How to Successfully Incorporate Argumentation and Debate in the Learning Process

With the successful incorporation of argumentation and debate into the learning process, teachers and tutors greatly improve the potential learning gains made by students. Although argumentation — at least in an academic setting — is most often associated with the processes involved in scientific inquiry, elements of this kind of argumentation and debate can be readily applied to any academic subject with the goal of achieving a specific educational outcome.

Of course, there is always concern that encouraging argumentation in an educational setting — whether it is a Santa Monica classroom discussion or a Brentwood tutoring session — might be disruptive, despite the best of intentions. This is a legitimate concern, but any potential for disruption is easily eliminated when the instructor introduces a set of standards and behaviors to be expected of students engaged in a lesson involving argumentation and debate.


Educational Practices for Encouraging Academic Argumentation and Debate

Throughout the process of argumentation and debate, students are asked to express a claim in a setting in which the validity of the claim, as well as the reasoning behind that claim, is expected to be challenged by others. For example, if a Brentwood tutor requests that a student support a claim in writing as well as through an oral presentation, the student must be able to clearly articulate the claim — as well as the reasoning supporting that claim — so the audience is able to understand the point being made.

Once the claim has been presented to an audience, the student should expect to field questions about various aspects of the claim, forcing the student to clarify or defend their position. In some cases, the student might have to re-evaluate or refine the processes that led the claim they chose to present. As a result, students will learn the value of considering potential questions regarding future assertions, which ensures they prepare in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.


Fostering Greater Levels of Academic Engagement

Educators that incorporate argumentation and debate into an academic setting are likely to find that students become much more engaged in future lessons. Since argumentation and debate requires that audience members ask questions of the speaker or offer some kind of constructive feedback, students naturally develop the skills they need to become active listeners. These skills stay with them even when a future lesson does not revolve around argumentation and debate, ensuring greater levels of student participation and engagement — which in turn positively influences a student’s academic performance going forward.

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