Just like weightlifting or playing the piano, practice is essential to help students develop the analysis skills necessary for evaluating and developing arguments. But what does it look like to practice arguing in the classroom?
ThinkerAnalytix is a nonprofit that partners with the Harvard Philosophy Department to develop resources and lesson plans using something called argument mapping — a visual method of displaying how reasons work to support a claim. These maps show the structures of arguments so students can actually see how an argument is constructed, pinpoint areas of contention, and assemble their own.
“Arguments are everywhere and almost everything is an argument,” says Nate Otey, COO and lead instructor at ThinkerAnalytix. “It’s impossible to imagine education without arguments, since a fundamental goal of education is to help students not only express and communicate their beliefs and reasons for that belief, but to be able to understand other people’s reasons and evidence and update their own thinking based on evidence.”
Early research suggests that argument mapping is incredibly successful at developing these skills, with some analyses of studies of the practice finding that argument mapping courses nearly doubled critical thinking skills, compared to standard critical thinking courses.
To get teachers comfortable using argument mapping in their classes, ThinkerAnalytix has developed professional development offerings and resources to support the method in the classroom. Here, Otey discusses what argument mapping is and how it can be used to evaluate an argument.
What is argument mapping?
Every argument has a structure and one of the potential explanations for the powerful effects of argument mapping is that it conveys that structure visually, rather than as a block of text. Students identify and plot the relationship between the main claim or thesis statement and its supporting premises or co-premises.
“If you read something in paragraph form, it’s washing over you and your brain is trying to decode how these sentences fit together,” says Otey. “What we’re doing is we’re showing students visually how these sentences relate to each other.”