Approaches_Cognitive Constructivism_Arguing to Learn

Arguing to Learn

A scenario

Figure 1. Source.

Stephanie has just graduated from University, and has been recruited as a teacher in Liberal Studies. Apart from having a keen interest in social issues, she was a member of the debate society at University. As sometimes experienced by teachers, Stephanie found that a number of issues are quite controversial with no absolute right or wrong and those depend on one’s perception/views.

She just made good use of her acquired debating skills to carry out lessons in Liberal Studies, and asks her student to consider a social issue from different angles. Her class is divided into two sides, either supportive or against an open end issue, and they are asked to find information, discuss among themselves, interact with the teacher, and present their views in front of the whole class.

The lessons are lively, with students participating, and they enjoy the class much. While Stephanie felt glad that students are more active than before, she also observed that students are overly concerned with winning or losing in the debate. The vocal students are also dominating much in the class discussion. Over time, the students gradually learn to put forth their views and critique others’ point of views. Stephanie also noticed that students tend to form a certain point of view and then gather evidence to support their position, rather than opening up to listen to others and to change their positions as necessary. Arguing is good but are they learning?



Instead of primarily attempting to convince others, Arguing to Learn helps learners to

  • think critically

  • articulate their own views

  • engage in cooperative explorations of multiple perspectives

  • negotiate their own thoughts and the views of others

  • co-constructed and expand students’ understanding of specific concepts or problems

Thus, the production of high-quality argumentation involves elaboration, reasoning, reflection and social interaction carried out among two or more individuals to:

  • promote deeper understanding about the topic or issue being argued

  • foster cognitive elaboration and self-explanations

  • contribute to the individual knowledge acquisition

  • develop social awareness and collaborative ability

Basic Assumptions and Principles

Baker (2004) identified four learning mechanisms that are potentially associated with effective arguing to learn

  • Making knowledge explicit: Argumentation provides many opportunities for explanation, and preparing a justification or argumentative defense fosters reflection that often leads to deeper learning.

  • Conceptual change: Debating a question may raise doubt about initial misconceptions and the consequent conceptual transformation.

  • Co-elaboration of new knowledge: In argumentation, learners work together to develop new knowledge. The interactive interpersonal nature of verbal interaction helps to scaffold individual learning.

  • Increasing articulation: Argumentation obliges learners to precisely formulate question and statements, and articulation transforms and deepens during the argumentation.

Classroom Implication and Teaching Strategies

The instructional challenge is to trigger productive and well-elaborated argumentation among students, who cannot simply be told to argue to learn.

Instructors have to create appropriate learning contexts in a kind of design experiment, design complex task sequences, and incorporate many argumentative activities over an extended period.

Technology, especially computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL), has the potential to support productive argumentation by

  • scaffolding argumentation with dialogue games

  • scaffolding argumentation by assigning roles

  • scaffolding negotiation in computer supported collaborative writing

  • scaffolding arguments with argument maps

  • scaffolding scientific argumentation



The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences ?Chapters?

Andriessen, J.  (2006). Arguing to learn. In R. K. Sawyer (ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 443-460), Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Pre

?NAPLeS Webinar Series by Baruch Schwarz: Argumentation and learning in CSCL



Presentation Slides: Argumentation and Learning



Required Reading

Schwarz, B. B. (2009). Argumentation and Learning. In Muller-Mirza and A.-N. Perret-Clermont (Eds.), Argumentation and Education – Theoretical Foundations and Practices (pp. 91-126). Springer Verlag.




Asterhan, C. S. C. & Schwarz, B. B. (2009). Argumentation and explanation in conceptual change: Indications from protocol analyses of peer-to-peer dialogue. Cognitive Science, 33, 374-400.




Chinn, C. & Osborne, J. (2011). Supporting Argumentation Through Students’ Questions: Case Studies in Science Classrooms. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 19, 230–284.




DeVries, E., Lund, K., & Baker, M. (2002). Computer-mediated epistemic dialogue: Explanation and argumentation as vehicles for understanding scientific notions. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 11, 63–103.




Nussbaum, E. M. (2008). Collaborative discourse, argumentation, and learning: Preface and literature review. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 33(3), 345-359.




Schwarz, B. B., Neuman, Y. & Biezuner, S. (2000). Two “wrongs” may make a right…If they argue together! Cognition and Instruction, 18(4), 461-494.




Stegmann, K., Weinberger, A., & Fischer, F. (2007). Facilitating argumentative knowledge construction with computer-supported collaboration scripts. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 2(4), 421-447.




Andriessen, J., Baker, M., & Suthers, D. (2003). Arguing to learn: Confronting cognitions in computer-supported collaborative learning environments. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Jonassen, D. H., & Kim, B. (2010). Arguing to learn and learning to argue: Design justifications and guidelines. Educational Technology Research and Development58(4), 439-457.

Von Aufschnaiter, C., Erduran, S., Osborne, J., & Simon, S. (2008). Arguing to learn and learning to argue: Case studies of how students’ argumentation relates to their scientific knowledge. Journal of Research in Science Teaching,45(1), 101-131.



Baker, M. (2003). Computer-mediated argumentative interactions for the co-elaboration of scientific notions. In J. Andriessen, M. Baker & D. Suthers (Eds.), Arguing to learn: confronting cognitons in computer-supported collaborative learning environments (Vol. 1, pp. 1-25). Dordrecht: Kluwer.