Congratulations to Cindy Litman and Cynthia Greenleaf of WestEd’s Strategic Literacy Initiative, whose “Argumentation Tasks in Secondary English Language Arts, History, and Science: Variations in Instructional Focus and Inquiry Space” received the Reading Research Quarterly Award as one of the journal’s top downloaded recent papers.

In the paper, Litman and Greenleaf analyze two broad dimensions of how students develop and use inquiry-based argumentation skills.  They argue that interactive argumentation makes room for students to bring their own interpretations to bear in their reasoning, which strengthens the overall development of argumentation literacy skills.


This study drew on observations of 40 secondary English language arts, history, and science lessons to describe variation in opportunities for students to engage in argumentation and possible implications for student engagement and learning. The authors focused their analysis on two broad dimensions of argumentation tasks: (1) Instructional focus categorized tasks as learning to argue, arguing to learn, or interactive argumentation focused on evaluating different possible meanings and interpretations of text. (2) Inquiry space described the degree to which the question, possible claims, and knowledge and skills needed to accomplish an argumentation task were predetermined.

Findings point to task characteristics as a potentially powerful influence on instruction and resultant student engagement. Although most of the argumentation tasks focused on arguing to learn, the authors found that both arguing‐to‐learn and learning‐to‐argue tasks were frequently based on predetermined questions, answers, and content. In contrast, interactive argumentation was generally shaped by student questions and interpretations. Using contrasting illustrations from observed lessons, the authors theorize about the role of inquiry space in argumentation teaching and learning. Given that students’ interactive argumentation often revealed important argumentative reasoning, the authors argue for recognizing these activities as argumentation and exploring their potential in the development of argumentation literacy skills.

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Learn about the Strategic Literacy Initiative’s Reading Apprenticeship instructional framework.