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Nothing Personal: Healthy Arguments in the Classroom

Healthy Arguments in the Classroom

It’s usually a teacher’s first instinct to break up a fight or argument between students.

But notwithstanding physical violence and emotional abuse, allowing children to experience arguments and disagreements is a good thing. When children disagree with others, they are forced to become creative, to derive new methods and ways to convey their message about why they are right.

While disagreements between students may lead to hard feelings or a trip to the principal’s office, for some it can be a growing experience.

Passionate vs. Personal: The Difference Means a Healthy Argument

It’s important to convey to your students that there is a line between passionate debate and a personal attack.

Students often disagree about a number of topics, but arguments should stay constructive and on topic, and not cross the line into a personal issue.

Healthy arguments:

  • Set a goal, i.e. the argument has a purpose.
  • Involve goodwill between the two parties.
  • Allow for the most respectful interpretation of the other person’s talking points.
  • Acknowledge agreement and similarities.

The Four-Step Problem Solving Problem

When students are arguing in class, it’s important for teachers and PLCs to implement the four-step problem-solving process. This process helps identify and analyze the problem, come up with an intervention method and evaluate how it goes. According to the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Office of Academics, Accountability & School Improvement, “utilizing a structured PS approach when exploring, defining, and prioritizing concerns helps the team make efficient use of time and increase the probability that the appropriate interventions are selected.”

Step 1: Problem Identification

  • The goal of this step is to answer the question, “What is the problem?” The issue at hand should be noted in objective terms using direct measures of academics or behavior. It’s also important to consider whether the issue involves one student, a small group of students, or a large group. This will change the kind of intervention needed to address the problem.
  • Example: Two classmates are arguing over which computer or laptop to use in class

Step 2: Problem Analysis

  • At this stage, the question is, “Why is this problem occurring?” The leadership team and staff gather relevant information about the problem and why it is happening.
  • Example: Do classmates always argue over availability of computers, or use of a specific mobile device?

Step 3: Intervention Design

  • This stage is where a leadership team comes up with potential interventions to solve the argument and get both classmates on the same page.
  • Example: A teacher steps in and comes up with a plan for students to swap the next time they use mobile devices in class.

Step 4: Program Evaluation

  • The process is not complete without a thorough evaluation of argument intervention. A positive response is when the argument is settled. A questionable response is when the argument is settled but there is still disagreement between students, which could erupt into a future argument. Lastly, a poor response is when the argument continues despite intervention.
  • Example: A PLC will discuss intervention for two arguing classmates. The PLC will discuss best practices and how the intervention can be improved or kept the same for the future.

Mediating Professional Conflicts with Students

Teachers love to foster healthy discussions in the classroom, especially around the day’s lesson plan.

But sometimes discussions in class can cross the line from constructive to personal, and it’s up to teachers to mediate between students to ensure that dialogue stays on course.

Mediating Personal Conflicts with Students

Sometimes when a conversation moves into personal territory, it can be tough for teachers to know how to intervene.

Teachers must be prepared for personal attacks between students and have deflections in their back pockets to use to keep the students involved in the class lesson.

Some students have peer mediation programs, which allow students to work out issues with a neutral party who is the same age as the conflicting students.

Here are some ways that teachers can solve personal conflicts between students:

  • Finding the source of the conflict
  • Pointing out the displaced anger
  • Facilitating communication between the students and asking questions
  • Brainstorming solutions as a group
  • Forming and executing a plan

Teaching the Art of Oral and Written Communication

In this course, you will learn best practices for engaging students in rich argument development, from class-wide inquiries to small-group data analysis to individual writing tasks.

Learn More About Healthy Arguments in the Classroom

Studies have shown that it can be beneficial for students to learn how to engage in arguments, which helps develop their creativity. Teachers like you can learn more about how to foster positive discussion and constructive arguments in class with Advancement Courses’ online program, Why Argue: Teaching the Art of Oral and Written Argument. You’ll learn best practices for engaging students in argument development, from class-wide discussions to small-group data analysis. By the end of the course, you’ll be able to support students, regardless of their specific learning needs, as they learn how to argue constructively and open their creativity. 

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