What do we really know about students’ written arguments? Evaluating written argumentation skills

Maria Evagorou 1 * , Elena Papanastasiou 1, Maria Vrikki 1
More Detail
1 Department of Education, School of Education, University of Nicosia, 2417, Nicosia, CYPRUS
* Corresponding Author
EUR J SCI MATH ED, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp. 615-634. https://doi.org/10.30935/scimath/13284
Published Online: 15 May 2023, Published: 01 October 2023
OPEN ACCESS   542 Views   376 Downloads
Download Full Text (PDF)


The purpose of this study was to explore the different sub-skills of students’ written arguments (i.e., writing an argument, choosing a convincing argument) that might exist, and the content dependency of arguments. This paper presents two written argumentation tools that were designed for 11-14 year-old students, and the main outcomes from applying the tools to evaluate the written arguments of 246 students. The analysis of the data implies that choosing a convincing argument is a different kind of skill than any of the other three aspects of argumentation that were evaluated in these tests; that argumentation is content specific, and that argument construction is easier when the students’ have knowledge of the topic, regardless of whether this is a scientific or an everyday life topic. A main contribution in this study is that we have identified the degree of complexity for all four sub-skills that were included in the test. By identifying that writing an argument is a more difficult skill to acquire, or that students are not acquainted with it, it can help educators to design better scaffolding structures to support students when writing counterarguments. Research implications arising from the findings include exploring in detail how students choose to agree or disagree with given claims in different situations – for example exploring the difference in agreeing with media claims on socioscientific issues as opposed to scientific claims in the science classroom. Implications for teaching include using different teaching approaches for scientific and everyday argumentation.


Evagorou, M., Papanastasiou, E., & Vrikki, M. (2023). What do we really know about students’ written arguments? Evaluating written argumentation skills. European Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 11(4), 615-634. https://doi.org/10.30935/scimath/13284


