Meeting all students’ needs: whole classroom debate as a teaching strategy

Author(s): Katarina Lovenjak

The aim of the article is to present a whole classroom debate as a teaching strategy used at the Danila Kumar International School. According to our students’ enthusiastic responses, there is no doubt that this strategy increases their engagement and ignites their passion for learning. By the exploration of topics which can be linked to a variety of curriculum contents, learners with different pre-knowledge, skills, abilities and conceptual understanding practice critical thinking skills, create, collaborate, and communicate in ways that are meaningful to them. As such, this strategy can be used in different subjects, e.g. in Language and literature, Language acquisition, History, etc., in interdisciplinary units or even in extracurricular activities. In the initial stage of introducing this strategy, students familiarise themselves with the art of argumentation, the structure of a speech, rhetoric devices that improve public speaking, and the core principles of collaboration. This stage allows them to recognise their strengths, weaknesses, and set their goals for maintaining focus while working with others and delivering convincing, yet respectful arguments. In this type of debate, a class can include as many as thirty students but they all take an active role in preparing and taking part in the debate. Speeches of proposition and opposition sides are formulated in smaller groups ranging from one to five students. To allow for differentiated educational experiences, adjustment in the level, depth and pacing of curriculum, as well as providing gifted students with opportunities for taking risks and challenging themselves, the teacher or students themselves determine the size of each group. This decision depends on the knowledge, skills and abilities needed for the topic under discussion. Another role a participant can choose is the role of a debate adjudicator, which gives students greater ownership of their learning and facilitates work in a student-led environment. Once the debate is over, students extend their peer tutoring by giving each other peer feedback in pairs. With clear debate criteria focused on areas such as presentation skills, contents and rhetorical strategies, students enhance their metacognitive skills and learn how to provide quality feedback to peers. This helps them “learn how to learn” and empowers them to become autonomous, self-managed lifelong learners. Furthermore, using a whole classroom debate as a teaching strategy provides additional opportunities for establishing meaningful connections with parents and other members of a school community. Inviting the audience to a debate lesson or an in-school debate event with three consecutive rounds of debate offers a novel way of demonstrating the progress students have made over the course. While a single use of this strategy can certainly not cause major differences in student skills, understanding or abilities, deliberate practice undeniably leads to fundamental changes.