the goal of shared understanding, and everyday argument, which relies on power and persuasiveness and assumes that the goal is winning. It is not straightforward to get a middle schooler to see the distinction between disagreeing with an idea and disagreeing with a person.
Moreover, orchestrating effective scientific argument requires having sufficient knowledge of both children and content to perceive on the fly what is scientifically fruitful in students’ talk. Young students tend to use language that is ambiguous, fragmentary, or even contradictory, especially in heated conversation, so the content and structure of their arguments can be difficult to follow. Yet if the educational goal is to help students understand not just the conclusions of science, but also how one knows and why one believes, then talk needs to focus on how evidence is used in science for the construction of explanations. “A prominent, if not central, feature of the language of scientific enquiry is debate and argumentation around competing theories, methodologies, and aims. Such language activities are central to doing and learning science. Thus, developing an understanding of science and appropriating the syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic components of its language require students to engage in practicing and using its discourse” (Duschl and Osborne, 2002, p. 40).
As described in Chapter 6, Gertrude Hennessey, who taught science to students in all grades at her small, rural elementary school, made the development of argument an explicit goal of instruction, starting with first graders. Her goals for these young children were modest, focused primarily on helping students become adept at stating their own beliefs and providing reasons for them. By the fourth grade, however, students were expected to understand and appeal to the scientific criteria of intelligibility, plausibility, fruitfulness, and conceptual coherence for evaluating their evolving beliefs. By sixth grade, students were expected to be actively monitoring the beliefs of their peers, considering the fit of competing explanations to the patterns of evidence that they were observing in their investigations (Hennessey, 2002).
Even understanding that more than one explanation is possible and that alternative explanations should be examined and entertained may take some getting used to (Kuhn, 1991). To keep this awareness at the center of students’ attention, it may be helpful to feature alternative beliefs and explanations, socioscientific issues, and problem-based learning situations as occasional topics of classroom discussion. Eichinger et al. (1991) found that productive argumentation in classrooms is more likely to occur when students are permitted and encouraged to talk and work directly with each other, rather than always having their talk mediated through the teacher. These researchers favored collaborative problem-solving groups as a structure for encouraging peer-to-peer discourse, but they also noted that these groups are not successful unless the teacher works actively to support class-