High School English Language Arts Teachers' Argumentative Epistemologies for Teaching Writing

By Newell, George E.; VanDerHeide, Jennifer et al. | Research in the Teaching of English, November 2014 | Go to article overview

High School English Language Arts Teachers' Argumentative Epistemologies for Teaching Writing


Newell, George E., VanDerHeide, Jennifer, Olsen, Allison Wynhoff, Research in the Teaching of English


School districts have launched professional development programs and curricular reforms for teaching and learning argumentative writing following the recent development of the Common Core State Standards' (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) emphasis on argumentation across all grade levels and subject areas. For instance, a Google search using"professional development materials on argumentative writing"yields more than 1 million hits. However, literacy scholars and teachers also recognize the need for broader scholarly initiatives in the teaching and learning of complex uses of literacy such as argumentative writing (Applebee & Langer, 2013; Newell, Beach, Smith, & VanDerHeide, 2011). Research is needed to examine, understand, and shape writing instruction in secondary schooling, especially given the current accountability context and demands for the teaching of analysis and argumentation. Yet there continues to be a dearth of writing research at the secondary level, with much less research on argumentative writing instruction (Juzwik, Curcic, Wölbers, Moxley, Dimling, & Shankland, 2006).

To date, the dominant model for the study of teaching and learning of argu- mentative writing (Hillocks, 1986; Hillocks, 2011) has centered on the question, How can students be taught to effectively engage in argumentative writing? Recent studies of writing instruction in the United States (Applebee & Langer, 2013) sug- gest that the response to this question from both the Common Core State Standards (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) and many English language arts (ELA) teachers has been limited to concerns about particular components of argument (claim, evidence, and warrant) orto oversimplifying the challenges by giving students preset forms with each paragraph prescribed in advance. Without diminishing the need for teaching a written genre or learning specific tactics and strategies, we envision a broader notion of teaching argumentative writing that accounts for the complexities of the teaching and learning of argumentative writing within classroom contexts. For example, research on the teaching of argumentative writing in high school ELA classrooms (VanDerHeide & Newell, 2013) and college writing classrooms (Lunsford, 2002) reveals teachers and students struggling with the complexities of argumentation, including how to balance concerns for issues of form with the development of compelling content for audiences in a range of contexts.

Not only is the teaching of argumentative writing a complex process, but even the definition of what counts as writing has been contested. Behizadeh and Engelhard (2011) argued that in the past century, writing theory has contributed three different answers to the question, What is writing? They characterized the three different answers as (1) form, (2) ideas and content, and (3) a socially and culturally contextualized process. This is not to say that writing is ever just one of these but that writing theory over time has privileged either "(1) form, including mechanics, grammar, and isolated skills; (2) idea and content, including creative solutions, applied skills to authentic situations, and poetic, new or thought- provoking content; or (3) the sociocultural context of writing, the social and cultural settings in which writing occurs" (Behizadeh & Engelhard, 2011, p. 193). Nystrand, Greene, and Weimelt (1993) also divided the history of composition studies into three similar movements across time: formalism-a focus on form; constructivism-a focus on idea formation and the cognitive processes involved; and social constructionism and dialogism-a focus on the social context and meaning-making among writers and their readers.

In our study of 31 ELA teachers, we found that teachers' enacted instruction reflected these three traditions. …

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