Instructional Science

, Volume 47, Issue 2, pp 181–214 | Cite as

Bolstering students’ written argumentation by refining an effective discourse intervention: negotiating the fine line between flexibility and fidelity

  • Carla M. FirettoEmail author
  • P. Karen Murphy
  • Jeffrey A. Greene
  • Mengyi Li
  • Liwei Wei
  • Cristin Montalbano
  • Brendan Hendrick
  • Rachel M. V. Croninger
Original Research


Effective interventions are needed to bolster students’ argumentation capacities, an area in which they consistently struggle. Quality Talk (QT) is an approach to small-group classroom discussion shown to support students’ oral argumentation with preliminary evidence that it may also bolster students’ written argumentation. Teachers often must adapt interventions to their local context, balancing needed flexibility with sufficient adherence to fidelity to reach expected efficacy. The present study was conducted over one school year with two fifth-grade teachers and their 46 students. In Phase I, two participating teachers implemented a refined version of QT, and we examined the effects on students’ oral and written argumentation performance. While typical gains in students’ oral argumentation performance were evidenced, students’ written argumentation did not improve to the degree expected, particularly in terms of performance with unfamiliar texts. In Phase II, both teachers reincorporated a component of QT (i.e., regular post-discussion written argumentation practice) they had adapted in Phase I, and one teacher added a new written argumentation scaffold designed to further bolster students’ transfer from oral to written argumentation. By the end of the study, students from both classes evidenced growth in written argumentation, but the students from the class receiving the writing scaffold outperformed comparison class students with large effects. Findings underscore the importance of including regular post-discussion written argumentation practice and illustrate the added value of a new written argumentation scaffold, while also contributing to a better understanding of how to balance flexibility and fidelity for efficacious QT implementation.


Small-group discussion Quality Talk Oral argumentation Argumentative writing 



This research was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education, through Grant R305A130031 to the Pennsylvania State University. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not represent the views of the Institute or the US Department of Education.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carla M. Firetto
    • 1
    Email author
  • P. Karen Murphy
    • 2
  • Jeffrey A. Greene
    • 3
  • Mengyi Li
    • 4
  • Liwei Wei
    • 2
  • Cristin Montalbano
    • 3
  • Brendan Hendrick
    • 3
  • Rachel M. V. Croninger
    • 2
  1. 1.Mary Lou Fulton Teachers CollegeArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.The Pennsylvania State UniversityState CollegeUSA
  3. 3.The University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  4. 4.AIRWashingtonUSA

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