The Great Debates of Grade 7 (part two)

Debate Composition 2
What I Saw The Students Actually “Do”:

I am a (new) big fan of the “know, do, reflect” model of assessment that came up during the Assessment panel discussion in the Deeper Learning MOOC. Bob Lenz’s model, I think, could be a new way for me to understand how I can structure my assessment tasks in Grade 7 English.

When students had chosen their resolution, they were charged with finding a piece of evidence from Canadian History, a piece of evidence from The Book Thief, and a piece of evidence from anything else (for example: their own lives, another book, an online article, or another example from history / The Book Thief) to support their position. It was fantastic to see students take the “knowing” that they have developed over the term and actually apply it; the resolution acted as the thread which stitched together these seemingly separate experiences (the Native experience of residential schools, the miseducation of Liesel Meminger, and the movie Mean Girls, come to mind). I saw students grappling with understanding whether all education was good education, if oppression happens in their own schoolyard in addition to battlefields, and scouring their knowledge of current events to discover that Malala’s struggle is important and not at all unique). I also saw students think on their feet and demonstrate authentic understanding when they could effectively refute their opponent’s argument with a snappy rebuttal.

I also saw students creatively work collaboratively with other students. They were assessed individually, yet each group member found creative ways to support their teammates. I saw students practice with each other, others explaining the debating form to each other, I saw some students help clarify each other’s arguments, and show problem solving skills when teammates didn’t show up for their scheduled debate.

Moreover, I saw students effectively leverage Google tools and ask each other for feedback through the comments feature of their Google Doc, but also monitor and accept valuable feedback from their teachers.

This is one audio recording of a debate that really shows the student’s understanding of her resolution and the evidence selected to prove her point.

What I Wished I Saw The Students “Do” (also known as the challenges):

As with all projects, there are aspects that did not go quite as planned / hoped. There is a limited amount of time and resources that often translate into significant challenges and shortcomings. For example, for the two weeks leading up to the debates, my colleague was sick and needed time away from school. Then I had my wisdom teeth out and needed time to recover. Then we went on a class trip to Haliburton forest. All of this translated into significant portions of independent time for students, which some students did not take full advantage of. I’m wondering now if we should have prepped them more for this, given them more “pep-talks” about the benefits of managing your own learning, and taking responsibility for yourself. That said, some students were exceptionally competent with checking their Google Doc for feedback and responding with follow-up questions or taking on the feedback eagerly. Then other students needed their parents to get involved in order to realize that they had work to do.

Part of me wonders if those students we had to “chase” down more would have really benefitted from a more personalized learning task. Can you have a more “self-directed” assessment with students as young as Grade 7? Or should you develop their learning skills first before you expect such feats from them? Or are these mini-failures necessary in order for students to understand how to manage themselves differently?

I also wish that students were not daunted by the “form” of debating before this task. If I were to do this project again, I would start the term with a benign debate about something like school uniforms or homework (some topic where the content knowledge is already within the students), so they could get comfortable with the debating structure. Then, when the end of the term showed up, their cognitive energy could just get channelled towards their resolution.

In The Students’ Words:

After the last debate, we had the students fill out a debate feedback form through Google. While this could be deemed as a the “reflect” component of the triangle, I think a more thoughtful reflection (one that the students just wanting to speed through the experience couldn’t just rush through) would be essential.

That said, are are some carefully harvested comments (not even sort of  edited to prove that real students actually wrote them) that show some of the learning the students had during this project:

In regards to your debate topic: complete the prompt “I used to think, but now I think…”

  • “I used to think education was just in a classroom no i think you can be taught nearly everything.”
  • “I used to think, that education could only be a good thing; but now I think it could be both.”
  • “i used to think that risky acts of rebellion will only get you it trouble, but now i think that they can also make change for the world or even just in your household.”

In regards to the practice of debating: complete the prompt “I used to think, but now I think…”

  • “i used to think that people just argued when they debated but now i think that it is much more civilized.”
  • “I used to think coming up with points was easy. Now I think that it takes time to come up with points.”
  • “I used to think that over practicing was good but it actually just makes you more scared.”
  • “I used to think that I didn’t need much practice, but now I think that the more practice you do, the better you get.”
  • “I used to think that you don’t have to believe it to debate it, but now I think that when you are convinced you can convince others better than if you thought that it was garbage.”

So maybe your teachers were hoping you would learn more about “othering”, “resistance”, “or the power of words” and how to support / connect your ideas, but what did you REALLY learn during this experience?

  • “That you have to cooperate and talk with your partners and that you can’t skip workinging on it every time we are is class.”
  • “not to stress yourself out, but also to give yourself more time then you think you might need”
  • “I really just learned how to debate and think on the spot, which was really hard for me before this project.” 
  • “I learned how to work with a partner and how important it is to communicate with your partner when you are working with them on a big project like this.”
  • “I really learned how to look at things in 2 different sides”
  • “I learned that it was okay to feel a lot of pressure and so much nerves.”
  • “I learned that all these topics are debatable and there is truly no answer.”
  • “That Debating is hard and to strt to wor on projects the second you get them.”

Project Tuning:

Considering the Deeper Learning paradigm and the importance of developing 21st century skills in my students, what suggestions (or probing questions) do you have for refining this project in future years? What would you have done differently to help foster deeper learning or a more authentic project?

About the Author
Passionate and curious about technology, smiles, special education, differentiated instruction, forests, graphic novels, accessibility, anti-oppression, and warm beverages. Can often be found laughing with young people and improvising songs on the spot. @teach_tomorrow

2 comments on The Great Debates of Grade 7 (part two)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wow! That is an amazing post!

    Reading the students’ comments made me feel like they are older than we know…it was as if, deep down inside every one of them, rooted ever so complexly by where they were before this project, is someone who understands their resolution, debating and more as they come along. And it is as if they understand their learning better than we do. That does make sense…

    One question I think should be asked is, where did their understanding come from? What brought it to the surface from deep down? Maybe, if we knew that, we could decide what works well.

  2. Other Anonymous says:

    Though your students were not familiar with the debating structure, the project went well, from what I can see. It was another big jump that they had to take, and if some students needed to be “chased down”, they just…almost missed the jump. Furthermore, as Anonymous 1 referred to, grade 7 students are still young, but personalization is still amazing.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.