The use of argument mapping for argumentative essay writing

They use of concept mapping software
for argument building in the language
classroom: How does it affect students'
argumentative essay writing?
Chrystalla Lymbouridou
ICT Advisor , Cyprus
The president of Zambia rejected the help from the
world food organization because it mainly includes
GM corn from the USA.
“My country is under starvation. However, I can not
give my people poison…”
What would you do if you were
in his place?
Socioscientific controversial issues
Should we eat GMF?
 Is the use of mobile phones harmful?
 Should embryonic Stem Cell Research and
Transplants be Permitted?
 Controversial issues:
May have a basis in science
The science cannot settle this subjects alone
Several groups of the society hold several
views about the solution of such problems
based on different value systems and
Why teach argumentation in Language
“We must recognise that teaching about
citizenship necessarily involves discussing
controversial issues. After all, open and
informed debate is vital for a healthy
democracy. This is not confined to citizenship
however: controversial issues arise in other
areas like History, Geography, Science,
English, Personal, Social and Health Education
(PSHE) or Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural
development (SMSC)”.
Crick Report,p.10
Why is it important?
In training the students to deal with expert statements and the evaluation
of facts and knowledge claims, we aim at empowering the students as
Through such debates the students might learn to appreciate consensual
science as more authoritative than disputed knowledge.
From a societal point of view it is important that decision-making is
thoughtful (Aikenhead 1985). This means that decisions should be both
knowledge-based and value-based. For a decision to be denoted as
thoughtful the decision-making process should also include listening to the
views of antagonists. Kostloe, 2000,p.651
Questions to ask about GMF
By what means do they help the agriculture and the production of
more foods in order to feed the planet?-information
Are they dangerous for the human health?- information , science
in the making
How can we know about it?
What if something will be discovered some years later? What is
the risk? – risk assessment
Are they harmful to the environment?
If we find out that they do not affect our health but do affect
biodiversity what is our priorities? – sustainable development –
ethics and values
Can a president decide about his people when it comes about
their own lives? – ethics and values
We they give GMF that are rejected from Europe as a help to such
countries? – value systems – interests
Students’ ability to create arguments
Prior beliefs seriously influence the way that students
response to data. When presented with contradictory
evidence students usually distort the evidence to adjust to
their prior beliefs without being aware of doing so. (Sodian
et al , 1991, p.759, Shepardson 1999, p.91, Bell 1995,
Apart from distorting the evidence, students are found to
ignore data that they ought to consider when evaluating
claims or assimilate such data in ways that do not damage
their current theories(Sandoval 2001, p.1, Chinn and
Brewer, 1998, Klahr et al, 1990; Kuhn et al., 1998).
Students usually use only positive positions in order to
support a claim and very rare use counterarguments or
present different points of view on the same issue. (Driver
et al., 2000, p.304)
Argumentative writing
Writing an argumentative text is a difficult task. Previous studies which
investigated the argumentative skills of secondary schools students
ascribe the difficulties to lack of specific education, which would help
students to disentangle the complexity of argumentation (van Eemeren,
Grootendorst and Hankemans, 1996).
Formal education does not offer the student the opportunities to develop
experience in defending a position (Oostdam and Emmelot, 1991;
Oostdam, de Glopper, Eiting, 1994). Research findings indicate that
although students can invent arguments or even identify them among
resources, they are not as good in “synthesising” them into a coherent
text (Oostdam, de Glopper, Eiting, 1994).
It is often seen that students develop arguments separately and omit to
relate each argument to a high-level structure or one standpoint (Keith,
Weiner & Lesgold, 1991). Problems with refutation have also been
reported. In most cases, students take up an argument against the
formulated standpoint and then they reject it without justification.
As cited in Chryssafidou, 2001
Teaching intervention which would
promote collaborative exchange and
discrimination of ideas among students
give available and contradictory evidence
about a subject , and
“made things ‘visible’ – allow graphical
representation of arguments (Bell, 1997)
would help students improve the structure
of their argumentative essays.
Sample: 22 5th graders of primary school (age
Subject: Genetically modified food
Teaching intervention
Setting the problem
Explore the information
Role play debate
1st drafting – What would you do if you where the
president of Zambia?
Scaffolding argument building with the help of
2nd drafting- argumentative essay
Reason!Able is a software package for PCs . It enhances
the building of simple diagrams of complex reasoning, so
that the building blocks of an argument can be identified
very easily. (
The tool was selected as appropriate for our teaching
interventions because it enables students both build and
evaluate arguments.
Reasonable! environment, prompts for arguments and
counterarguments in order to reach a final claim, thus
helping students present thesis other than their own as
well, and also provides opportunity for creating
multireasoned as well as multileveled arguments.
Analyzing data
Convert text to diagrams
“I would not accept genetically modified food for my
country because even if there is evidence that they can
help preventing cancer, they may cause many other
heath problems. In addition, we do not know if they are
safe for our health. Research says that GMF can cause
AIDS and can affect woman’s fertility.
Even if they say that the crops can be easier planted
and we have more crops with this method, there is a
great environmental danger: When you plan a GM plant
the other plants that are near to it may become
genetically modified also. As a result, the crops will be
contaminated, people will not have food to eat and they
will be destroyed too…(student 20)
Setting criteria for arguments evaluation
The number of arguments that they use
to support their final claim (both reasons
and objections)
The existence of counterarguments
The number of levels that their argument
Number of arguments- no new information
Existence of counterarguments
Existence of counterarguments
Paired Samples Test
Paired Differences
Coutner to the main
Before - Counter to
the main After
Std. Deviation
Std. Error
95% Confidence
Interval of the
Sig. (2-tailed)
Number of levels
Paire d Sa mple s Te s t
Pai red Differen ce s
Mea n
Pai r
L evels Be fore
- Le ve rls Afte r
-.85 7
Std . Devia tio n
Std . Erro r
Mea n
.9 64
.2 10
9 5% Co nfide n ce
In te rva l of the
Differe n ce
L owe r
Upp e r
-1 .2 96
-.41 9
-4 .0 76
Sig . (2 -tail ed )
.0 01
Students´ ability to construct scientific
arguments can be improved
The improvement of the structure of the argument does not
necessarily improves the quality of argumentative text. Students
in some cases just cited more information but found it difficult to
write a coherent text. This research does not refer to the quality
of the argumentative essay as a whole but to the structure of it.
Students have difficulties to criticize information. They just cite it
to support their argument. 90% of the students that were against
GMF cited that they are responsible for AIDS and that they affect
woman’s fertility. This was cited in the text as a “myth”
We need classrooms organized as “knowledge building
We need teachers able to handle these type of discussion in the
We have to integrate tools like ReasonAble! In the curriculum
Cross curricular activities could help so that different domains
contribute (science: what about the experiments, which is the
available data , health education: which of the food we eat include
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