Monday, August 16, 2010

An Oversight?

I know it's the first day of class and I'm a bit rusty and all, but I'm starting to wonder if it's possible that in my 13-or-so years of teaching I've never learned how to manage a heated discussion among students who have strong personalities and strong opinions.

I'm supposed to teach argument. Is it possible that I don't know how to manage a discussion about a heated topic?

I mean, I can do it when people are heated about a poem or a story or something. But those discussions and debates have a locus of containment (to some degree) in the text. But is it possible that when students are disagreeing about topics related to technology or education (or some such thing) that I'm not sure how to direct/orchestrate the dialogue?

After this morning's discussion, I'm thinking that maybe I have spent years keeping a tight lid on the intensity of the class because I don't know how to deal with it.

This, sportsfans, is a problem.


baxie said...

install a water cannon on your desk.

Good Enough Woman said...

Baxie, Brilliant suggestion! Two points! (Said with a "My Word" kind of voice)

Anonymous said...

Baxie gets a *herky*

Academic, Hopeful said...

Maybe you have to take in some blog moderating skills, and set up and state explicit rules beforehand...and then unleash them at each other.

loveskidlit said...

I think I'm pretty uncomfortable with heated argument too. One of my reasons for preferring teaching Tech Writing over Comp!

Ink said...

LOL, Baxie!

Like you, GEW, I loathe that situation, so I'll share what has worked in the past as diffusion.

Sometimes when I have a group that tends to go loud, I'll schedule a day where we practice Extremely Formal Argument procedures (as in X gets this many minutes to present the case and Y has this many minutes to provide a rebuttal and in EACH situation, they have to provide evidence to support claims). I'll usually give them a reading beforehand, so that they can refer to the same subject and so that they can provide evidence by paragraph number. Also, when they come into the room, I assign them to one side of the issue or another (rather than letting them choose), so they can see that they can argue either side of the issue (which, I think, is important for good argument anyway, seeing the opponent's perspective clearly). Then they work in that group to generate a presentation for the debate. After each side presents, I give them ten minutes to regroup and plan a rebuttal.

Slowing it down this way seems to help them when it comes to working on their own arguments.

Also, we spend a LOT of time talking about how, when someone comes at us all heated and loud, we tend to tune them out and dig our heels in even further, so knowing that as writers, we have to find common ground with the audience before trying to persuade them with evidence. That is often the most difficult thing to do but in some ways the most important for many of the students!

I err on the side of formal argumentation strategies because then I can always say "well, what's your appeal to the audience" or "how are you making a call to action" or whatever RATHER than saying "Dude, you need to accept that other people think differently than you do!" ;)

Sorry that this is so long! I think I just planned a class there...