by George Newell
Ms. Hill was aware of the literary scholarship on the short story “Indian Camp,” and its emphasis on the theme of loss of innocence. But this secondary ELA teacher decided to focus her students’ explorations on the theme of dominance. She supplanted authorized literary knowledge (the renderings of literary scholars) with knowledge derived from her students’ concerns for social justice, her own readings of the story which are connected to her history as an African American woman and her experiences (and her knowledge of others’ experiences) of racism. As Ms. Hill orchestrated a text-based discussion of dominance in “Indian Camp,” she framed the social construction of knowledge in terms of claim, warrant, evidence, and counter argument. However, she located those categories not in traditional argumentative structures used in classrooms but in terms of “arguing-to-learn.”
This blog provides a brief overview of a new framework for teaching and learning literature in secondary schools, like what was observed in Ms. Hill’s classroom. This framework is an inquiry-based approach to engage students in communicating and exploring ideas about literature. More information on the practice and research behind this framework are found in two resources featured below that are offered by The Ohio State University Argumentative Writing Project.
What is dialogic literary argumentation?
Arguing-to-learn emphasizes dialogic argumentation in which students and teachers use argumentation as a collective means for together exploring (and critiquing) the social worlds in which they live. In dialogic literary argumentation, the focus is oriented to the use of literature to prompt exploration, deconstruction, and reconstruction of conceptions of personhood.
How do teachers engage in this practice?
Using DLA to teach literature is a way that foregrounds dialogue, learning through inquiry, diverse views, listening to others, and engagement with our communities. As a process of discovery, DLA facilitates “arguing-to-learn” as a method to support students’ diverse perspectives and engagement with one another in order to develop individual and collective understandings of literature and its place in the world.
Teaching Literature Using Dialogic Literary Argumentation in Secondary Schools (Resource 1) represents a significant contribution to rethinking traditional methods for teaching English. It breaks new ground in how to teach literature through portraying how teachers:
Teaching Literature Using Dialogic Literary Argumentation in Secondary Schools is a practitioner-oriented resource available in hardback, paperback, and e-book. Ideal for both practicing teachers and preservice teachers in professional development projects and literacy methods courses, this text features real-world cases, discussions of the principles presented, resource lists, and conversation starters for professional learning communities, professional development, and teacher education.
What is the research behind dialogic literary argumentation?
The theoretical framework constructs and teaching practices in the resources featured in this blog are supported by a series of ethnographic and discourse analytic studies over the past nine years conducted by the authors and The Ohio State University Argumentative Writing Project. These studies were collaborative with classroom teachers. Approximately 60 high school English language arts teachers were involved in the study, and this racially and socially diverse group of teachers served student populations from rural, suburban, and urban communities; wealthy, middle-class, and working-class communities; and, communities that were predominantly white and communities that were diverse racially, culturally, and linguistically. The schools ranged from high achieving schools to schools with reputations for low academic achievement; schools where the students predominantly came from families with college-educated parents to schools where few parents had attended college.
During the summers, the Argumentative Writing Project met with teachers to view and explore video recordings and preliminary discourse analysis of key classroom events. These meetings emphasized the exploration of new ways of understanding and new directions for the teaching of literature. That is, the framework of Dialogic Literary Argumentation was not an a priori framework being tested in teacher classrooms but rather it emerged out of our conversations together as we explored what was happening in their classrooms and what possibilities there might be for deepening and enriching the impact of the teaching of literature on the lives of students.
Dialogic Literary Argumentation in High School Language Arts Classrooms: A Social Perspective for Teaching, Learning, and Reading Literature (Resource 2) argues for approaching the teaching of literature within an argumentation framework focused on exploring the concept of personhood. Personhood refers to implicitly held definitions of being a person—for instance, who is and who is not defined as a person and what “kinds” of persons are socially constructed within a social group. The particular argumentation framework offered by DLA, which we call “arguing-to-learn,” derives from earlier studies by the same research team (and published in the book Teaching and Learning Argumentative Writing in High School English Language Arts Classrooms).
About the author
George E. Newell is a professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University. His research includes investigations of how literacy practices and related cognitive and linguistic processes vary across situations and contexts, especially in English language arts classrooms; examining the kinds of instructional support provided in undertaking those practices; and assessing the understandings and learning that result. @Englished
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