Disciplinary Literacy-Part 2: Argumentative Literacy

For part 2 of this series (see part 1 here), I’m focusing on “Argumentative Literacies” in any educational discipline. Take this video on “Repet” below:

At Re-Pet, we can also change the color of your pet to match the decor of your house.

I showed this video to my class as a follow up to an article we read on how Japanese scientists have used selective breeding to create a flightless species of ladybug in order to minimize pesticide use. After summarizing, analyzing and interpreting the article I asked them if if they thought that this was science taken “too far” and perhaps it crosses the line over which humans should tread. After many heated objections, I noted that much of our food is genetically modified to keep up with an exponentially rising population. After showing how genetic alteration could permeate into the lives of an average citizen with “Repet” the students were shocked and led to enthusiastic interest. Most of the students said they wouldn’t clone their pet, but many said that they would a family member if such a tragedy befell them.


Argumentative Literacies Defined

Argumentative literacies are defined as “Enabling students to consider alternate perspectives (Van Amelsvoort, 2006), and make judgements to inform their decision making.” (cf. Graff, 2003, neweell, et al., 2011). Although many teachers may argue that they want students to be critical thinkers, most high school students are not prepared for argumentative culture of the university and beyond. (Graff, 2003) We may invite impromptu discussions of such topics but being a critical thinker is of the utmost importance to being a well-rounded, successful adult.

Good questions should promote discussion, be debatable and contestable


Pedagocial Approaches

  • Have “essential” or “guiding” questions posted on a bulletin board in the classroom – Scaffold from more factual questions to conceptual and debatable questions.
  • Revisit your curriculum – The first two years of teaching my curriculum, I realized that my essential questions were poor and not very interesting. Jay McTighe told me that a good essential question should be like an “itch”. Something that is hard to tear ourselves away from.
  • Skills and Knowledge
    • Provide pros and cons to each argument along with evaluation of such arguments
    • Convince an audience with claims, warrants, supporting evidence, and counterarguments
    • Differentiate or show the relationship between “opinion” and reasons
    • How to critically evaluate others’ arguments including their own
  • Come up with engaging questions – Good debatable questions should have tension, be contested, promote discussion and may be deliberately provocative. My two debatable questions for my first two units this semester are:
    • Has atomic theory been a more beneficial or destructive force for humans?
    • Given that overpopulation is straining earth’s resources, should viruses be eradicated? 
  • Give opportunities for students to write (or orally present) on such questions – The IB does a good job of this and actually mandates this through an extended piece. Writing tasks may be structured around taking a position on an issue, incorporating content knowledge and also writing rebuttals to the various points for and against an issue embedded with content knowledge. 

Criterion A Evaluation Level 5-6
Technology Integration

  • Google Docs – Google Docs are a great way of sharing and collaborating over written tasks. Sharing settings allow for students to  collaborate with one another. My students usually draft on Google docs and then blog their final draft with media to share with a larger audience.
  • Doctopus – Doctopus is one of my favorite tools with Google Docs for a paperless classroom. It allows you to not only share documents with students (For example: a document with a writing prompt) it allows you to embed rubrics into documents and send personalized feedback on assignments. Doctopus can also be set up to share the same document with groups of students for collaborative work and also differentiate mixed ability resources.
  • Google Research – Google’s little known research tool was slipped into Google Docs, Presentations and Drawings just over a year ago. It allows students to link articles with APA or MLA formatting, research scholar, embed and cite creative commons licensed images, and insert quotes too.


Related Posts 
  1. Academic Literacy-Part 1: Disciplinary Literacy
  1. Van Amelsvoort M. (2006) A space for debate. How diagrams support collaborative argumentation-based learning. 
  2. Graff, G. (2003) Clueless in Academe: How schooling obscures the life of the mind. N


 Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Waag Society.

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