by ANNJ CAHILL · 2012 · Cited by 26 — Abstract: In this paper, we offer a method of teaching argumentation that .pdf. It is not clear, however, that this distinction makes a difference for

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© Teaching Philosophy , 2012. All rights reserved. 0145-5788 pp. 41Œ62 Teaching Philosophy 35:1, Mar ch 2012 41Argumentation Step-By-Step: Learning Critical Thinking through Deliberate PracticeANN J. CAHILL AND STEPHEN BLOCH-SCHULMAN Elon University Abstract: In this paper, we offer a method of teaching argumentation that consists of students working through a series of cumulative, progressive steps at their own individual paceŠa method inspired by martial arts pedagogy. We ground the pedagogy in two key concepts from the scholarship of teaching and learning: fideliberate practicefl and fideep approaches to learning.fl The step- by-step method, as well as the challenges it presents, is explained in detail. We also suggest ways that this method might be adapted for other classes. Critical thinking classes have become a mainstay of higher education in the United States, a fact demonstrated by the dozens and dozens of textbooks that are designed for such courses. Indeed the skills that are central to many such courses are crucial to a democratic society: being able to distinguish persuasive arguments from nonpersuasive arguments, to evaluate claims critically and fairly, and to recognize forms of persuasion not grounded in reason. 1In this article, we present an innovative method of teaching the argumentative elements of critical thinking. This approach has been inspired by martial arts classes, particularly those wherein students are assessed for a certain belt or level of achievement only when their instructor ( sensei ) determines them ready to do so. In such classes, at each successive level of assessment students are also required to dem -onstrate that they have maintained the skills they achieved in previous belt levels. Importantly, a decent sensei does not award a belt on the basis of effort: whether a student has tried hard to master a certain ac -tion is not relevant. The question is, can the student throw the punch? We have applied these insights from martial arts pedagogy to the goal of achieving argumentative fluency, by which we mean developing the ability to understand, evaluate, and construct arguments in such

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42 ANN J. CAHILL AND STEPHEN BLOCH-SCHULMAN a way that one has the skills, habits and dispositions to utilize these techniques across a broad range of contexts. We have structured class management, the use of class time and homework, and grading into a step-by-step process that attends to what each student is learning and when she is learning it. Each step constitutes a discrete but necessary element in developing this fluency, and each student completes the steps at her own pace, rather than by a schedule dictated by a syllabus, a textbook, or by her classmates. The final grade for each student is determined by how many steps that student successfully completes by the end of the semester. The goal of this article is to explain the step-by-step method as it has been developed in the context of a critical thinking class, and to articulate the scholarly rationale for its use. The article is divided into two main sections. Part One (primarily authored by Stephen Bloch- Schulman) explores the relevant scholarship of teaching and learning that explains why this method is pedagogically effective. Part Two (primarily authored by Ann J. Cahill) presents the method in greater detail, highlighting the assumptions, main strategies, and potential difficulties with this method. Part One: On Deliberate Practice and Deep Approaches to Learning While there are many relevant elements of research in the scholarship of teaching and learning that would highlight the reason the step-by-step method is so effective, we will here focus on two interrelated ideas: deliberate practice and deep learning. It is not unusual to think that the best means to increase student learning is to increase the amount of time students study. However, E. Ashby Plant, K. Anders Ericsson, Len Hill, and Kia Asberg sug -gest something quite counter-intuitive with regard to the correlation between study time and learning, namely, that beyond a certain amount, time spent studying does not accurately predict learning. 2 While more studying does initially lead to better learning (a claim that backs up findings of other researchers 3), after a certain minimum amount, more study did not have significant (or any) added benefits. 4 There is a weak or insignificant relationship between number of hours studying and performance (that is, of course, once one has done the minimum amount needed). Rather, they found that what did predict performance improvement was how a person studies. That is, what matters most is what a student does as she studies. In describing their research and in justifying their conclusion that there are ficlear limits on the benefits of experience,fl they offer the following analogy:

