The Quality of Instructional Materials for Argumentative Knowledge Construction

Article excerpt

Within this paper, instructional materials for supporting argumentative knowledge construction are evaluated. Argumentative knowledge construction concerns the building of knowledge structures based on reasoning processes. Using the qualitative method of global evaluation, five books and five teaching software products were analyzed. As basis for the evaluation, six principles of good instruction were used. Theses principles concern reflective learning, multiple learning support, orientation on strengths, efficient learning, and interest. Results show strong deficits of the analyzed teaching materials in respect to effective learning-related and motivational support. Finally, suggestions for a theory-based and multi-criteria enhancement of cognitive, motivational, and emotional learning-relevant processes are made.

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An "argument" is something that is used as a proof or as an affirmation for a statement. Knowing how to argue or reason is an important aim of education in general for a long time and is prominently anchored within curricula. It presupposes that learners can build knowledge by arguing what is known as "argumentative knowledge construction" (see, for example, Leitao, 2001). Argumentative knowledge construction concerns the process within which learners identify arguments, analyze them, consider external circumstances (e.g., use of language), reason scientifically, and apply logic. Identifying components of arguments concerns issues, premises, conclusions, and reasons for the conclusions. Analyzing arguments means to state implicit, unclear, or missing assumptions. Within all stages of argumentative knowledge construction, external circumstances (influences from values, authorities, or emotional language) have to be considered. Argumentative knowledge construction is also based on scientific-analytical reasoning (e.g., the research for causalities, the evaluation of statistical data and their underlying representativity). Finally, argumentative knowledge construction consists of more or less logical reasoning within which analogies and inductive/deductive reasoning are of main importance (e.g., Toplak & Stanovich, 2002).

There are close connections from the concept of argumentative knowledge construction with the concepts of "critical thinking", "everyday reasoning", "informal logic" or "pragmatic reasoning" (e.g., Galloti, 1989; Shaw, 1996). Argumentative knowledge construction is also related to basic research from cognitive psychology, philosophy, and linguistics, especially with "inductive and deductive reasoning", "causal reasoning", "abductive reasoning", "Baysian reasoning", "adaptive thinking", or "intuitive judging" (e.g., Cheng & Holyoak, 1985; Gigerenzer, 2000).

However, results from applied and basic research have not improved educational programs for promoting argumentative knowledge construction. Argumentative knowledge construction represents only a subject area of little importance within school, and, when implemented, it had no significant effects (see the literature reviews from McMillan, 1987 and Pithers & Soden, 2000).

There are several reasons for this shortcoming: First, it must be stated, that argumentative knowledge construction represents a main component within curricula on a general level, but it is not formulated in detail as practicable prescriptions for teachers. So, teachers do, as a rule, not dispose of guidelines for their daily instruction. Implementing argumentative knowledge construction would be an additional work load for teachers, which they cannot take from reducing other subject areas. Also, teachers are not educated in argumentative knowledge construction. When argumentative knowledge construction takes place within classrooms, then in some form of diffuse discussions within open learning environments (e.g., projects), or as final part within a course without a sufficient amount of time and learning support for students (e. …