Toulmin Model of Assessment

The Toulmin model allows for judges to realize how assessment is rationalized and given gravity. It allows educators to openly discuss their understanding and codify their decision making process in a way that includes and addresses students.Image taken from “Alligators of the Mind” by Mr. Eure.

This 20 minute lesson has teachers define the Toulmin model of evaluation and apply it to a theoretical final product. It’s based on “Reading the Data: Making Supportable Claims From Classroom Assessment” by Stephen Adkison and Stephen Tchudi. (PDF)
(Estimated Running Time: 18-24 Minutes)


Teachers will be able to list benefits of Evaluation as Pedagogy by developing definitions for the steps of the Toulmin Model and applying them to evaluating a theoretical final product around a current event.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

  • Pens and paper!

Essential Question(s):

Why and how are properly trained teachers more effective than standardized tests at evaluating students?

  • Teachers are more effective than standardized tests at evaluating students.
  • Standardized tests are limited in their scope.
  • Teachers have the ability to adjust to the needs of the student.
  • Teachers can recognize their privilege and positionality while tests do not.
  • Standardized tests only hold value when viewed through the lens of a skilled evaluator.
  • Evaluating students is essential to education.
  • Teachers are already trained through experience to evaluate more than scores.
  • A student’s performance goes beyond their scores.
  • Teachers who aren’t properly trained may not be better than standardized tests.
  • Even an experienced teacher may need to be trained to evaluate more effectively.

Inquiry Exercise:

(2-3 Minutes)
What was your SAT, ACT, or GRE score? What does that mean? How do you know when you’re successful in school?

Introduction to New Material:

(2 Minutes)
My reading this week presented the stories of three students and then analyzed how their teacher assessed each scenario and student. It presented a model of evaluation known as the Toulmin Model which aids in creating, maintaining, and evaluating an assessment rubric.

The Toulmin model attempts to adjust for different forms of data, from standardized tests to behavioral and environmental data. It takes this data and applies five steps: Warrants, Backings, Claims/Conclusions, Qualifiers and Rebuttals. Today, we’re going to build definitions for each of these five statements and see if we come to the same conclusions that the Toulmin Model is based on.

Guided Practice:

(10-12 Minutes)
Take out a sheet of paper and a pen. Mark down Warrants, Backings, Claims/Conclusions, Qualifiers and Rebuttals, leaving enough space for notes in between each.

Let’s begin with Warrants. What does warrant mean? Lead students toward defining it as a “grant of permission” or “reason for action.” Why would we need warrants in assessment? Lead students toward the idea that a teacher is a “trusted expert,” and that warrants show us that we’re qualified.

Ok, so now that we’ve acknowledged that we are warranted to evaluate, let’s define Backings. What does it mean to back someone or something? Lead students toward the idea of support. Why would we need backing for our warrants? There’s good chance this will already have been discussed when delving into warrants, making this a simple matter of connecting back.

Now we need to define Claims and Conclusions. This is the heart of the evaluation process. What is a claim? Lead students toward hypothesis or theory. What is a conclusion? How are claims and conclusions related? I don’t think there’s any doubt that evaluation is a series of claims and conclusions, but there will likely be a longer, meandering conversation about whether data is able to draw a conclusion or make a claim.

The Toulmin Model might seem a little backwards to you at this point. We started by defining warrants and why we’re qualified, proving it, and then making claims and conclusions. Now, we need to define qualifiers. What is a qualifier? Lead them in the direction of evidence. Draw a comparison between the relationship if Warrants and Backings and the relationship of Conclusions and Qualifiers. Are qualifiers alone enough? What sort of places could we find qualifiers? Make sure to lead students to thinking about cultural contexts, race, and the power of the system here.

Finally, and this is my favorite, we need to define Rebuttals. What is a rebuttal? Lead students toward the idea of counter-arguments. Did you ever argue with a teacher over a grade? What was the outcome? Lead students to recognize their position of power as the teacher and that to do justice to their students, they need to look for the things they missed.

Individual Practice:

(3-5 Minutes)
Take a few minutes and read over your notes and codify your thoughts. Now that we have a definition, I want to see how you apply these definitions. Imagine you’ve taught a lesson around the Mizzou protests that resulted in the president and chancellor stepping down. Consider choosing a more contemporary current event or topic when you teach this. Write a sentence each explaining what your Warrants, Backings, Claims and Conclusions, and an example of one or two rebuttals might be when evaluating your students’ final products. You can imagine any final product you wish. Finally, what trainings would you need to make you a better judge on this topic and product and how would this differ from a standardized test on the same subject?


(1-2 Minutes)
The biggest benefit in my mind to the Toulmin Model is the idea of Rebuttals. We have to seriously consider how we’ve positioned ourselves as judges. We need to take into account the factors we may have missed in our fallibility. And, most importantly, we need to recognize that even if we accurately and effectively prove to ourselves and our students that we have and effectively evaluate the work, there may be more that we’ve missed.