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IES Grant

Title: Extension of an Argument Curriculum to an Academically Disadvantaged Middle-School Population
Center: NCER Year: 2008
Principal Investigator: Kuhn, Deanna Awardee: Columbia University, Teachers College
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $504,034
Goal: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A080421

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to develop and test an intervention intended to support the acquisition of higher order cognitive skills, specifically the generation and critique of arguments. The intervention will provide explicit practice for middle school students in the process of generating arguments and rebuttals, assessing critiques, and responding with counterarguments. These activities are expected to lead to improvements in analytical thinking and writing skills.

Project Activities: In order to develop, refine, and test this argument curriculum, the team will conduct two longitudinal studies in middle school classrooms across three years. Two cohorts of sixth grade students will participate in this two-year intervention. Two classrooms in each year will participate in the intervention, and a third classroom will serve as the comparison classroom. A total of eight topics, two per semester, will be discussed and debated over the two years of intervention. Comparisons across the three classrooms will allow a detailed examination of how participation in the argument curriculum changes how students speak and learn about argument structures. Data collected from prior topics will be used to inform the refinement of the intervention as delivered with future topics over the three year project period. The team will also gather pre- and post-intervention argumentation in order to assess whether participation in the argumentation intervention is related to improved student outcomes.

Products: Products include a fully developed intervention designed to improve the production and analysis of argumentation for middle school students and published reports.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The participating middle school is located in an upper-west-side neighborhood in New York City.

Population: The study participants will include about 180 sixth- and seventh-graders, most of whom are racial minorities (54 percent African-American; 40 percent Hispanic or Latino) from low-socioeconomic status families, almost all of whom are eligible for free- or reduced-cost lunch.

Intervention: The intervention will include scaffolding exercises designed to assist students in decomposing arguments so they can categorize the function of different statements (e.g., furthering one's position, countering the opponent's contention, etc.). Peer-to-peer dialogs will be conducted both face-to-face and via electronic-dialogues in chat-rooms.

Research Design and Methods: During Year 1, the initial cohort of sixth-graders (Cohort 1) will be drawn from three classrooms, where two classrooms will receive the intervention and the third will serve as the business-as-usual control condition (i.e., whole-group discussions). Four topics (two per semester) will be discussed and debated (e.g., home schooling, animal testing, etc.). Comparisons across the three classrooms will allow a detailed examination of how participation in the argument curriculum changes how students speak and learn about argument structures. In Year 2, the same students (Cohort 1, now in seventh grade) will repeat the intervention (or control condition) but with a different set of four topics (e.g., permissibility of the sale of bodily organs); a new set of sixth-graders (Cohort 2) will receive the intervention with the original set of topics, or serve as the control group. Finally, in Year 3, Cohort 2 (now in seventh grade) will repeat the intervention but with the second set of topics.

Control Condition: Students in classrooms assigned to the control condition will receive standard classroom practices in place at the school, namely, the regular English language arts and social studies curriculum, both of which involve expository writing of essays in support of claims.

Key Measures: Performance measures related to dialogic arguments will include the use of counter argument strategies, the "depth" of counter arguments (i.e., how many utterances used to substantiate a counter arguments), the proportion of own utterances devoted to simple explication of one's own position, and utterances not functionally connected to opponent's preceding utterance. Additionally, students will write an essay post-intervention to examine whether skills gained during the intervention transfer to an academically relevant skill of expository writing.

Data Analytic Strategy: During Year 1 of the intervention, researchers will examine students in the treatment condition by employing a functional analysis of utterances made in argument exercises, using an experimenter-developed coding scheme to determine the purpose (i.e., category) of each utterance. Additionally, they will use a microgenetic analysis to examine change in the argument strategies over time. Comparisons will be made pre- and post-intervention of the first topic, thereby allowing for an assessment of the intervention's impact. Comparisons between the treatment and control group will be conducted using analysis of variance.

Publications from this project:

Crowell, A., and Kuhn, D. (In Press). Developing Dialogic Argumentation Skills: A Three-Year Intervention Study. Journal Of Cognition and Development.

Goldstein, M., Crowell, A., and Kuhn, D. (2009). What Constitutes Skilled Argumentation and How Does It Develop? Informal Logic, 29:379–395.

Kuhn, D., and Crowell, A. (2011). Dialogic Argumentation As A Vehicle For Developing Young Adolescents' Thinking. Psychological Science, 22: 545–552.