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.
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