Room for Debate

Today I want to talk about flexible thinking, looking at a situation from many perspectives–and doing it through vehicles that may not immediately spring to mind when you think about creativity:  editorials, debate, and The New York Times.

Sometimes teachers (and others) think about critical and creative thinking as opposites—two sides of a coin. This is reinforced when we talk about “critical and creative thinking” as if they are two clearly distinct things. This is far from the truth. Creativity, at least creativity that results in high quality products, requires critical thinking, evaluation, and good judgment. How else does the creative person decide which of the many ideas generated are worthy of further study, which revisions to undertake, or which projects to pursue?

On the other hand, good critical thinking requires flexibility in examining varying points of view, and considering many possible options. Both types of thinking are important for a range of tasks.

The Learning Network blog of The New York Times recently featured materials on “Constructing Arguments” using the “Room for Debate” area of the Opinion Page. This is a chance to take a look at two wonderful resources for older students, and to extend them for younger ones. The Learning Network blog contains a host of materials for teaching and learning with The New York Times. But if your students are too young for The Times, don’t despair, there are ideas here for you, too.

In this lesson example, the Common Core standard being addressed is “Constructing Arguments,” a skill requiring logic and critical thinking. But not only is that skill something that can also be brought to bear on creative tasks, it is also something that can be taught in a way that facilitates creativity.

In “Room for Debate”, four or five experts from various perspectives write a short response to a question in the news. Take a look at the Constructing Arguments lesson suggestions. Be sure to read all the way to the bottom, so you see the suggestions to create a school or community version of “Room for Debate,” or a fantasy “Room for Debate.”

These are suggestions appropriate for students of all levels. Reading and evaluating various points of view is a fine exercise in critical thinking. Creating multiple brief arguments from several points of view is an equally fine exercise in flexible thinking. Working with newspaper content is appropriate for older students, but there is no reason younger students couldn’t write (or discuss) from multiple perspectives about issues at their level. Imagine a “Room for Debate” regarding any of the following.

  • Should Jack be prosecuted for theft of the Golden Goose (from the perspective of Jack, the Giant, and the Goose)?
  • Why was the first Thanksgiving important (from the perspective of a Pilgrim, a Native American from 1620, and a person today)?
  • Should a bike path be built along the creek next to the school (from the perspective of a student, a parent, a fish in the creek).
  • Why did you choose your housing material (the three pigs)?
  • Which simple machine is most useful (from the perspective of a lever, a pulley, and a wedge)?

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