Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy : March 2009.
Commentary Learning Argument Practices Through Online Role-Play: Toward a Rhetoric of Significance and Transformation Richard Beach Candance Doerr-Stevens
One important literacy practice is the ability to formulate effective arguments to convince others of the validity of one's position. In this commentary, we discuss the literacy practices involved in formulating arguments as well as the challenges involved in helping students acquire these practices.
In contrast to more traditional approaches to teaching argument, we propose that students can learn these practices through participation in online role-play activities. We also argue that students will be more motivated to engage in online role-play if they are debating an issue or problem that affects their everyday lives and that will lead to change, an approach driven by what we describe as a rhetoric of significance and transformation.
We believe that it is important that students learn how to engage in these collaborative arguments with others to address and solve problems in their everyday lives. In this commentary, we propose some activities designed to foster use of collaborative arguments in the classroom through the use of online role-play.
Learning to Engage in Written Arguments
Students typically engage in arguments in schools through writing persuasive essays in which they voice opinions on an issue, but they generally provide little support for those opinions (Felton & Herko, 2004). These formalized approaches to teaching arguments are often divorced from students' uses of arguing in everyday conversations in which they are more likely to employ counter-claims, rebuttals, and qualifications than in formal persuasive essays (Felton & Herko, 2004). Their persuasive essay tasks also occur in a rhetorical vacuum.
One possible explanation for students' poor performance on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) persuasive writing assessments (Greenwald, Persky, Campbell, & Mazzeo, 1999) has to do with the authenticity of test-taking rhetorical context in which students are writing for no authentic purpose and audience, a limitation that the new NAEP composition assessments are addressing. When students have a specific purpose and audience for their written arguments, they are more likely to consider counter-arguments and rebuttals (Midgette, Haria, & MacArthur, 2008). Moreover, in writing persuasive essays, students may have little ownership of or conviction about the position they are adopting, resulting in writing as no more than an exercise in “knowledge telling” (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1984).
Instruction in argument is further limited by a focus on adopting a competitive, confrontational stance, particularly in oral debates in which the goal is to win over audiences and defeat opponents. This competitive approach differs from a more collaborative perspective in which people collectively posit, test out, and revise alternative positions within a larger context of engaging in community rhetorical action leading to change (Flower, 2008).
Students' notions of argument are also shaped by their experience with portrayals of argument in the media designed to influence audience beliefs. Unfortunately, students often find that the media appeals to the beliefs of certain niche audiences who gravitate to those outlets reporting news consistent with their beliefs. While U.S. audiences largely acquired their news from the same outlets up until the 1970s—CBS, NBC, ABC, the AP, and major newspapers—since the 1980s, the news has increasingly been channeled and filtered by outlets such as Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, CNN, or the Huffington Post, targeted to certain niche audiences who then adopt the beliefs espoused by these outlets (Manjoo, 2008).
Audiences therefore construct their beliefs about information on issues according to their identification with their particular values groups—“conservative Republicans,” “environmentalists,” “libertarians,” “liberal Democrats,” and the like—associated with and constructed by specific media outlets. An analysis of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the Wall Street Journal characterized these outlets as “echo chambers” in that these outlets restrict access to alternative, competing news sources and negatively portray political opponents (Jamieson & Cappella, 2008).
Click on above link for rest of article