Study Finds That Allowing Children To Argue Can Make Them Better Learners

Allowing students to argue may help them learn better and faster.

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Rough housing and arguing might be allowed at home, but these constructive fights between children are often expressly forbidden in school, especially inside the classroom. While it makes sense to forbid certain physical playing to avoid injury, but intellectual debates between children can often be beneficial for them, according to a recent study.

A study conducted by Sheffield Hallam University in the UK looked at the way children engage in the classroom and focused on whether they were allowed to carry out meaningful dialogues without being interrupted by instructors. For the study, 2,493 Year 5 pupils (9 and 10-year-olds) were monitored across 78 English primary schools. A report on the study was published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

Researchers asked random teachers to trial a method called Dialogic Teaching, where instructors are asked to use “strategies that enable pupils to reason, discuss, argue and explain rather than merely respond.” In the results of the study, the researchers concluded that using this method led to students making progress two months ahead of their peers that did not experience this teaching method.

“Getting children to think and talk about their own learning more explicitly can be one of the most effective ways to improve academic outcomes,” said Sir Kevan Collins, CEO of EEF, in a statement.

The program utilizes video and print materials, including in-school mentoring that supports the planning teachers must do, and teaching and evaluation in English, math, and science lessons. Children that were exposed to the method were more advanced in all three subjects than those that were not.

In the randomized, controlled trial, there were higher than average proportions of disadvantaged students affected by poverty that yielded the same results as well; this is telling because disadvantaged youth sometimes perform more poorly in school because they often don’t have a balanced or healthy home life that leads them to miss homework, have a harder time focusing, or even suffer nutritionally. The study shows a steady range of children with different backgrounds doing well when being exposed to Dialogic Teaching.

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“While there is no simple strategy or trick, today’s evaluation report on dialogic teaching does give primary school heads and teachers practical evidence on an approach that appears to be effective across different subjects,” Collins said.

Many teachers reported needing more than two semesters to truly embed the method in their classroom. This may be because they needed more time to adjust to the new method and confidently use it, but since these initial results were positive it seems that adding more time to the trial would only benefit the students and teachers even more.

Similar results were yielded when teachers tried other methods, like Thinking Talking, Doing Science, in which teachers posed ‘big questions’ to get the children thinking big. Examples include ‘how do we know the earth is a sphere’ in order to stimulate conversation and generate ideas rather than just having children repeat facts. This method resulted in children making three months more progress than those that didn’t learn with a special method.

Instructors don’t necessarily have to implement an entirely new method in order to help their students learn better, they simply have consider some new options when it comes to teaching students a certain lesson here or asking them a different type of question there. The variety can also keep students on their toes by making their brains work harder to produce answers.

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