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ARGUMENTATION STEP-BY -STEP 43Many people know recreational golf and tennis players whose performance has not improved in spite of 20Œ30 years of active participation. The mere act of regularly engaging in an activity for years and even decades does not appear to lead to improvements in performance, once an acceptable level of performance has been attained.5This explains why my (Stephen™s) twenty-five years of typing has not produced significant improvement. Being sufficiently satisfied with my level of typing competency, I have not focused on becoming a better typist and, unsurprisingly, my thousands of hours of typing have not garnered any improvement. Plant, Ericsson, Hill, and Asberg also illustrate why performing to winŠwhat we will call fimaximally effective performancefl (where one is trying to do the best one can at the time)Šalso does not lead to improvement: fiFor example, if someone misses a backhand volley during a tennis game, there may be a long time before the same per -son gets another chance at that same type of shot. When the chance finally comes, they are not prepared and are likely to miss a similar shot again.fl 6 During a game she is trying to win, a tennis player who knows she cannot successfully hit a backhand volley will likely step around this type of shot or avoid coming to the net. When playing to win or when acceptable performance is sufficient (as in my typing case), the goal of the activity is not improvement; in the former case, it is to play as well as one can at the moment, in the latter case, to use one™s skills, not to improve them. Therefore, improved performance is unlikely to occur. Finally, Plant, Ericsson, Hill, and Asberg contrast maximally effec -tive performance and acceptable performance with the kind of activ -ity done intentionally to improve skills. When practice is targeted at improvement they call it deliberate. In deliberate practice, multiple focused attempts at a complex task are undertaken to improve a skill that does not improve with unreflective repetition. They again use an example from sports: [A] tennis coach can give tennis players repeated opportunities to hit backhand volleys that are progressively more challenging and eventually integrated into representative match play. However, unlike recreational play, such deliberate practice requires high levels of concentration with few outside distractions and is not typically spontaneous but carefully scheduled (Ericsson, 1996, 2002). A tennis player who takes advantage of this instruction and then engages in particular practice activities recommended by the teacher for a couple of hours in deeply focused manner (deliberate practice), may improve specific aspects of his or her game more than he or she otherwise might experience after many years of recreational play. 7The most improvement comes from practicing the activity, or parts thereof, deliberately, which is to say, with the intentional goal of

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44 ANN J. CAHILL AND STEPHEN BLOCH-SCHULMAN improving one™s ability to perform that activity. Plant, Ericsson, Hill, and Asberg argue that deliberate practice requires a very high level of concentration and effort on the part of the learner. Furthermore, de -liberate practice places the learner™s focus on what is difficult for her. Crucial, as well, is the guidance in how and what to practice offered by the tennis coach in the above example. When we teachers fail to distinguish between (i) deliberate practice, (iia) maximally effective performance, and (iib) acceptable performance, we may attempt to im-prove student learning only by trying to increase the number of hours students spend on their course work and through high stake testing. While a certain number of study hours may be necessary, they are not by themselves sufficient for learning. What our students need from us are structured activities that require not merely more but deliberate practice. As Plant et al. argue, fiall experiences are not equally helpful and there are qualitative differences between activities loosely referred to as ‚practice™ in their ability to improve performance.fl 8 In courses where every student works at the same pace, the practice experienced in completing assigned homework is appropriate for a few, but too often is either too hard or too easy for others at any given time. By contrast, in the step-by-step method, each student spends her time prac-ticing what she needs to improve, that is, what is hard for her. There is no fibusy work,fl because practice is done only to the extent that it is useful. Once a skill is learned, and continued practice of that skill is no longer useful for a particular student, that student demonstrates fluency by means of a test or other assessment tool and then moves up to practice the next, more complex skill. Arguing for the use of deliberate practice for teaching critical thinking, Tim van Gelder summarizes some of the key implications of Ericsson and his colleagues™ research regarding how students should study, arguing that studying is most productive (that is, results in the most learning) when: 1. It is done with full concentration and is aimed at generating improvement. 2. It is not only engaged in the skill [to be learned] itself but also doing spe -cial exercises designed to improve performance in the skill [to be learned]. 3. It is graduated, in the sense that practiced activities gradually become harder, and easier activities are mastered through repetition before harder ones are practiced.4. There is close guidance and timely, accurate feedback on performance. 9As we will show in the next section, these implications for the teaching of critical thinking are precisely what our fiArgumentation Step-by- Stepfl is structured to address. In addition, the step-by-step method is intended to engage students in such a way that a deep approach to learning is transparently needed.

