Use of Toulmin's Argumentation Scheme for Student Discourse to Gain Insight about Guided Inquiry Activities in College Chemistry

Article excerpt

The use of inquiry-based activities in college chemistry, physics, and biology has been shown to enhance student outcomes, such as increased achievement, knowledge gains, and understanding of scientific concepts (Bryant, 2006; Ingram, Lehman, Love, & Polacek, 2004). Although the definition of inquiry may be debated (Fay, Grove, Towns, & Bretz, 2007), there is general agreement that inquiry-based approaches help students develop the scientific thinking and process skills that they need to understand the nature of science and to act like scientists (Handelsman et al., 2004; Kuhn & Dean, 2005). Argumentation is one of those necessary skills, and research has shown that inquiry-based instruction promotes argumentation (Wilson, Taylor, Kowalski, & Carlson, 2010).

Educational researchers have also emphasized the importance of group learning. Group learning allows student interactions, feedback, and sharing of ideas that help reformulate concepts and construct new knowledge (Slavin, 1990). Recent studies have shown that allowing students to engage in group argumentation promotes students' scientific reasoning (Osborne, 2010), as well as students' understanding of science concepts (Jimenez-Aleixandre, Bugallo Rodriguez, & Duschl, 2000; Mason, 1996; Zohar & Nemet, 2002). In addition, other studies (Linden & Wittrock, 1981; Nussbaum, 2008) have suggested that verbal elaboration during group argumentation is a key element in developing content knowledge.

This study explored student discourse in a small group learning setting to gain insight about the relationship of various features of general chemistry guided-inquiry activities (ChemActivities) to the production and sophistication of arguments produced by student groups. These published materials (Moog & Farrell, 2008) are influenced by the Learning Cycle and are designed for use in groups. The Learning Cycle, described in more detail in the next section, is a pedagogic strategy derived from constructivism (Bodner, 1986) and developmental theory (Piaget, 1970) and is aligned with the way most students learn effectively (Abraham, 2005; Lawson, 1995). Although previous studies have shown that the Learning Cycle approach leads to higher science achievement, improved retention, and better reasoning abilities (Lawson, Abraham, & Renner, 1989; McComas, 1992), they have not explicitly explored how to create Learning Cycle experiences that are particularly effective in prompting student argumentation. The purpose of our study was to explore the relationship of the structure of the ChemActivities to the production of argumentation by general chemistry students.

Toulmin's Argumentation Scheme

Toulmin's (1958) Argumentation Scheme forms the initial analytic framework for this work. This scheme has been widely used by science educators to define and examine arguments. It has been helpful in understanding argumentation in a broad spectrum of subjects including mathematics (Stephan & Rasmussen, 2002; Weber, Maher, Powell, & Lee, 2008), science (Cole et al., 2012; Jimenez-Aleixandre et al., 2000; Sampson & Clark, 2009; Zohar & Nemet, 2002), and English (Mitchell, 1996). In Toulmin's model (Figure 1), there are several specific components of an argument. The claim is the conclusion at which one arrives after considering the data. The data consist of evidence, information, facts, or procedures that lead to the claim. The warrant explains how the data or evidence leads to the claim. These three components (claim, data, and warrant) are essential and constitute the core of the argument. In this study, arguments containing only this core were labeled basic arguments. Stronger arguments that were labeled higher level arguments contain a backing or a rebuttal. A backing explains why the warrant has authority and provides further validity for the argument. A rebuttal is a counter claim or a refutation of one or more components of the argument. …