Academic journal article Science and Children

Developing Persuasive Voices in the Science Classroom: Argument Can Extend and Support Science Explanations

Academic journal article Science and Children

Developing Persuasive Voices in the Science Classroom: Argument Can Extend and Support Science Explanations

Article excerpt

As teachers, we know that real learning does not take place in an environment in which students are "seen but not heard." When we give our students a chance to express their ideas aloud, we give them the opportunity to make their ideas concrete through that expression. An idea that is unexpressed is a lost thought that cannot be commented on, considered, or negotiated. The act of articulating thought helps students better understand the information they are trying to assimilate. Informal discussions give students a venue to try out their ideas and listen to what other students are thinking and, based on what they heard, change and expand their own ideas or understandings.

A spontaneous exchange of ideas also enables students to practice using evidence to present and defend their points of view and helps them to learn to work collaboratively--an important skill for students to develop regardless of what is being taught. We discover and sharpen our own ideas by talking about them and seeing how other people react, a crucial element of learning that Harlen (2000) calls "negotiated meaning."

This article examines the role of argument in the science classroom and how it can be used to help students develop science process skills (e.g., using evidence to defend a point of view) and literacy process skills (e.g., using language precisely to express a particular point of view and extending these understandings through the use of notebooks). The classroom application shared here describes an inquiry experience with fourth- through sixth-grade students, but the concept of using evidence and language to defend a point of view is an idea that can be adapted to any elementary grade level.


Kinds of Speech

When we think about the role of science in our students' lives, we know that science will play an increasingly central role in their lives, now and after they leave school. As citizens, our students will be called on to make evidence-based judgments and express their views. Language is the framework within which tomorrow's science-based public issues will be structured and decided as various factions use language artfully to persuade others to their points of view. For this reason, we need to be sure that argumentation is a part of the dynamic elementary science classroom. By teaching students how to defend their points of view, this reinforces in our students the idea that science is happening now and can change based on evidence.

To look at how this could work practically in your classroom, it is important to consider the two general categories of speaking that students can use in the classroom. The first category of speaking is exploratory speech, which includes the spontaneous exchanges that take place among your students in work groups and between your students and you, their teacher. Students can use exploratory speech to experiment with ideas as they focus their thinking.

The second category of speaking is presentational speech, which students use to share their ideas with others in a more prepared and formal way. Presentational speech requires a more structured set of rules to be able to do effectively. For example, when students try to persuade one another of their point of view, they are using a form of presentational speech and need to understand how effective arguments are developed. Persuasive speech can be used to construct arguments in favor of one side of an issue as opposed to another.

Good Arguments

Below are some guidelines to use with students to help them learn how to develop and present good arguments to persuade others of their point of view. These guidelines have been paraphrased in a student-friendly format from The New Science Literacy: Using Language Skills to Help Students Learn Science (Thier and Daviss 2002). See Figure 1 for the original guidelines as they were presented before paraphrasing.

Persuasive Strategies Guidelines for Students

When I want to convince my classmates of my point of view, I:

1. …

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