Thursday, April 11, 2013

Debate in Fourth Grade

Last week, I was in Kim Wolf's fourth-grade classroom as she was having her students debate the issue of whether children should have cell phones. This lesson is part of the curriculum that we use from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and is one of the earlier lessons within the Research-based Essay. A great description of how to run a debate is available through the website which I have linked here.  There are also several articles and description about the importance of having students learn the skills  of debate  which you can find by searching debate on the website.

Students had read several articles about the pros and cons of having cell phones during previous lessons. From these articles, students took a stance. Surprisingly, Kim's class split evenly, although she had been prepared to challenge students to try out the opposing side if she had needed to. Kim and I coached the students as they caucused and used this time to teach them about using boxes and bullets to organize their thinking. Students frequently struggle distinguishing between reasons and examples so it helped them to have reasons in boxes and examples following the bullets.

I wish that I had taken a picture of the students lined up to debate, but imagine ten pairs of students facing each other. The pro-cell phone arguers went first for a minute, followed by a minute for the anti-cell phone students. Many students ran out of things to say before they ran out of time and they realized that they would need more evidence and examples to support their reasons. The students who didn't finish their talking mostly tended to be redundant.

Kim gave the groups time to caucus and share the arguments that they had heard. In my group, there were a couple of clear "dominators" although these students did try to engage quieter students in the conversation. While they were interested in hearing me model the phrase "you said ______ but the fact that _________ weakens your argument", this phrase was difficult for them to use. The students were more successful with gathering more examples and evidence before they had 30 seconds for rebuttal.

While I loved watching the students develop their debates and improve their presentations, my favorite part of Kim's lesson was the written reflection that she had the students do at the end. She had them think about whether their opinion had:

  • stayed the same
  • become stronger based on hearing the counter-thoughts or
  • changed based on listening to the opposite side.
The reflections were insightful and varied so when the students shared some of their writing in a closing circle, it led to a conversation about citizenship and democracy. The lesson concluded with the strong message that listening, reflecting and understanding other perspectives are important skills to develop in our complex and diverse world.

Take care,

1 comment:

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