Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Debate Topic: Should women try to be Superwomen?

Having received some mid-term feedback from my students, I decided to change the final timed-conversation quiz from a person to person discussion to an in class debate. A debate has the following advantages over a timed conversation:

  • Students must use a different genre/register of speaking particular to persuasive speaking
  • Students must listen carefully to their opposition, react to what the hear and give counter arguments and examples
  • Students must be confident and speak spontaneously
  • Students can effectively use their planning and writing work into their speaking
  • Accuracy and meaning are more important than fluency. Speaking fast won't persuade your audience
  • It gives students opportunity to research, state a position, and then build an argument from that position
  • Its more authentic/authenticated conversation and engaging for the student

Finally, I think the debate format also coincides with my built in goals for my students: autonomy, peer-review, and noticing. My questions raised from this lesson are 1) whether or not I'm sequencing the unit/lesson in an effective manner, and 2) if the activities are being fully utilized by the students.


In the previous class, we wrapped up the traveling unit in which we reviewed some of the important traits of a presentation according to content. In particular, we looked a Presentation website and blog by Zen Presentation Sensei and ex-patriot Garr Reynolds. We then watched and commented on our presentations in terms of content and speaking. At the end of this lesson, I handed out an article from the Atlantic magazine titled "The End of Men: How Women are Taking Over Everything. Having a class made up of mostly female students and having a sort of barn-burning article, I decided to focus our energy for the next unit on presentation skills, find and focusing on a position, and defending a position. The debate format would help the students focus on building their vocabulary, develop clear and concise arguments, and produce accurate dialogue.


We began the class in the usual fashion with the student news summaries. Two students summarized the news articles that they read and then introduced five new words to the class. After each presentation there was a brief round table discussion. Because this was a timed class, I used an online "time bomb" to count down the time we could allow for the news summaries and the timed conversations.

After the news summaries, I asked the students what the thought of the reading assignment from last night. The students summarized what they had learned from the article. One student mentioned the term "Superwomen," which became the keyword for the debate. After a brief group discussion, I asked the students to have a five minute time conversation about their own mothers experiences trying to raise a family, work, and keep her own life. Students spoke for five minutes about their mothers, or in some cases, other members of their family. After they were finished, I asked them to tell the class about their partners' conversation.

Next, the students handed out the a questionnaire that I had developed from the homework assignment. The aim of these questions were to raise their opinions on the subject and give a common provide a common schemata for the debate topic.

For example:
Directions: Read the following statements below. On a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being strongly agree and 1 being strongly disagree) how would your rank these statements?

1. Women and men are generally treated as equals.
1 2 3 4 5

2. I believe that women must make a choice between career and family.
1 2 3 4 5

3. Currently, women do not have the necessary resources to raise a family and peruse a career.
1 2 3 4 5

We then watched a short clip from a movie called Tootsie, in which Dustin Hoffman a character who must pretend to be a women in order to get an acting job. We then had a short discussion on whether women are treated as equals in the work place and whether women should try to be the "superwoman" by raising their families and a pursuing a career.

Finally, the students were placed into their debate teams and allowed time to work together to research four questions and then build an argument based on their in class research. At the end of the class, we opened the floor for questions and comments from the students and invited the observers to give their opinions on whether women should be expected to be both mother and professional.

We then wrapped up the class


In planning for this unit, my first thought was to use this topic for a timed-conversation, but as mentioned above, having received some feedback from students on the class and their requests for activities like debates, I thought this topic lent itself to a debate. The most important part of this lesson and the unit, was the article that stimulated the class discussion and giving students an opportunity to research information on the topic and then provide them with some in -class time to practice the ping-pong debate format.

I also used the debate as an opportunity for the students to analyze their own speaking and perform a self-evaluation and a peer-evaluation. In order to set up the debate, I provided students with a questionnaire to raise their awareness of their opinions on the subject and some guided questions from the reading. By allowing the students to write and produce their ideas before talking, I tried to show them how writing could capture and produce ideas before the speaking event, which I hoped would allow them to speak more accurately and fluently.

Also, in planning the two main lesson plans for this unit, I consciously followed Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain (Anderson et al., 2001). and Crabbe's (2003) task types. By developing a detailed unit plan and lesson plans, I could felt more confident on the quality of the tasks, the relationship between the tasks, and the task culminating in completing the unit goals. However, planning out the unit after the course began took time from the lesson planning and gave an uneven feel to the class that came before this unit.

Having taught this lesson I could really see the value an a well planned unit and lesson plan and the need for goals to answer to both the unit and the lesson. I also learned how important sequencing the tasks according to Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain and Crabbe's task types, but I also felt that the students' roles in the lesson planning should not be underestimated when creating a lesson plan and that the goals and task need to make sense to the students, which requires a careful forethought.

Anderson, L., D. Krathwohl, P. Airasian, K. Cruikshank, R. Mayer, P. Pintrich, J. Raths, and M. Wittrock (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning and assessing. New York: Longman

Crabbe, D. (2003). The quality of language learning opportunities. TESOL Quarterly, 37(1), 9-34.

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