Fostering the Development of Argumentation Skills

In these projects, we developed a structured argumentation board, Voices of Reason, to facilitate students' development and acquisition of argumentation skills, focusing especially on the issue of effective scaffolding. We empirically study the relationships and interactions between scaffolding features and students' use of these features, and the effectiveness of the environment in assisting students in the development and enhancement of their argumentation skills.

Project 1 title:
Fostering students' argumentation skills through the use of a scaffolded argumentation board
Project ID: LSL 6/05 CYS
Funding: $49,985

Argumentation skills are highly valued in both education and business. They reflect a person’s ability to frame a claim in a coherent and persuasive way, providing supportable reasons for the claim as well as identifying the often implicit warrants (or assumptions) that underlie the claim. As a process, participating in argumentation helps a person to understand his or her own position more clearly in the light of counter claims or rebuttals made by others. Argumentation skills are particularly relevant to science education and to problem solving. In the former, they help students understand science making as a process of evidence-based social construction. In the latter, they help students to consider and evaluate alternative solutions to ill-structured problems in a critical and rigorous manner. The development of argumentation skills helps students to develop their metacognitive and higher-order thinking abilities because argumentation requires individuals to externalize and explicitly reflect on their own thinking.

Past attempts by researchers to foster students’ argumentation skills have met with mixed results. General discussion boards do not provide the structures and process scaffolds to help students acquire the target skill. Research into structured discussion boards is limited and has to date been inconclusive. In this project, we seek to design and develop a  web-based scaffolded argumentation learning environment that will help students to internalize the structure of rigorous argumentation. Using a design-based research approach, we plan to test the use of this board with schoolchildren in the domains of scientific argumentation and problem solving.

Project 2 title:
Developing students' critical thinking skills and critical dispositions through engagement in causal argumentation
Project ID: LSL 10/05 CYS
Funding: $49,529

As schoolchildren go through the institution of school, their epistemological understanding typically evolves through stages that have been referred to as realist, absolutist, multiplist (or relativist), and evaluativist. Unfortunately, many students, especially teenagers, get mired in the multiplist stage where they view knowledge as consisting not of facts but of freely chosen opinions that are not open to challenge (Kuhn, 2005). Consequently, schoolteachers face an uphill task helping their students to imbibe critical thinking dispositions predicated on an understanding that reliable human knowledge is constructed on the basis of considered judgments requiring support in a framework comprising justifications, alternatives, evidence, and argument.

Like their counterparts worldwide, Singapore schoolteachers face the same kind of challenge. With a view to helping our schoolteachers rise to this challenge and assisting them to instill critical thinking dispositions and  independent thinking skills needed in the 21st century, we propose to use a structured argumentation board to help students evolve their epistemological understanding and develop their argumentation skills. We propose to do this in the context of everyday causal reasoning (Kuhn, 1991). In line with the theme of new literacies, we seek that students (i) become aware that all knowledge claims arise through social dialog and construction, (ii) understand that such claims need to be supported by evidence, and (iii) develop a sense of personal identity through engagement in the learning process.

This project will augment the current collaboration with teachers in S7 cluster where the research focus is on argumentation for problem solving.

Screen shot of the structured argumentation board Voices of Reason showing embedded Toulmin Argumentation Pattern and sentence-opener scaffolds:


Hong, K. S., Brudvik, O. C., Chee, Y. S. (2006). The impact of structured discussion on students' attitudes and dispositions toward argumentation. In R. Mizoguchi, P. Dillenbour, & Z. Zhu (Eds.), Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Computers in Education (pp. 133–140). Amsterdam: IOS Press. [pdf]

Brudvik, O. C., Hong, K. S., Chee, Y. S., & Guo, L. (2006). Assessing the impact of a structured argumentation board on the quality of students' argumentative writing skills. In R. Mizoguchi, P. Dillenbour, & Z. Zhu (Eds.), Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Computers in Education (pp. 141–148). Amsterdam: IOS Press. [pdf]


[back to Research page]