1 Università della Svizzera Italiana (SWITZERLAND)
2 University of Teacher Education BEJUNE (SWITZERLAND)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2020 Proceedings
Publication year: 2020
Pages: 1-7
ISBN: 978-84-09-24232-0
ISSN: 2340-1095
doi: 10.21125/iceri.2020.0008
Conference name: 13th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 9-10 November, 2020
Location: Online Conference
Studies of argumentation in education have increased in the last few decades, to analyze how people learn to argue, and how it is possible to improve practices of arguing to learn (Schwarz & Baker, 2017). Overall, these studies have shown that argumentation at school rarely occurs spontaneously, in contrast to the dialogical practices in informal settings (Arcidiacono & Bova, 2017), although the argumentative capacities of young children, even at preschool level, have been already highlighted (Convertini, 2019; Pontecorvo & Arcidiacono, 2010). Other studies have been specifically devoted to examining the role of teachers in establish the conditions to engage pupils in argumentation (Duschl & Osborne, 2002): how to present instruction, how to motivate them to argue, how to guarantee a proper collaboration.

Although we recognize the interesting of looking at the role of the adult (teacher) in designing argumentative activities at school, in this paper we intend to analyze whether the presentation of a task requiring argumentative exchange is taken by children as a useful occasion to start arguing. To attend this goal, we will refer to an interdisciplinary approach, combining the pragma-dialectics (van Eemeren & Grootendorst, 2004) and a discursive perspective (Arcidiacono, 2015) to analyze the children’s reasoning emerging in the classroom while the teacher is presenting a task.

A total of 44 preschool children (3-5 years old) were asked to interact in small groups of two or three people at the kindergarten in order to solve three tasks (to build a tunnel, a bridge and an hourglass - with different materials) supposed to solicit argumentative exchanges among the participants. The activities were video-recorded and the discussions transcribed. The qualitative analysis implied two steps: the identification of the argumentative structure of each exchange according to the pragma-dialectical approach; the interpretation of the beginning of the argumentative discussions, through a discursive approach.

The findings show that, while the teacher is presenting the instructions and asking participants to solve a task, the children already engage themselves in reasoning about some aspects of the activity (e.g., alternative ways to solve the problem, possible use of other tools, etc.). Beyond expectations, children immediately start to argue about the task, advancing their ideas and comparing the possibilities offered by the available objects. As a consequence, the teachers were requested to re-organize their plan, to consider the children’s argumentative attempts, and to arrange the situation in order to pursue their goal and, at the same time, to take into account the children’s interests.

As scientists in the field of teacher education, we suggest that teachers should consider not only their need to set out in advance the setting for the activities to be proposed at school, but also the opportunity to look first at what children already do when invited to engage in argumentative situations. This will allow a better understanding of the relevance of cognitive-oriented argumentative activities in classroom, in which children can immediately enter and develop arguments even before the teacher ended to present the activity. Further studies should contribute to develop these aspects and to train pre- and in-service teachers to consider such a situation, to analyze it and to implement strategies devoted to favor the cognitive argumentation at school.
Argumentation, preschool children, problem solving, design.