Tag Archives: big ideas

Topics and Methods for Class Debates

In previous postings, I (Clive) have recommended debates as a way to give students a voice in university and school classrooms and also introduce some variety into class activities. Of course, the topics have to be interesting to the students if they are to get really involved; and the overly combative tone of traditional debating needs to be avoided so there are no hard feelings.

This term, in my graduate class of 22, I used two debating topics that worked very well. They were: (1) Teaching Values in School and (2) Formal Professional Development for Teachers. In each case we formed 4 groups (by numbering off from 1 to 4 around the class, including myself) and then assigned “positions” to the groups as follows:

Teaching Values in School

Group 1: On the whole, teachers should keep their values to themselves

Group 2: It is often appropriate for teachers to promote the values they believe in

Group 3: On the whole, schools should advocate general “human” values (e.g., treating women and men equally) even if they conflict with the values of the family

Group 4: On the whole, schools should honor and respect the values of the family, even if they conflict with general “human” values

Formal Professional Development for Teachers

Groups 1 & 3: Formal professional development has a very important role to play in teacher learning and school improvement. Examples of effective formal PD include….

Groups 2 & 4: Formal professional development does not play a major role in teacher learning and school improvement. Examples of more important methods and factors are….

Each group spent 20 minutes preparing their case, with each person in the group proposing and outlining an argument and/or example. Then each group in turn presented their case to the whole class, with every member of the group speaking. Finally, we returned to the whole class circle and went around with each individual saying what they thought about the topic (we didn’t have time to go all the way round the class, but this final activity also proved very valuable).

Notice that the “opposing” positions were softened by using phrases such as “on the whole,” “it is often appropriate,” “not a major role” (rather than “not any role”). Also, the emphasis on giving examples to support one’s case was a big success – I hadn’t used this before.

So, this was my experience. If you have a chance to experiment with debates, let us know what topics you used and how it went – we can do a guest blog!

 

 

Helping Students Develop Their Way of Life

If we teach literacy/English and other subjects well – in a way that interests and engages students and deals with “big ideas” – we will inevitably get into life issues and “values.” This in turn will help students build their way of life. They will not have to wait until they graduate to start figuring out how to be in the world.

Teaching about values or life issues is sometimes questioned on the ground that it involves indoctrination. However, schools already push values in strong ways, e.g., punctuality, hard work, academic learning. What is needed is to expand values teaching (usually in the context of teaching subjects) and find non-indoctrinative ways to do it. Constructivism provides a solution here, because both teachers and students say what they think and everyone learns from each other. In the end, students decide what way of life to adopt, but with the benefit of input from others.

As you may know, I (Clive) am a great admirer of the work of Nel Noddings. I recently found a statement of hers in The Challenge to Care in Schools (2nd edn., 2005) that bears very directly on these matters:

I have heard teachers say, We’re not trained for [discussing values with students]. That’s a job for psychologists (or counselors, or parents, or pastors). Pressed, many will say that they do not have a right to impose their values on students, but these same teachers impose all sorts of rules – sensible and mindless equally – without questioning the values thus imposed. Surely intelligent adults should talk to the children in their care about…qualities that most of us admire. This talk need not be indoctrination any more than mathematics teaching need be lecture and rote learning. (p. 39)

Speaking of values, what could be more immoral than subjecting young people to 12 years of narrowly academic schooling with little attention to life matters? The time has come to make education much more useful to students than it has been for the past two-and-a-half millennia. This requires helping them explore values and develop their way of life.