Assessing Oral Scientific Argumentation

May 19, 2017

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The skill of scientific argumentation is a critically important part of science learning. But how can teachers assess their students’ progress in developing this vital skill? Researchers at the Lawrence Hall of Science, in collaboration with Arizona State University, are developing an assessment tool to support middle school teachers in their implementation of oral argumentation in the classroom.

Diagnosing the Argumentation Levels of Groups (DiALoG) is a tablet application for middle school science teachers. The app allows teachers to use sliders to record the quality of oral argumentation in their classroom in real time, with several dimensions related to the elements of effective argumentation.

“If you really want to work with your kids on argumentation, then the tool allows you to be really specific and to really target the attributes that kids need to be able to bring to an oral argumentation activity,” says Megan Goss of the Hall’s Learning Design Group (LDG).

DiALoG splits the elements of effective oral argumentation into two groups. The first group, Intrapersonal Arguments, relates to the quality of an individual student’s contribution to a discussion. The dimensions of Intrapersonal Arguments are claim, evidence, and reasoning. The second group, Interpersonal Argumentation, refers to the dialogical process of scientific argumentation. These elements include listening carefully to other students, critiquing their arguments and claims, and collaborating to construct arguments.

Using the DiALoG app, teachers rate their classroom in each of these dimensions on a scale from zero to two. They can then use this information to discern areas that need improvement. Several responsive mini-lessons (RMLs) were developed in conjunction with DiALoG to address each of the elements of argumentation laid out in the app. With the data gleaned from the application, teachers are able to choose the mini-lesson or lessons that best correspond to their students’ needs.

“Right now we are working with a small group of teachers to pilot and help us refine this tool for wider classroom use,” says Eric Greenwald, Director of Assessment and Analytics in LDG. DiALoG is only the first year of a four-year project timeline. The next phase involves conducting a clinical trial to measure the impact of the tool’s use on teachers’ content knowledge and teaching methods. Hall researchers hope this tool will become widely available.

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