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Would You Please Start Arguing Part 4 of 4

I ended last week on one way that I teach constructive disagreement–through investigating bias and trying a new argument style.

Constructive disagreement is what I want from my students–at the college level, I want them to go beyond Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement shown on slide 6. Graham’s hierarchy starts with name-calling at the bottom and rises to refuting a piece’s central point at its pinnacle. I want students not only to learn how to use the tools my class offers to refute points. I want them to disagree with a purpose and even to create better ideas because those ideas have been tested by disagreement and strengthened as a result.

One of the things I’ve gone back to doing, which I’d moved on from, is using models for engaging with others from They Say/I Say. a book which English professors everywhere likely recognize by now, as it has become so ubiquitous in freshman composition classes. The value of this book is that it provides a window into how academics hold these conversations that engage, debate, and build upon opposition views. It provides examples of language that make these moves. My students especially like seeing how to “plant a naysayer” and do so without building a strawman fallacy.

Another thing I have ramped up is holding Rogerian Style debates in class with groups so they are on a team but assigned a “side”. I touched on this last week a bit. They have an assigned reading in common before class and are asked to draft points on both sides. Then in class, they are assigned a side randomly, and have to come together and attempt to first, represent what they think the opposition view would be. Each group gets to decide whether the other has understood them, or needs to go back and try again. When both sides feel heard and understood, both sides can present their case. When both cases have been presented, both sides use qualifier and concession to present what they think will be a mutually beneficial conclusion, where they feel like their view comes out on top/is not compromised but also honors the values and needs of the opposition.

Finally, I also borrowed a strategy to introduce argument for the first time that I learned from some reading I did on early childhood education—stunning in its simplicity. I listen, I noticed, I meant, I wonder… Ask students to present a claim or artifact. Ask others to make non-critical observations. Ask the student who brought the artifact to tell about why they brought it/what they think, and ask others to frame “I wonder” and “I noticed” responses for future consideration. It’s simple, and it’s argument, but it’s not disagreement, which sits well with folks who don’t feel comfortable pulling up to that table just yet. It’s a nice way to open up a discussion, which is the first step in a constructive disagreement, after all.

Thanks for reading! See you next year for the 4x4x16!

Works Cited (for the whole four part series)

Bouffard, Suzanne. The Most Important Year: Pre-Kindergarten and the Future of Our Children. Avery, 2017.

Graff, Gerald, et al. They Say/I Say: With Readings. 2nd ed., Norton, 2012.

Graham, Paul. “How to Disagree.” Paul Graham, Mar. 2008, Accessed 4 Oct. 2018.

Grant, Adam. “Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?” New York Times Opinion, 4 Nov. 2017, Accessed 4 Oct. 2018.

Lazere, Donald. Political Literacy in Composition and Rhetoric: Defending Academic Discourse against Postmodern Pluralism. SIU Press, 2015.

—. Reading and Writing for Civic Literacy: The Critical Citizen’s Guide to Argumentative Rhetoric (Cultural Politics and the Promise of Democracy). Routledge, 2009.

Shaffer, Kris. “Education in the (Dis)Information Age.” Hybrid Pedagogy, 20 Feb. 2018, Accessed 4 Oct. 2018.

Watters, Audrey. “Higher Education in the Disinformation Age.” Hack Education: The History of the Future of Education Technology, 20 Apr. 2017, Accessed 4 Oct. 2018.

One Response to Would You Please Start Arguing Part 4 of 4

  1. Avatar
    Mary Beeker November 13, 2018 at 4:08 PM #

    Great post, Sarah, and thanks for those links! In case people want to track down the sources you haven’t already linked to, here are ways to get them either through our library, or through the MeLCat inter-library loan…

    The most important year : pre-kindergarten and the future of our children / Suzanne Bouffard
    Nineteen libraries in Michigan have it and will loan it through the MeLCat system. Request it here:

    “They say / I say” : the Moves that Matter in Academic Writing / Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein
    We have a copy for use in the library, but you can request it through MelCat here:

    Political literacy in composition and rhetoric : defending academic discourse against postmodern pluralism / Donald Lazere.
    Ebook available through Osterlin:

    Reading and writing for civic literacy : the critical citizen’s guide to argumentative rhetoric / Donald Lazere
    Six libraries in Michigan have it and will loan it through the MeLCat system. Request it here:

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