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ARGUMENTATION STEP-BY -STEP 45The conception of approaches to learning stems from research begun in the 1970s by examining how students approach their work. 10 As summarized by Ken Bain and James Zimmerman in fiUnderstanding Great Teaching,fl this research led to theoretical approaches that focus on what tasks, skills and habits students use to do their work. One powerful way of distinguishing different approaches to learning is to highlight surface, strategic and deep approaches, which are qualitatively different ways students understand and feel about their work and thus qualitatively different strategies students use. In the original studies, some students focused on remembering as much as they could, fitrying as best they could to replicate what they had read.fl 11 This approach was indentified as a surface approach to learning and in more general terms, students who take the surface approach in any context are look -ing to fireplicate what they encounter,fl and through this replication, to fisimply survive.fl 12 Thus those who are acting as surface learners are motivated, to whatever extent they are, by a fear of failure. Other students in the studies fithought about arguments they encoun -tered in the text, and had distinguished between evidence and conclu -sion in those arguments. They had identified key concepts, mulled over assumptions, and even considered implications and applications.fl 13 This was described as a deep approach to learning. To this original analysis of different ways students feel and ap -proach their work, later researchers added a third category: the stra -tegic approach. 14 This is characterized by a focus on ends external to learningŠon grades and what grades bringŠand this means that the student who uses this approach fiisn™t focused on understanding or application, only with making high marks.fl 15 Thus, those who utilize a strategic approach are likely to be particularly risk-averse, and this is especially a challenge because of what it means for learning. One can add to what one knows without risk, but transformative learning requires risk-taking. 16 In addition to identifying these different approaches, the research shows overwhelminglyŠand not surprisinglyŠthat where a student takes a deep approach to learning, the student learns more, remembers more, and transfers what she has learned to new contexts better. Thus, if there is a way to encourage students to take deep approaches, this will have significant impacts on the effectiveness of the classes they take. 17A few cautionary notes are needed at this point. First, while we may assume that smarter students take a deep approach and others take a surface or strategic approach, research does not bear this out. It is important to recognize that these approaches to learning are not fixed traits of individuals, but are context specific strategies individu -als and groups of students may employ. 18 While some students may see all schooling as inauthentic and thus may be unfamiliarŠand thus

