Teachers Argue the Point for Effective Arguing

Arguing can be an art. It can also be a precursor to conflict resulting in declined productivity. Two women from Columbia University’s Teachers College recognized that there is a better way to teach our children to argue effectively. Deanna Kuhn and Amanda Crowell designed a revolutionary curriculum to test and measure their theories. Their recently published findings suggest that dialogue may present a better tool for developing productive debating skills than writing.

Most educators agree that argumentative reasoning is a basic skill that students should develop during their school years. But using writing, rather than conversation, poses an unrealistic situation. “Children engage in conversation from very early on,” said Kuhn. “It has a point in real life.” Fulfilling a writing assignment, on the other hand, largely entails figuring out what the teacher wants and delivering it. To the student, “that’s its only function.”

The experiment involved allowing selected children to debate topics over a computer. This provided visual reflection of the dialogue. The discourse continued on and ended in a showdown between the two teams of children. At the conclusion, each child was asked to write an essay that supported their opinions on the chosen topics.

The control group was involved in a similar debate. However, their responses and opinions were only delivered through written essays. And their environment was similar to a teacher led classroom scenario. The results showed that the computer responses provided higher forms of arguments, asking more questions of substance than the control group.

The experiment was conducted over a three-year period and allowed children to choose their sides of the selected topic. In addition, the children were encouraged to work in groups and had to rely on team building skills and effective communication skills prior to the debates. Although this intervention has yet to be implemented on a national scale, the findings certainly open up the topic for debate.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Steve


    March 24th, 2011 at 11:09 AM

    Arguing in itself is nt a bad thing.In fact as v all know there r always debate competitions happening at schools 2 encourage kids 2 develop this skill.Its something tht let’s u stay in atleast some control when things r shaky.

  • charlie


    March 24th, 2011 at 11:31 PM

    debating and similar activities really excite me. children need all round development and effective and constructive argumenting is a good thing. it will teach them to take a stand and remain assertive of it. it will also teach them to put across their views even in the presence of opposition.

  • Madeleine


    March 25th, 2011 at 4:37 AM

    Engaging classroon children in debates is an excellent way to get the creative juices flowing and to allow them to develop public speaking skills as well as expound upon theories that they are having to prove aloud. This is not just the kind of learning where you are expected to recite only what the teacher tells you. This gives kids the chance to think for themselves and come up with ideas that they can believe in and make others believe in them too. Maybe if more of this style of teaching were to be incorporated into the US classroom instead of having kids rely mainly on memorization and standards then our education system could experience some dramatic improvements.

  • brian


    March 25th, 2011 at 10:02 AM

    almost anything done with a view to achieve a positive result is fine…and if there is proof that something can be a good tool of learning for kids and students then,why not?!

  • Jane


    March 26th, 2011 at 6:10 AM

    As a teacher I have always tried to help my students find the words to express the way that they feel and their beliefs. Just because I may not agree with the argument if they can post some good points and defend the issue then we should all fight for their right to say it.

  • runninfast


    March 27th, 2011 at 5:23 AM

    While I strongly agree that it is important to teach our kids the value of communication skills I would also hope that teachers are incorporating this into the basics too. There is still subject material that every school child should be familiar with and I stress that I hope that some of this is not getting pushed to the side just so they can learn to prove a point. I think that all aspects of this have a place in the classroom but I hope that one does not get pushed to the side to make room for the other.

  • Joyce


    March 28th, 2011 at 4:42 AM

    @runninfast- I understand your concern but please know that as an educator there are ways to incorporate all of this together. You do not argue for the sake of the debate but to also learn the material but in a new and exciting way. That is what kids want to be able to do. The tried and true that we grew up with did not always work then and it does not now. So why not embrae some of the newer methods and give the kids a chance to shine and learn all at the same time?

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