Disagreement Makes for Better Academic Discussions


Disagreement Makes for Better Academic Discussions

Disagreement Makes for Better Class Discussions.” I heard this mind-blowing statement at a recent workshop at the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, D.C. and I can honestly say it has changed my approach to classroom discussions.

Carol Ann Tomlinson, the guru of differentiation, says, “The emotions are the gateway to learning.”  You may have immediately have been thinking of warm and fuzzy moments that let students know you care- cuddling with a good boo or enjoying a laugh at another student’s antics. But what if the emotion is negative?  Can a negative emotion act as a catalyst for engagement?  Absolutely!  When you agree with someone it is possible to support their position without much emotional engagement, to nod along with a “what he said” response.  But when you disagree, when you scramble to articulate an opposing argument, the odds of engagement increase.  What does this look like in the classroom? How do you know you have emotional engagement? It’s the kid who, hands on hips, loudly with declares, “Nuh-uh! My momma says…”  or “No way! I read…”  It’s the child who cares that he gets heard because he has something different to say then his peers. The child who interrupts because she can’t wait to share her thoughts on the matter.  That’s what we want, right? The kinds of whole-hearted engagement that makes you stop and say, “One at a time. I can’t hear everyone at once.”

Providing opportunities for students to present opposing viewpoints about topics relevant to them can up the ante for your class discussions. Increase discourse complexity even more when you equip students with the precise language they need to articulate their thinking succinctly and accurately.  Moreover, this kind of class discussion can effectively be used as a catalyst for writing. The student that routinely writes IDK on their paper will know what they want to say if you have taken the time to arouse an emotional response to the prompt.  Just don’t forget to set norms so that no one’s emotions run away with them. Consider setting boundaries and equipping students with the language to agree and disagree with civility.


To learn more about creating classroom norms, check out this article Cooperative Learning Doesn’t Have to be Hell.


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