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Why the Best Teaching Strategies Are Like Boxes of Building Blocks

By Dave Stuart Jr.

A lot of my favorite teaching strategies are like the box of building blocks that my children have. When the box gets dumped out, it's amazing how many things my kids can make. The blocks provide a set of very basic constraints — how many there are, their shapes, their colors — but mostly there's freedom for my kids to experiment and create and make.

Pop-up debate is a box of blocks. There are really just two rules:

  • Every kid speaks.
  • To speak, you stand up and speak.

From there, the beauty and power is up to you.

At first, the goal of pop-up debate is just getting every kid to participate — to get over their fear of public speaking (more here, or pp. 218-221 in These 6 Things for a more polished treatment). Then you teach them how to explain themselves and require that as the new goal. Then you ask them how they think the class can do better — and so you end up teaching and requiring Paraphrase Plus (here or p. 126 in These 6 Things), or Palmer's PVLEGS (here, or p. 224 in These 6 Things, or Palmer's Well Spoken). Eventually, you can get as complicated as Les Lynn's Refutation Two-Chance (here, or pp. 127-128) or mandatory tracking (here, or pp. 122-124).

I met a science teacher in Kansas last week who is excited to introduce students to logical fallacies and how not to commit them.

Yes. That's what I mean by building blocks. The blocks are pop-up debate. What can you do with this structure? All kinds of beautiful and creative things.

Gallagher's article of the week is the same kind of thing. An article each Monday, a couple basic requirements, and the response is due Friday. You can make it more complicated if you'd like (I used to — full story here), or keep it simple. You can select articles on all kinds of topics, or aim at topical immersion like I do with Burning Questions of the Year (described on pp. 85-86 of These 6 Things).

These are simple, simple strategies, but so rife with potential.

There are more like them — Conversation Challenge, the Nine Moves, Think-Pair-Share. They are about as complicated as a teacher like me gets.

“But Dave, doesn't it make your class boring, using the same basic strategies again and again?”

Well, I don't know — I guess you'd have to ask my students.

Or, better yet, ask my children the next time they're playing with the box of blocks.

(New and snazzy isn't the thing at the root of student engagement. The five key beliefs are.)

One Response to Why the Best Teaching Strategies Are Like Boxes of Building Blocks

  1. Joe Ellis December 12, 2018 at 8:35 pm #

    Hello Dave, I appreciate your post on teaching strategies. The Pop-Up debate style is interesting because it teaches students to politely let others join the discussion if they have something to say. I think this would be especially useful in a classroom where a handful of students tend to dominate the discussion. This is unfortunate because class debates and discussions are useful and wonderful tools to facilitate passion and excitement about a new unit. The thing I like about the debates you are describing is that they require students to stand and overcome any difficulties that they may have with public speaking. Public speaking is something that I did a lot of in high school and I feel that it is one of the true tangible schools that teachers can pass on to their students. Public speaking is something that I will try and employ a great deal in my classrooms but in order to do this, students need to have clear and defined norms in place about what is expected. Only when students are safe and confident can truly original and inspired thoughts take place. Additionally requiring at least one comment means that everyone gets to have their voice heard which is important. Great post! Joe.

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