Over the last few days my Twitter timeline has been inundated with Tweets about the rights and wrongs of pupils being silent in corridors. Now one of the problems with Twitter and Tweets is that they often do not provide subtlety and nuance – and the Tweets about ‘silence’ have ironically led to many of what can only be described ‘shouty’ Tweets. So this post – which will not take sides on the issue of ‘silence’ - will look at the method developed by philosopher Stephen Toulmin for analysing arguments. Indeed, potentially Toulmin’s method works extremely well where there are no clear truths or absolute solutions or a problem, so is likely to work well as a structure for analysing the arguments for and against ‘silence’. The rest of this post will seek to provide:
· An outline of Toulmin’s structure of an argument;
· An application of Toulmin’s structure to ‘silence’ between classrooms;
· A discussion around the use of Toulmin’s structure within schools.
Toulmin’s structure of an argument
The claim (C) or conclusion i.e. the proposition or statement of opinion that that the author is asking to be accepted
The facts or grounds (G) we appeal as the basis for C, also called data i.e. in other words, the specific facts relied on to support a claim
The warrant (W) – what links the grounds to the claim - which is the general rule that allows us to infer a claim and gives us permission to go from G to C
Behind our warrant will be backing (B) – which is the body of experience and evidence that supports the warrant
The qualifier (Q) – which is a word or phrase which indicates the strength conferred on the inference from the grounds to the claim – in other words, the strength of the support for the claim.
Rebuttals (R) – these are extraordinary or exceptional circumstances that would undermine the supporting grounds
Example Teachers should make greater use of research evidence
· Claim, Teachers should make greater use of research evidence of ‘what works’ when planning teaching and learning
· Grounds, Teachers make little use of research evidence of ‘what works’ when planning teaching and learning - recent research states that only 23% of teachers use the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit https://www.suttontrust.com/research-paper/best-in-class-2018-research/
· Warrant, Some teaching strategies and techniques bring about greater increases in learning than other teaching strategies
· Backing, The best available evidence from systematic reviews, meta-analyses and meta-meta-analyses.
· Qualifier, Presumably teachers will have the skills and knowledge to use the research backed strategies.
· Rebuttal, However, not all students are alike, some students may not benefit from the approach. In addition, the resources needed for successful implementation are not always available?
Silence between classrooms
So let’s try and use this structure to help us construct and understand the arguments for and against ‘silence’ between classrooms.
Claim - Pupils should move silently between classrooms
Grounds - Many pupils are bullied when moving between classrooms
Warrant - Pupils have a right to move between classrooms without being bullied
Backing - Personal experience
Qualifier - Presumably
Rebuttal - There may be occasions where it is appropriate for pupils to being talking when moving between classrooms
Claims - Pupils should have the opportunity to speak to one another when moving between classrooms
Grounds - The vast majority of pupils behave appropriately when moving between classrooms
Warrant - We need to demonstrate to pupils that we trust them to behave in an appropriate manner
Backing - Personal experience
Qualifier - Presumably
Rebuttal - There may be occasions where it is appropriate for pupils not to talk when moving between classrooms
Now I need to stress two things. First, these are not the only arguments for and against ‘silent’ movement between classrooms – but rather should be seen as attempts to show how Toulmin’s structure could work for both sides of an argument. Second, the examples create the impression that there is a binary divide between for an against ‘silent movement’ – that is not the intent.
Implications of using Toulmin’s structure for analysing arguments
It’s worth spending some time understanding the Toulminian structure of arguments as it will help you articulate your own arguments more clearly.
Using the Toulmin’s structure will make it easier for your you to display the first of Rapoport’s rules for disagreeing i.e. attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.” Dennett (2013)
This is not the only way to think about the structure of arguments - see Cartwright and Hardie (2012).
So where does this leave us when it comes to ‘silence between classrooms’
I must admit when I began writing this post, the very process of going through the Toulminian structure made me ‘think’ and then ‘think’ again. In particular, it made me realise how many discussions on Twitter don’t involve arguments but rather they are about competing claims, which form only a small part of an argument At the very least an argument requires – grounds, a claim and evidence – whereas from what I see most Tweets or series of Tweets is that they make little or no reference to the ‘grounds/evidence/data’ on which the claim is based. That said, since I started writing this post I came across a blog from @ClareSealy https://primarytimery.com/2018/10/23/corridors/amp/?__twitter_impression=true which clearly articulates the grounds/evidence/data for ‘silent movement’ between classrooms. On the other hand, you may wish to have a look at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/08/23/school-banned-talking-corridors-sees-10-per-cent-increase-results/ or https://suecowley.wordpress.com for the alternative view.
If you are interested in using the Toulminian structure, I suggest that you have a look at either Kvernbekk (2013) or (2016). Alternatively you wish to have a read of at Jenicek and Hitchcock (2005). In addition, there are plenty of ‘Toulmin’ resources available on the Internet – although as always – not all of the material is of the same quality.
Cartwright, N. and Hardie, J. (2012). Evidence-Based Policy: A Practical Guide to Doing It Better. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
Dennett, D. (2013). Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking. London. Allen Lane.
Jenicek, M. and Hitchcock, D. (2005). Evidence-Based Practice: Logic and Critical Thinking in Medicine. United States of America. American Medical Association Press
Kvernbekk, T. (2013). Evidence-Based Practice: On the Function of Evidence in Practical Reasoning. Studier i Pædagogisk Filosofi. 2. 2. 19-33.
Kvernbekk, T. (2016). Evidence-Based Practice in Education: Functions of Evidence and Causal Presuppositions. London. Routledge.
PS This post was amended on Thursday 25 October when I deleted the name of the school whose approach to ‘silent corridors’ set off the Twitterstorm.