Friend or Foe: Students Who Thrive on Debate
I got a surprising email this morning. It’s from a student I taught last spring who was argumentative from the beginning until the end of the term. He questioned everything I did and sent emails of concern about my ability to teach the class. I listened to what he said in class and through email and engaged him in discussions. Other students joined in. The discussions got lively and spirited. The subject matter was art throughout history so it’s rarely a clear-cut answer.
Because he questioned me, I questioned myself and discovered a couple of places during the class where I could adjust what I was saying to include some of the student’s point of view. In other words, some of his words hit home and I was forced to step back and take a look at what I was doing from his point of view to understand why he was so mad.
I was happy to engage in debate with him. The subject matter allowed for discussion and disagreement. I wanted him to understand that my goal was to open and facilitate the conversation, but also to drop in ideas and concepts.
In his email this morning, he thanked me for arguing with him because it made him look up stuff, which reminded him how much he loved getting riled up by what we were studying in class. So, he thanked me. He also thanked me for not letting our debates affect how I graded him.
I wrote back and told him that he had the same effect on me. Our arguments made me confirm what I was saying and question how I was delivering the information. So, I thanked him back.
How do you engage with students that like to argue with you in class? Do you encourage debate?
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.