The impetus for the Boston Debate League’s (BDL) Debate-Inspired Classrooms program came from the Boston Public Schools (BPS), who tasked the BDL with figuring out a way for more students in member schools to gain the tremendous academic and social benefits of debate. In consultation with the BPS Academic Superintendent for High Schools and the headmasters of our member schools, the BDL concluded that the most effective way to bring debate’s benefits to all BPS students would be through a coordinated professional development program that trains teachers to employ debate as a pedagogical tool in their classrooms across all academic disciplines.
In early years, this program was known as Debate Across the Curriculum (DAC), but the name shifted first to Evidence-Based Argumentation (EBA) and now to Debate-Inspired Classrooms to reflect a holistic approach of teaching and learning in which students are engaged in critical discourse, collaboration, and argumentation.
Debate-Inspired Classrooms: A Pedagogical Approach
Debate-Inspired Classrooms uses an approach to classroom instruction that does three things:
1) Supports student argumentation skills
2) Fosters student voice in the classroom and students doing the heavy lifting
3) Facilitates peer collaboration amongst students
Debate-Inspired Classrooms is not a prescribed a curriculum. Rather, the approach gives teachers a set of tools they can use to teach their existing district or school curriculum. In debate-inspired classrooms, students engage each other in debate and discussion about the day’s content, moving beyond memorization of information through lecture, note-taking, worksheets, and textbook reading. From ten-minute activities to full-period debates, debate-inspired practices can take many forms depending on content, pacing requirements, and students’ developmental needs. For example, biology students debate about which characteristic of life is the most important, math students explore which is the best method of finding the slope of a line, and history students dig into historians’ opposing views about which battle was the turning point in World War II.
In debate-inspired classrooms, students regularly practice the 21st century skills of critical thinking, analysis, evaluation, questioning, peer collaboration, and problem solving. Teachers are facilitators and guides; student voice is central, and students take agency and ownership over their own learning, as they deepen both their content knowledge and argumentation skills.
Ways to Engage
Each summer, the BDL hosts a week-long graduate-level course to train teachers to use argumentation activities to engage their students in rigorous academic instruction.
In addition, the BDL partners with Boston Public Schools to engage in a three-year school-wide initiative (engaging all teachers across the school) and a one-year cohort model (engaging a cohort or team of teachers within a school). Our work with partner schools centers around one-on-one coaching with teachers in a cycle of planning, observation, and debrief; full faculty professional development sessions; and teacher leadership in years two and three of the school-wide initiative. Schools that complete the three-year initiative may engage in continuing alumni engagement, led by teacher leaders with the support of the BDL Coach. Over the past 8 years, the BDL has partnered with 17 BPS schools, roughly 500 teachers and 6,000 students.
Debate-Inspired Classrooms Resources
The Debate-Inspired Classrooms website is an introduction for educators new to Debate-Inspired Classrooms as an instructional approach. It also serves as a repository of tools and resources to help teachers further academic discourse and amplify student voice. Within the site, you will find information about the tenets and benefits of Debate-Inspired Classrooms, frequently asked questions about implementation, templates/graphic organizers, and highlights of effective debate-inspired practices in the classroom. For access to these resources, please contact us.