Louise Cline, a religious studies teacher from Sheffield High School in the North of England, won funding last year from the Shine Trust to pursue a new method of debating in her school. Here she explains the significant impact it has had:
"Getting kids involved in a debate outside the classroom is often too easy – arguments as to why they should be able to wear their new trainers or not turn up to detention can be compelling. But trying to instigate debate on curriculum matters in the classroom can be far more difficult.
Hence, I tried a different tack, with funding support from charity the Shine Trust. The idea was to use the debating techniques of Tibetan Buddhism. In this form of Buddhism, monks debate with each other not just through talking but through physical actions, too. The actions represent the aspect of the debate they are presenting. For example, an individual will stamp their feet and clap their hands to indicate the forcefulness of their point.
The project was designed in two phases. The first consisted of seven sessions delivered by me where students learned about the different elements that make up a debate. The second was to establish a debating club in a primary school so that the students could continue to develop their skills and confidence.
The first step was to learn the different parts of any debate: making a point, explaining, giving an example and the conclusion – as well as posing and responding to questions. We then got the students to assign their own actions to each part. For example, to signify making a point they put their hands on their heads and then made a throwing motion, as if they were throwing their thoughts to the other debaters.
As the sessions progressed and the students learned different actions, they were able to remember them in sequences, which reminded them of the structure they should be using for their arguments.
The most dramatic impact of the sessions so far has been the increase in student confidence. The most notable individual result has been on a boy who does not interact much with others when he is in school. By the latter sessions he had the confidence to stand up and take part in the debates on his own.
The project is ongoing and the next step is taking sixth-form students into a primary school to share the debating technique. We hope to have many more positive stories to share."