Empowering education: Teaching argumentative writing to cultural minority middle-school students

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Using quasi-experimental and case study research methods, I investigated the effectiveness of two heuristics based on Toulmin's (1958) model of argument and classical rhetoric for helping middle-school students in two different schools to write argumentative essays. Experimental group essays exhibited larger pre- to posttest gains in development and voice than comparison group essays. Effects were especially strong for essays written by cultural minority (Hispanic American, African American, and Asian American) students, suggesting that these students benefited from heuristics regarding argument structure. However, the results of statistical tests to determine whether minorities benefited more than Whites are not consistent due to the unbalanced sample of minorities and Whites. Effects due to site, including differences due to teacher, classroom, and school, were not statistically significant. Students in the experimental group applied the heuristics flexibly, suggesting that students learned principles rather than rote procedures for argumentation and were able to adapt the heuristics and transfer their knowledge to a range of topics. Students in the experimental group also demonstrated greater knowledge of argument criteria and strategies. These results support the hypothesis that knowledge of argument structure sharpens students' judgment regarding the content and organization needed to generate logically connected arguments. By clarifying the requirements for limiting persuasive argumentative essays, the heuristics tested in the present study may improve traditionally-underprepared students' ability to write academic essays.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-83
Number of pages35
JournalResearch in the Teaching of English
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 1 1998


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