Friday, March 20, 2015

Learning through debate

It's the last day before spring break! This is foremost in everyone's mind today, students and teachers alike. However...

The 4th grade had been preparing since last Friday for our first American Revolution debate and today was the day to present it. The proposition was, "Parliament has the right to tax the colonies." The two classes were grouped into pro and con, and within each side divided into working on the opening statement or preparing for rebuttal. We invite three adults to be our judges, which not only removes us 4th grade teachers from the judging, but brings a different perspective in. This year our judges were our head of school, the director of teaching and learning, and a middle school language arts/social studies teacher.

I've been doing this debate with 4th graders for 11 years or so, and it's so interesting to see what happens at the actual debate, after the several hours of preparation. One year one of the teams got into an argument about who was going to read the opening statement and they ended up with a boy who came completely unprepared and couldn't finish reading it. Another year, one of the nonspeaking students got so agitated that he leaped up and started to correct one of the rebuttal arguments. Other years they have done so beautifully that we are just so proud of them. No matter what happens, our judges are so kind and find positive things to say. And, they come away from this really understanding the issue of taxation without representation.

Today we had awesome opening statements from both sides, but one of the rebuttal teams had not really grasped the concept of listening carefully to the opening statements, making a few notes, and then rebutting as many points as possible. They received compliments on the strength of the one argument they presented, but the win went to the other side.

In a few weeks they'll be using what they learned to debate whether or not the colonies should declare independence from Britain.  
Opening statement - yes, Parliament has the right to tax the colonies!


  1. This sounds like an incredible REAL learning event. I do an activity every semester with my grad students asking them to defend or not the common core. You have to know your enemy is my stance!

  2. Okay!!!! I love fourth grade!!! I've been teaching it, on and off, since 2000. They are so sweet, and so ready to please!!! I'm excited that they had this opportunity: Fourth Grade Rock On!