Academic journal article Science and Children

Engaging in Argumentation: Strategies for Early Elementary and English Language Learners

Academic journal article Science and Children

Engaging in Argumentation: Strategies for Early Elementary and English Language Learners

Article excerpt

Evaluating and using evidence in scientific argumentation is emphasized as one of the key science and engineering practices defined in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), aiming to guide teachers and students away from rote memorization of facts toward achieving a deeper understanding of core ideas in science (NGSS Lead States 2013). A Framework for K-12 Science Education states: "There is ample opportunity to develop scientific thinking, argumentation, and reasoning in the context of familiar phenomena in grades K-2" (NRC 2012, p. 34).

However, both early elementary students and young English Language Learners (ELLs) face challenges related to language acquisition and use. They are capable of engaging in the higher-order thinking skills required to understand distinct scientific processes yet need specific adaptations and accommodations in order to make learning accessible. In science, academic English is emphasized over conversational, which can be difficult for students who have only a basic understanding of the English language. This may affect a student's ability to engage meaningfully with argumentation requiring reading, writing, or speaking (Ardasheva, Norton-Meier, and Hand 2015). To overcome these difficulties, multiple means of expression should be emphasized so that all students can demonstrate understanding.

This article seeks to provide educators with strategies and activities that can be integrated within the 5E model (Bybee 1997) and demonstrate how argumentation can be assimilated into elementary classrooms to teach science concepts. In this lesson exemplar, 25 students in a first-grade English Language Development classroom (all of whom were ELLs) were learning about animals and natural habitats. The focus of this lesson was to use scientific argumentation skills to make claims about the relationship between the characteristics of environments and the animals that live there. Table 1, p. 55, shows the overview of the lesson. Because this class contained quite a few students in gifted education, a second-grade standard was chosen to facilitate differentiation and meet the needs of more advanced learners (see Connecting to the Standards, p. 59).

Argument Framework

Using the process of scientific argumentation requires understanding the framework of a scientific argument. A sound scientific argument develops from the foundation, a big idea--an overarching theme or subject of the lesson. The big idea guides students toward a question that the succeeding argument seeks to answer. From here, students create an argument, consisting of claim and evidence. A claim is a student's statement of understanding a particular experience, investigation, or inquiry. A claim can also be understood to explain the question derived from the big idea. To support a claim, students must present strong evidence, which consists of the data and reasoning compiled throughout the inquiry process. Evidence can include results of an investigation, observations made throughout the lesson, or research conducted by others in the scientific community. Not all data can be used for evidence, but evidence needs data, and for data to be used as evidence, it must be supported with reasoning. The big idea, question, claim, and evidence are all components of a complete scientific argument, as described in Figure 1. The argument framework can be connected to and integrated into the 5E model, and the progression of the argumentation framework within a 5E model is described in Figure 2.

Engage With a Big Idea (30 minutes)

The purpose of the Engage phase is to generate student interest and motivation to learn by connecting new concepts to students' background knowledge and prior experiences. In this phase, students are introduced to the big idea of the lesson, assess their prior knowledge and misconceptions, and define concept-specific vocabulary. The big idea is to understand the relationship between the characteristics of environments and the animals that live there. …

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