The Argument for Argumentation in Science
by Shelly LeDoux, Barbara Taylor & Tracey Ramirez
Given today's technology-driven society and the need for a STEM workforce, educators must take advantage of every opportunity to bridge the gap between current levels of scientific literacy and the nation's aspirations for students. Developing scientific argumentation skills promotes critical thinking and collaboration as students make and defend claims, scrutinize evidence, examine reasoning, and develop the practices and habits of mind seen in the larger scientific community.
The cognitive and social practices of authentic science are rooted in the ability to understand, assess, make, and defend oral and written claims supported by evidence and reasoning. Science experiences can promote these skills by providing students with opportunities to build knowledge through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Critical analysis of reading is a skill that is developed over time, beginning in the early elementary grades as students listen to teachers read about science concepts. Reading in science re¬quires and promotes critical thinking and analysis as students evaluate evidence from observations; synthesize complex information; understand details presented in charts, graphs, and diagrams; and make sense of specialized vocabulary and phrases that are unique to science. Moreover, students should be reading and comprehending scientific texts at appropriate levels of sophistication for their grade.
Close reading strategies promote student engagement with challenging text as they evaluate scientific hypotheses, arguments, and conclusions and determine the validity and sufficiency of evidence and reasoning used to support claims. As students read and re-read scientific text they should be encouraged to highlight and notate important content as they consider the following questions:
- What claim is made by the author/researcher/student? Why is it important or relevant?
- What evidence, reasoning, and scientific principles support the claim?
- When appropriate, what counterclaims, limitations, and qualifiers are identified? How are they addressed or rebutted?
- What vocabulary is new, critical, or unfamiliar? How does it add meaning to the claim?
- What questions do I have?
Younger students can refer to details and examples from text they can or read themselves as they make sense of scientific principles.
Older students should evaluate competing claims using evidence from grade-appropriate scientific text.
It is important to build students' capacity for effective argumentation and explanatory writing in science as they make and defend claims, demonstrate what they know about a phenomenon, or describe events and processes they have observed or about which they have read. In their writing, students must be able to clearly distinguish opinion from claims supported by unbiased scientific evidence. They should have opportunities to engage in collaborative conversations around scientific writing tasks with a focus on specific skills central to writing and defending scientific arguments, reporting findings of investigations, and synthesizing research while attending to the credibility of sources.
The components of a scientific argument include the following:
- Introduction - The claim should be clearly stated along with any additional information readers might need to understand the claim.
- Evidence and Reasoning - Each piece of sup¬porting evidence should be dearly tied to the claim using appropriate scientific principals.
- Rebuttal - Any limitations or qualifiers should be addressed, and counterclaims should be refuted using valid evidence and reasoning.
- Conclusion - All evidence and reasoning should be tied together, and the importance or relevance of the claim should be detailed.
Teaching strategies such as modeling, using graphic organizers, and providing sentence stems can provide valuable support as students learn to write scientific arguments.
Younger students' writing can include drawings to support their thinking, and/or teachers can record student thinking on chart paper during group debriefs and discussions.
Older students can independently or collaboratively produce fully developed written arguments that include data in charts and graphs.
Speaking and Listening
Purposeful, productive talk in science class-rooms is critical to the development of collaboration skills that allow students to share information and assess the complexities of competing arguments and explanations. Speaking and listening are also key to promoting students' ability to ask and refine questions that lead to meaningful scientific investigations. Like writing, speaking and listening in the science classroom requires a skill set that students must learn to use in order to engage in meaningful scientific dis¬course. Questioning strategies for teachers and students can be effective tools to promote discourse in the classroom. The following questions can generate discussion:
- What is the basis of your claim?
- How do you know if your source is reliable?
- Can you explain what you mean when you say?
- What evidence supports your claim that...?
- How would you dispute the counterargument that...?
Productive science talk goes beyond simply listening to the teacher give directions or instructions, reciting answers, delivering monologues, or engaging in simple question-answer exchanges...
Scientific literacy skills are critical to the development and understanding of the natural world. Students are increasingly required to read and comprehend demanding text, write and argue effectively, and use appropriate vocabulary and phrasing with greater independence. College and career-ready students need a robust science education-not rooted in a body of disconnected facts and figures, but in supporting and defending claims, reasoning from evidence, and working collaboratively to solve problems.
Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Implementing the Common Core State Standards: A Primer on Close Reading of Text. The Aspen Institute, 2012.
A Framework for K-12 Science Education, National Research council,2012.
The Common Core: Teaching Argumentative Writing and speaking: Grades 6-12. ASCD.