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46 ANN J. CAHILL AND STEPHEN BLOCH-SCHULMAN very unlikely to employŠa deep approach within the classroom, even those who can take deep approaches to learning do so strategically: where a deep approach is called for, when they have the time, when it matters to them. A student might take a deep approach in one class and not in another, and may take a deep approach at some times during a course and not at other times. For example, she may feel pressure by the end of the semester to ficramfl even in a course that has been rewarding and had been, up to that point, one she approached to gain real understanding. Because taking a deep approach is significantly more work (both in time and in mental energy), as an Institute for the Advancement of University Learning paper puts it: fistudents will only adopt a deep approach if they are convinced that the learning tasks they are undertaking warrant it.fl 19 Second, students come to our classes from their other experiences with learning in schools, and so we must respond to these different approaches not by reproaching those students who do not see school -ing as rich and rewarding, but must recognize the complicity of the system in encouraging surface and strategic approaches to learning. This complicity is particularly pronounced because, finallyŠand crucially for our work hereŠhow a course is structured and how a professor explains, organizes and approaches the course and what the professor thinks learning is has an impact on what approach a student takes to a course and to the various parts of a class. 20 In other words, instructors can organize courses so as to encourage deep approaches to learning and discourage (and make useless) superficial and surface approaches to learning. Indeed, that is precisely what we hopeŠand are convincedŠour step-by-step process achieves. Part Two: Teaching Argumentation Step-By-Step The challenge posed by the scholarship discussed in the previous sec -tion is as follows: how can argumentative fluency be taught through deliberate practice and a focus on deep learning? Our own experience with traditional, text-booked based approaches to critical thinking led us to believe that covering a wide scope and large amount of material (including, for example, the structure of arguments, different kinds of reasoning, dozens of different fallacies, interpreting ethical/aesthetic/ political arguments, etc.) over the course of a semester, with an eye toward non-cumulative, externally scheduled assessments, typically fostered at best a strategic approach, and most often a surface approach, to learning. When we taught such classes utilizing more traditional pedagogies, the pace was too fast, and too heedless of each student™s strengths, weaknesses, and approaches to learning to foster a deep transformation of the way students think and approached argumenta –

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48 ANN J. CAHILL AND STEPHEN BLOCH-SCHULMAN ing this fact, as we had done previously. Thus, the approach would result in an admirable level of metacognition and epistemic modesty: students and instructors would both be able to describe precisely what had been learned and to what degree. Not all philosophy courses, we realize, may be well suited to such an approach. Critical thinking, howeverŠparticularly the elements of the class that focus on being able to understand, evaluate, and construct argumentsŠis an excellent candidate for an individualized learning process, precisely because so many of the skills are cumulative. Keeping in mind both the scholarship of deliberate practice and deep learning, and non-academic examples of education that focus on learning skills important to the learners themselves (martial arts classes, again, or even driving lessons), we threw out the textbook and the schedule, and came up with ten discrete, cumulative steps, each of which consists of a specific skill crucial to argumentative fluency. 22 These ten steps pro -vide the framework of the classwork, but precisely when each student encounters them depends on that student™s own process. So, for example, on the first day of class, the entire class is taught Step 1 (details on each step will be provided below). Having been taught the material by the instructor, students practice the skill by means of exercises, and then share their work with the instructor, who provides feedback with regard to its quality. When an individual student has completed work that demonstrates that she is capable of reliably demonstrating that skill, the instructor allows her to take a quiz for that step. If the student passes the quiz, she earns a certain number of points toward her final grade, and then continues on to learn Step 2, taught to her then (and only then), by the instructor. If the student does not pass the quiz, the instructor again gives feedback, the student practices some more, and another quiz for the same step is administered when the instructor is convinced that the student is ready, with no penalty for having failed the quiz the first time. The quiz for Step 2 requires the student to demonstrate again the skills included in Step 1; the quiz for Step 3 requires demonstration of the skills included in Steps 1 and 2, and so on. This process continues throughout the semester, with the final grades being determined solely by how many Steps the student has successfully completed. Of course, not long after the first class, students are no longer working on the same material. Some will pass the first steps quickly, while others take longer. Moreover, the same step may present quite different challenges to different students. Soon the instructor is dealing with a one-room schoolhouse, where students are not only engaging with different material, but are engaged in different tasks: some are ready for instruction, others continue practicing a certain skill, while still others are ready to be assessed. We will discuss some of the

