Parents might think the last thing their child needs is more experience arguing. Teachers might agree. But I'd like to advocate for practicing arguing. Our democracy depends on it. It's important we teach our children how to deal appropriately with different points of view.
With all of the arguing going on in politics and the media, one might think there would be plenty of examples of how it's done effectively. That's not the case. Educators need to take the lead and hold our own "rally to restore sanity" within our classrooms (to borrow from Jon Stewart.) Let's take debate and persuasive writing out of isolation and practice them regularly in all content areas.
Early in my career, I attended a workshop called Dealing With Difficult People. We learned simple strategies that took the emotionalism out of our arguments and gave us ways to negotiate and collaborate toward solutions. One very simple strategy was starting your argument with "You may be right." This simple phrase gave your "opponents" the feeling that you were at least considering their point of view. Another staple of the workshop was role-playing. Walking (and talking) in another's shoes can teach our children empathy and increase their understanding of other points of view.
Since then, I have learned another simple strategy: SCAN, which stands for stop, clarify, ask and now. Applying SCAN's four easy steps can help students reach the common core standards of effectively engaging in a range of collaborative discussions, and writing arguments to support claims with reasons and evidence. SCAN is a strategy that helps students collaborate on complex scenarios.
SCAN's first step is "Stop and think about the key issues." After identifying a key stakeholder, students work in groups to brainstorm a list of concerns from that one point of view. For example, if we are looking at the problem of cell phones in school, they may take the student, parent, administrator or teacher's point of view. They can list the concerns on chart paper or post them on a sticky-note site.
The second step asks students to clarify their issues. I have them "jigsaw" to another group to explain their point of view. The third step asks students to "Ask what's most important." Students return to their original group and prioritize their concerns for another opportunity to "argue."
The last step: "Now, what are your next steps?" We use the interactive whiteboard to examine points of view and see what solutions will address the concerns that are important to each stakeholder. Working through these four steps, students gain a deeper understanding of significant issues and learn how to communicate, collaborate and negotiate. Teaching a visible thinking process provides students with a framework for practicing the communication skills necessary to argue hot topics with civility and develop rational solutions.
By combining SCAN-guided discussions with the ARE strategy (assertion, reasoning and evidence) described in "Civil Discourse in the Classroom," we can help our students develop better arguments in their speaking and writing. You can increase student participation and engagement by using the SCAN tool at TregoEd.org. This online tool guides students through SCAN discussions based on more than 100 scenarios with different points of view. I continue technology integration using an online persuasion map to help them organize their arguments. With or without the technology, using thinking strategies can help our students practice arguing in speaking and writing in a constructive way.
Wozniak is director of curriculum and technology and a former middle school robotics teacher in New Jersey.