itself not only to identifying what claims are best supported but also what evidence could be considered “strong” – versus weak or even disconfirming.

In the third phase, students choose their claim and discuss how the combination of strong, weak, and disconfirming evidence supports their idea.  Resources are structured to encourage students to go beyond simply listing the evidence but rather including that evaluation component in their reasoning. 

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