I used to begin talking about argumentation with a simple exercise with my secondary education English Language Arts (ELA) students. I would provide a scenario and then ask my students if they got better results when A) they simply told someone what they thought or B) they offered sound reasons why they thought that way.
It took some coaxing, but students admitted that they typically got better results when they could provide evidence as to why something was a good idea worth acting on. Simply saying Because I want to or I don’t know; it’s just what I think didn’t tend to get the results they wanted, but many hadn’t thought too far outside of that when trying to make an impactful argument.
But moving beyond the different approaches that students tried to maneuver their way into getting what they wanted from parents or peers, why study argumentation at all? Earle Abrahamson, the Learning and Teaching Specialist at the University of Hertfordshire, UK, says, “As we witness the evolving learnscape of education, [we] recognise that graduates of the future need skills that enable them to challenge ideas, tackle challenges and defend arguments…”
Enter: Turnitin’s Argumentation with Integrity instructional resource pack, a collection of ready-to-use resources developed by our team of veteran teachers that helps educators to support their students in using evidence effectively to build arguments.
In addition to being based on multi-faceted topics and therefore of high interest to students, argument is a lifelong skill that exists in and out of the classroom. Argument was the third most common genre represented in Feedback Studio submissions in 2021-2022, which illustrates the value of this topic. And, some might conclude that it’s a skill that is lacking in a world full of claims that are supported by misinformation and logical fallacies. Being able to craft a strong argument requires a skill and a mindset that has real world application.
Argumentation plays a role in many job scenarios, for example. While not everyone will become a lawyer presenting arguments in court, many people need to put forth specific arguments regarding jobs to bid on, what to include or exclude from a budget, or which priorities to set for a team on which to work. We are inundated with arguments (and argument’s first cousin, persuasion) in our personal lives as well. Commercials, social media, blogs, and podcasts often have the elements of argument as their foundation.
But at its core, argumentation is less about gaining a like or creating a controversial post and more about thinking critically about topics in order to clarify our thinking and consider others’ points of view. This process, whether oral or in some form of writing, creates productive conversations, rather than creating an oppositional viewpoint.
Moving from creating a strong argument to crafting an argument with integrity isn’t a big reach. But how does a writer create an argument “with integrity?” Certain ways that educators approach argumentation are practically inviolable: begin with an engaging or controversial topic, refine it, develop a claim, research it to determine if evidence supports the claim, provide the requisite explanations, address counterclaims, and voila! The argument is complete. The end? Not at all.
The creation of a strong, effective, and valid argument (pick your modifier!) is dependent upon the writer’s ability to create trust with their reader.
Obviously, avoiding plagiarism and citing sources is essential to this and other genres, but what else is there? As it turns out, there is much more involved in creating and presenting arguments with integrity. Stay tuned for the next blog in this series where I detail tips on how to approach argumentation with integrity in the classroom.