Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Wesley Pitts

Committee Members

Brahmadeo Dewprashad

Immaculee Harushimana

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction | Scholarship of Teaching and Learning | Science and Mathematics Education


Chemistry, science education, inquiry, argumentation, POGIL, IODM, Toulmin, college, discourse analysis, assessment, pedagogy, discursive moves, power


The research presented in chapters 2, 3, and 4 in this dissertation uses a sociocultural and sociohistorical lens, particularly around power, authority of knowledge and identity formation, to investigate the complexity of engaging in, supporting, and evaluating high-quality argumentation within a college biochemistry inquiry-oriented classroom.

Argumentation skills are essential to college and career (National Research Council, 2010) and for a democratic citizenry. It is central to science teaching and learning (Osborne et al., 2004a) and can deepen content knowledge (Jiménez-Aleixandre et al., 2000; Jiménez-Aleixandre & Pereiro-Munhoz, 2002). When students have opportunities to make claims and support it with evidence and reasoning they may also increase their problem-solving and critical thinking capacity (Case, 2005; Willingham, 2007). Overall, this has implications in supporting students to become increasingly literate in scientific ideas, language, and practices.

However, supporting argumentation can be challenging for instructors, particularly in designing leaning environments that facilitate and evaluate both the process and the product during student discussions (Duschl & Osborne, 2002). Fostering argumentation is complex and requires explicit modeling and multiple opportunities for dialogic interactions. This dissertation will examine how several facets influence argumentation in order to support instructors in implementing and improving argumentation in their inquiry-oriented classrooms. These facets include access to language and use of discursive moves, classroom design, curriculum and instructional activities, and interactional dynamics and power negotiation. The data set for this dissertation is a transcript generated from the audio- and video capture of a 7-minute student discussion around a mechanism in the TCA (TriCarboxylic Acid) cycle, as well as student writing, and course documents from student portfolios.

This dissertation, organized using the manuscript style structure, will present three standalone chapters, each with a specific focus related to the central theme of supporting argumentation, which is the connecting thread. Chapter 2 will discuss how power is negotiated during the argumentation process and how interaction dynamics can support or inhibit the quality of argumentation. Chapter 3 will provide assessment and evaluation support to instructors who want to guide their students in meeting high quality levels in both the process and product of argumentation. Finally, chapter 4 will explore the influence of pedagogical, and instructional resources and tools on the quality of argumentation. This includes a discussion of the influence of classroom talk, particularly discursive moves and interactional dynamics, as well the curriculum and instructional activities, and the design features of the learning environment. Each chapter will conclude with instructional implications that provide practical guidance in the form of pedagogical activities to instructors. Partial funding for this dissertation was received from a PSC-CUNY Cycle 44 Research Award (66799-00 44).

Findings suggest that the classroom design can support collaboration and the dialogic nature of argumentation, and the curriculum and activities can act as resources for students to share and negotiate multiple perspectives, but that instructors can also influence the process of argumentation by utilizing specific discursive moves, such as telling and revoicing, to promote or inhibit argumentation. The results, specifically from chapter 4, also propose that instructors model and share the expected criteria for high quality components of argumentation. The need for instructors to be aware of the criteria for high levels of quality for each of the argumentation components is a critical implication of this research. The criterion is presented in this dissertation and is derived from a review of multiple findings by researchers of argumentation, as well the scientific community at large. Creating structures and implementing targeted pedagogical strategies that support argumentation can lead students to use the process of argumentation as an empowerment tool to enact agency and negotiate power. This has the potential to sustain the success of science students, create a community of practice, and increase equity and access for all.