Saturday, 8 July 2017

Alright, Fair Enough

Recently, I was visiting a friend when a noise erupted from the basement. His children, two young boys, had obviously reached a tipping-point in their play, and a screaming match ensued. Frustrated, he did what I have seen many adults do. He interceded, a little angrily, and the argument stopped.

I’m no stranger to this tactic. I’ve done it many times at school. Two students are in a conflict at recess and, immediately, I default to a well rehearsed proclamation - like a code in a program, randomly selecting a line of script.

“Stop it!”
“Just try to get along.”
“Find someone else to play with”
“You go that way … and you go that way.”

However, I have been thinking about a line from this classic Monty Python sketch

“An argument is an intellectual process”.

Recently, I heard comedian Bill Burr discuss the topic of arguments between friends. He highlighted the power of three words that can bring two sides to a quick and amicable resolution when the exhaustion point in a quarrel is reached.

“Alright. Fair Enough.”

The intersection of these events got me thinking about curriculum and teaching - which might be the mantra of every teacher.

If it is important to learn how to argue, or debate, how can I teach my students (Grade 5 - 8) to do it?
Can I do this in an effective, fun, cross-curricular, & collaborative way?

I’ve decided to call this activity “Fair Enough”.

  • Perhaps, the Monty Python argument sketch could be used as a “Minds On”.
  • Start with a discussion about arguments. Present them as valuable. Make the connection to science, essay writing, political opinion, sports, laws, etc.
  • Allow for Student Voice. Have them Think-Pair-Share stories about arguments they have had, won and/or lost.
  • Talk about the idea of a debate as a formal, respectful exchange of ideas in front of a crowd.
  • Students find partners and choose a pair of opposing topics. I have started a list here, but students can determine their own.
  • Collaboratively (or independently), they prepare their arguments. Depending on age and ability, this could be done as simple point form notes, or as a Ignite or Lightning Talk with a Google Slideshow.
  • Practice time can be provided depending on the desired complexity.
  • Students go head-to-head in front of the class.
  • When ideas have been exhausted, the students look at each other, shrug their shoulders and say “Alright, fair enough.”
  • I’ve included a Google Slide that you can edit for your purposes.

Curriculum & Learning Skill Connections

  • The connections to Oral Language, Literacy and Drama are obvious.
  • I like the idea that we are embracing the importance of an argument as a foundation for progress in our society.
  • I think it connects well to curriculum expectations for writing structure (The five paragraph answer sandwich model).
  • I like that students who are about to argue are encouraged to collaborate to help each other solidify their points and counterpoints.
  • I like that this activity could be unplugged (scrap paper and a pencil) or plugged (Google Slides).
  • I like that there is a safe conclusion for both parties: “Alright, Fair Enough”. This is also a useful social strategy for future arguments.

Hopefully, I can share this lesson with a class next year. I’ll write about the results. If it doesn’t go well...Alright, fair enough.

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