Verbal and non-verbal forms of argumentation at kindergarten

Arcidiacono, F. and Convertini, Josephine (2021) Verbal and non-verbal forms of argumentation at kindergarten. In: Proceedings of ICERI2020 Conference UNSPECIFIED, Seville: IATED.

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The possibility of experiencing different forms of arguing is an important stage of early childhood education. One of the ways of theorizing argumentation is to describe it as a (predominant) verbal form of reasoning. This mode of conceiving argumentation, that might possibly fit in some situations, such as political debates, in other contexts, such as the kindergarten, is likely to offer an image of children as irrational and in some cases may highlight how they are far from linguistic targets. By considering a different perspective, it is possible to observe that children tend to adopt various argumentative modalities. For example, they can appeal to a multimodal discourse while reasoning, as a proof of their developmental abilities. In this paper, we explore the argumentative interactions of children asked to solve technical problems that require the manipulation of objects. A total of 44 preschool children (3-5 years old) were grouped in dyads and triads at the kindergarten in order to solve three tasks: to build a tunnel with Lego®, to build a bridge with Lego®, and to realize an hourglass with different recycled materials. The activities were video-recorded and the argumentative discussions transcribed, by including also the non-verbal elements (such as the position of the tools and the participants’ gestures). The data (a total of 110 arguments identified in the corpus) were qualitatively analyzed in two steps: 1) to make explicit the argumentative structure of each argumentative exchange, according to the pragma-dialectical approach; and 2) to interpret the implicit children’s argumentation, according to a discursive approach. The findings show that 46 out of 110 arguments are somehow generated by specific features of objects manipulated by children (e.g. “because this is made of plastic”). However, children also propose arguments that are not directly related to objects (e.g. “because I am not able to make a bridge”). Moreover, while in some cases children’s argumentations are explicit (the standpoint and the arguments are shared with the interlocutors), in other cases the children’s standpoints or arguments are implicit. Even in this case, children manage to keep a mutual understanding of the situation by referring to their gestures in relation to the available tools. Their actions are coherent with the specific background they share with the interlocutors (e.g. to push a car over the bridge during the task). The results of the study show the children’s active participation in the argumentative process, both at verbal and non-verbal levels. The consideration of the embodied children’s argumentation allows to understand the space that technical activities (requiring the manipulation of objects) leave for collaborating at kindergarten.

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