Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Civil discourse in the classroom

During this season of debates and political commercials, the stereotypes, biases, and negativity seem to have taken over civil discourse. As our students watch the televised political debates, read the responses on Twitter or Reddit, or view the video responses from those with an agenda, they need to understand how to value someone else’s point of view and balance it with their own thoughts and beliefs to form an opinion.


Learning how to look at things from a different point of view and how a point of view can change someone’s version of an event, can start with our youngest students. The ILA/NCTE site has several lesson plans that target point-of view.
  • Teaching Point of View With Two Bad Ants has students reading the story in small groups, analyzing the illustrations and text, comparing an ant’s view with a human’s view, and then writing a short story from an ant’s perspective. (Grades 3-5)
  • The Big Bad Wolf: Analyzing Point of Views in Texts, in addition to an opening activity where students are assigned a point of view when listening to a story, the teacher reads aloud two different versions of the traditional fairy tale, The Three Little Pigs. Using a Venn diagram, students compare and contrast the story’s events from the various points of view presented in the two books. The teacher follows-up with a reading of the The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (Scieszka), which is told from the point-of-view of the wolf. Students then have to re-write a fairy tale from the point of view of an object or character in the tale, such as the pea in The Princess and the Pea or the bean in Jack and the Beanstalk. (Grades 6-8)
Discovery Education offers a video segment and supporting materials for teaching point of view for grades 3-5.
  • Point of View : “This segment presents a facts about circus master P.T. Barnum and compares two author’s points of view about the entertainer. A follow-up activity asks students to analyze point of view in a magazine article.” (4:43)


I have always believed, when responding to others in a public forum, my comments should be positive or neutral– never negative. If I have a critical response to the author of an article or post, I simply send it to them directly, whether in a direct message in Twitter or via email. I try to be constructive in my criticism and also want to have the chance to use as many characters and words as I need to to get my point across. I don’t want to get in a debate over something in a public venue and only have 140 characters to respond with!
A popular method of feedback I use when responding to my graduate students comes  John Wooden, famous college basketball coach. His coaching methodology is sometimes referred to as The Sandwich Method.

The Sandwich Method of Feedback
  1. Start with positive feedback about someone’s idea
  2. Provide the constructive criticism you want to share
  3. End on a positive note
Ashely Hurley, a professional development specialist, penned a useful post in 2014 titled “The A-B-Cs of Giving Feedback to a colleague“. She provides examples and methods of how to keep the feedback accessible and action-oriented, how to focus on the basic information, and connecting the feedback to the content. Ashley also includes links to additional information about feedback. Even though this post is about teachers giving peer feedback, the same tenets can easily be applied to support students during student-student feedback.
Debating is a form of targeted feedback and there are some great resources for those who wish to debate, whether in person or online, and do so with clarity and purpose. I love this strategy from Marco Witzmann in an article about how to become a great debater. The article goes into much more depth than the following, but the main components of the strategy are:
  • State: use clear wording in one short phrase, stating your point
  • Explain: Use the word because to explain why your point is valid.
  • Illustrate: Use examples to illustrate your point and make the audience identify with your arguments
Students can learn about this strategy and then, while re-watching a political debate, keep a tally on how well the debaters did in each of these three areas. Was their main point understood? Did they explain why they took that stance? Did their examples help or hinder their presentation of their main point?
Simon Frasier University, located in Canada, offers this concise overview of how to debate which includes the basic debating skills of style, speed, tone, volume, clarity and eye contact as well as the content components of the argument including the case and the rebuttal. Again, once students understand the parts of a debate, they can dissect a political debate using this information as a starting point.


Of course, in order to understand someone else’s point of view or dissect a debate, students need to know how to listen. It is too easy to get caught up in wanting to respond and interrupt with your own opinion. Learning how to listen is a practiced skill and Discovery Education offers resources to help students attain this important skill.
  • Listen Up “is a teaching strategy that encourages students to either watch or listen carefully…Students switch roles between viewer and listener and assist each other in putting the pieces together to understand a piece of media.”
  • Developing Your Listening Skills: In this 1:53 video segment “Slim Goodbody gives examples of how to become a better listener. He also explains that when you are a good listener you hear the meaning and feeling behind the words which lead to better communication.” (Grades K-5)
  • Active Listening: “This 4:11 segment presents a short piece about Monument Valley and discusses active listening techniques.” (Grades 3-5)
  • Communication Skills: “Through a series of role-plays, two students resolve a conflict by using active listening skills and I statements.” Grades 6-8 (7:33)
  • Becoming a Better Listener and Communicator: This 3:09 video segment provides tips the important communication skill of listening. Grades 6-12
Other good lessons plans I found dealing with active listening include:
  • Active Listening: “Students practice active listening by paraphrasing what they hear.” Grades 3-6
  • Are you listening?: This lesson plan takes students through two different ways to listen. Grades 7-9
  • Social Skill- Active Listening: This is a 23-page packet which teaches students about active listening and has them actively listening during both the lesson and in real-life situations. Grades 9-12

These practical skills of thinking about point of view, learning how to deliver critical feedback, and the process of actively listening to others are important as our students grow to be the voters and leaders of the future!

How do you teach point of view in your classroom? Share with us on Twitter! #kathyschrock