  • Allchin, D. (2022). Who speaks for science? Science and Education, 31, 1475-1492. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-021-00257-4
  • Allchin, D. (2023). Ten competencies for the science misinformation crisis. Science Education, 107, 261-274. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.21746
  • Bell, P., & Linn, M. (2000). Scientific arguments as learning artifacts: Designing for learning from the web with KIE. International Journal of Science Education, 22(8), 797-817. https://doi.org/10.1080/095006900412284
  • Bravo-Torija, B., & Jimenez-Aleixandre, M.P. (2018). Developing an initial learning progression for use of evidence in decision-making contexts, International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 16, 619-638. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-017-9803-9
  • Erduran, S. (2008). Methodological foundations in the study of argumentation in science classrooms. In S. Erduran & M. Jimenez-Aleixandre (Eds.), Argumentation in science education: Perspectives from classroom-based research. Springer. http://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-6670-2_3
  • Erduran, S. (2022). Argumentation in chemistry education. Research, policy and practice. Royal Society of Chemistry.
  • Erduran, S., Osborne, J., & Simon, S. (2004). TAPping into argumentation: Developments in the application of Toulmin. Science Education, 88(6), 915-933. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.20012
  • Erduran, S., Ozdem, Y., & Park, J.-Y. (2015). Research trends on argumentation in science education: A journal content analysis from 1998–2014. International Journal of STEM Education, 2(1), 5. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40594-015-0020-1
  • Ferretti, R. P., & Graham, S. (2019). Argumentative writing: theory, assessment, and instruction. Reading and Writing, 32, 1345-1357. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-019-09950-x
  • Gleim, L. K., Sampson, V., Hester, M., Williams, K., Sanchez, J., & Button, E. (2010). How middle school and high school students evaluate the claims and arguments found within articles written for the popular press: A comparison study [Paper presentation]. International Conference of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching, Philadelphia, PA.
  • Jiménez-Aleixandre, M., & Pereiro-Munoz, C. (2002). Knowledge producers or knowledge consumers? Argumentation and decision making about environmental management. International Journal of Science Education, 24(11), 1171-1190. https://doi.org/10.1080/09500690210134857
  • Jimenez-Aleixandre, M. P., Rodriguez, A. B., & Duschl, A. R. (2000). ‘Doing the lesson’ or ‘Doing science’: Argument in high school genetics. Science Education, 84(6), 757-792. https://doi.org/10.1002/1098-237X(200011)84:6%3C757::AID-SCE5%3E3.0.CO;2-F
  • Kelly, G., & Takao, A. (2002). Epistemic levels in argument: An analysis of university oceanography students’ use of evidence in writing. Science Education, 86, 314-342. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.10024
  • Kuhn, D. (1991). The skills of argument. Cambridge. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511571350
  • Lawson, A. (2003). The nature and development of hypothetico-predictive argumentation with implications for science teaching. International Journal of Science Education, 25(11), 1387-1408. https://doi.org/10.1080/0950069032000052117
  • Lederman, N. G. (1992). Students’ and teachers’ conceptions of the nature of science: A review of the research. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 29(4), 331-359. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.3660290404
  • Lee, M., Wu, X., & Tsai, C. (2009). Research trends in science education from 2003 to 2007: A content analysis of publications in selected journals. International Journal of Science Education, 31(15), 1999-2020. https://doi.org/10.1080/09500690802314876
  • Macagno, F. (2016). Argument relevance and structure. Assessing and developing students’ uses of evidence. International Journal of Educational Research, 79, 180-194. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2016.07.002
  • Martín-Gámez, C., & Erduran, S. (2018). Understanding argumentation about socio-scientific issues on energy: A quantitative study with primary pre-service teachers in Spain. Research in Science and Technological Education, 36(4), 463-483. https://doi.org/10.1080/02635143.2018.1427568
  • Mason, L., & Scirica, F. (2006). Prediction of students' argumentation skills about controversial topics by epistemological understanding. Learning and Instruction, 16(5), 492-509. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2006.09.007
  • McNeill, K. L., & Krajcik, J. (2008). Scientific explanations: Characterizing and evaluating the effects of teachers’ instructional practices on student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(1), 53-78. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.20201
  • McNeill, K., & Pimentel, D. (2009). Scientific discourse in three urban classrooms: The role of the teacher in engaging high school students in argumentation. Science Education, 94, 203-229. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.20364
  • Nussbaum, M., & Schraw, G. (2010). Promoting argument-counterargument integration in students' writing. The Journal of Experimental Education, 76(1), 59-92. https://doi.org/10.3200/JEXE.76.1.59-92
  • Norris, S. P., & Phillips, L. M. (2003). How literacy in its fundamental sense is central to scientific literacy. Science Education, 87(2), 224-240. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.10066
  • Norris, S. P., Phillips, L. M., & Korpan, C. A. (2003). University students' interpretation of media reports of science and its relationship to background knowledge, interest, and reading difficulty. Public Understanding of Science, 12(2), 123-145. https://doi.org/10.1177/09636625030122001
  • Osborne, J. F., Henderson, J. B., MacPherson, A., Szu, E., Wild, A., & Yao, S.-Y. (2016). The development and validation of a learning progression for argumentation in science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 53(6), 821-846. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.21316
  • Osborne, J., Erduran, S., & Simon, S. (2004). Enhancing the quality of argumentation in school science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(10), 994-1020. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.20035
  • Papanastasiou, E. C. (2019). Participant pre-knowledge and attitudes in research. In J. E. Edlund & A. L. Nichols (Eds.), Advanced research methods for the social sciences (pp. 103-128). Cambridge University Press.
  • Perkins, D. N. (1993). Teaching for understanding. American Educator, 17, 28-35.
  • Perkins, D. N., & Salomon, G. (1989). Are cognitive skills context bound? Educational Researcher, 18(1), 16-25. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X018001016
  • Rapanta, C., & Christodoulou, A. (2022). Walton's types of argumentation dialogues as classroom discourse sequences. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 36, 100352. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lcsi.2019.100352
  • Rodríguez-Mora, F., Cebrián-Robles, D., & Blanco-López, A. (2022). As assessment using rubrics and the Rasch Model of 14/15-year-old students’ difficulties in arguing about bottled water consumption. Research in Science Education, 52, 1075-1091. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-020-09985-z
  • Sampson, V., & Clark, D. (2008). Assessment of the ways students generate arguments in science education: Current perspectives and recommendations for future directions. Science Education, 92(3), 447-472. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.20276
  • Sampson, V., & Clark, D. (2011). A comparison of the collaborative scientific argumentation practices of two high and two low performing groups. Research in Science Education, 1(41), 63-97. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-009-9146-9
  • Sandoval, W. A., & Millwood, K. (2005). The quality of students’ use of evidence in written scientific explanations. Cognition and Instruction, 23(1), 23-55. https://doi.org/10.1207/s1532690xci2301_2
  • Sandoval, W. A., & Reiser, B. (2004). Explanation-driven inquiry: Integrating conceptual and epistemic scaffolds for scientific inquiry. Science Education, 88(3), 345-372. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.10130
  • Sharon, A. J., & Baram-Tsabari, A. (2020). Can science literacy help individuals misinformation in everyday life? Science Education, 104, 873-894. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.21581
  • Toulmin, S. (1958). The uses of argument. Cambridge University Press.
  • Van Aufschnaiter, C., Erduran, S., Osborne, J., & Simon, S. (2008). Arguing to learn and learning to argue: Case studies of how students' argumentation relates to their scientific knowledge. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(1), 101-131. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.20213
  • van Eemeren, F. H., Grootendorst, R., Henkemans, F. S., Blair, J. A., Johnson, R. H., & Krabbe, E. C. W. (1996). Fundamentals of argumentation theory: A handbook of historical backgrounds and contemporary developments. Mahwah, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  • van Eemeren, F. H., & Grootendorst, R. (2003). A systematic theory of argumentation: The pragma-dialectical approach. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511616389
  • Voss, J. F., & Means, M. (1991). Learning to reason via instruction in argumentation. Learning and Instruction, 1(4), 337-350. https://doi.org/10.1016/0959-4752(91)90013-X
  • Zeidler, D. (1997). The central role of fallacious thinking in science education. Science Education, 81(4), 483-496. https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1098-237X(199707)81:4<483::AID-SCE7>3.0.CO;2-8