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ARGUMENTATION STEP-BY -STEP 49challenges presented by such a classroom below, but for now, let us emphasize that such a classroom is motivated and energized by the individual meaningfulness of the work involved. Students are doing X not because it happens to be Week 4; they are doing X as a result of the work they did last week and the week before. They are doing X because X is difficult for them, because they do not know how to do X and because they need to learn how to do X. Thus, not unimport -antly, the relationship between doing X and achieving a specific goal (whether that goal is framed by a pure desire to learn, or a desire to do well in the class, or a combination of the two) is both obvious and reasonable. They are engaged, in short, in deliberate practice. What has been perhaps most striking to us as we have practiced and refined this pedagogy is the refreshing way in which all of the work involved in the classŠon both the student and the instructor™s partŠis understood as significant. There is no such thing as busy work, and this is clear to students and instructor throughout. The exercises that the students work on prior to the assessment instruments are extremely similar to the instruments themselves, and whether or not the students can perform well on those exercises has an immediate ramification (they will be assessed, or not). Instructors, similarly, are providing feedback that by definition has relevance for the student, and are not evaluating work in which the students are not invested (when a student is trying to pass Step 9, you can be sure she will read the instructor™s advice for how to improve her argument). And if a student misses or sleeps through a class .˜.˜. well, that student didn™t fimissfl anything. There are no notes to copy from another student, no sense of ficatching up.fl Missing that class merely means that the student™s learning process was temporarily put on hold, and can only be taken up again when the student re-engages in the work. One of the real advantages of this structure is that it reflects clearly and unambiguously that the student bears a primary responsibility for her own learning: it simply cannot happen without persistent diligence on her part. Which is not to say that the instructor cannot facilitate that learning; but just as a sensei cannot learn to throw a punch for you, the critical thinking instructor can only assist the student who is engaged in the work of learning itself. If a student is having difficulty with one step, the instructor can -not ignore that fact, and both the instructor and the student must work together to find an effective way to achieve the skill in question. In a traditional approach to critical thinking, a student (who probably wasn™t ready, for whatever reason, to be assessed for that skill) would fail the quiz, the instructor would record the grade, and the class would continue. Here, not to have learned is also relevant: it signifies the need for more, and perhaps a different sort of, work.

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50 ANN J. CAHILL AND STEPHEN BLOCH-SCHULMAN Having taught this pedagogy several times over the past two years, we have come to the conclusion that, precisely because of its focus on deliberate practice and student learning, it is far more effective at habituating students to the skills of critical thinking than a traditional textbook-centered approach. A good example of this advantage of the pedagogy is the percentage of students who leave the critical thinking class able to diagram arguments consistently and accurately. While we have done no explicit, quantitative research on this question, Dr. Cahill estimates that when she used a more traditional pedagogical approach, approximately a third of her students never really acquired that skill. Now, no student passes the course without being able to construct such diagrams, and virtually all students, regardless of their ultimate grade, leave the course being able to do so almost intuitively. Given that, as van Gelder and others have shown, fione semester of instruction based on argument mapping can yield reasoning skill gains of the same magnitude as would normally be expected to occur over an entire undergraduate education,fl 23 and given the effectiveness of teaching mapping through the step-by-step method, it is not surpris-ing that teaching in this way has reminded us of how thrilling it is, as instructors, to witness moments of learning, to see our students move from confusion and inability to confidence and fluency. This approach allows us to be constantly present to and aware of our students™ intel -lectual growth. We™re no longer waiting for that assignment due in the second month of class to see if a given student is figetting itflŠon any given day, we know precisely what each student has already learned, and what each student has yet to accomplish. Our critical thinking classes, while occasionally (as will be described below) chaotic, are alive with the hubbub of engaged learning and with the struggles of engaged learners. Suffice it to say that textbooks and traditional criti -cal thinking pedagogy hold little appeal for us after such experiences! How the Step-by-Step Approach Works Let us turn our attention to some concrete details regarding this ap -proach. As described above, the pedagogy is framed by ten specific steps, each consisting of a distinct skill. Cumulatively, the steps move from understanding arguments, to evaluating arguments, to constructing arguments (with the logic being that one cannot evaluate an argument that one does not understand, and that to construct a strong and compel-ling argument requires the ability to evaluate arguments). The ten steps, and the assignments and points associated with each, are as follows: 24

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