Tackling the Immigration Issue in Micro-Macro Debates (Pt. 2)

February 5, 2017 Les Lynn Argument and Literacy, Classroom Debating, The Debatifier


We have helped support partner schools in tackling the immigration issue in Micro-Macro Debates this school year, and we have observed patterns in student academic performance and teacher implementation practices that we’ve shared with those schools.  Regular readers of The Debatifier might recognize this technique — one that we both employ in our partnerships and encourage partner teachers to use in their classrooms — as the “analytics” that are a form of direct feedback to students around themes of proficiency and deficiency demonstrated in a classroom.

These analytics have been modified slightly to post to the broader community of educators that follows The Debatifier, so that you can benefit too from these suggestions on what to accentuate and build out (proficiencies), and what to pay special attention to redressing or reinforcing (deficiencies), in your own work with classroom debating using formats such as Micro-Macro Debates.

Common Proficiencies

Students Rise to the Challenge of this Issue

Students have done an exceptionally good job, overall. Students have responded to the challenge of doing real academic debate on an issue of some urgency and real societal importance. Students have made clear arguments from work that they did to prepare, they worked to use evidence to support those arguments, they listened carefully to the other side’s arguments, they worked to respond to — and often refuted — the other side’s arguments, and they were thinking hard about how the arguments can be evaluated and resolved in their favor.  Teachers shouldn’t expect or demand highly polished orations: Micro-Macro Debates are designed to teach the practices of academic debate and how they can focus students on evidence-based views and critical thinking about differing, opposing views.  Thinking critically, demonstrating content knowledge in an argumentative context, analyzing and evaluating viewpoints, evidence, arguments — these are the objectives that the Micro-Macro Debates focus on and achieve for all students, to a lesser or (and mostly) a greater degree.

Micro-Macro Debates Help Ensure Both Organizational Focus and Broad Coverage of the Issue

The Micro-Macro Debates format has been honed over several years to be especially effective for issues as complex and multi-dimensional as immigration.  Students in our partners’ projects so far this year have clustered around a single sub-issue and argumentative claims that are focused on that aspect of the overall immigration issue.  The Micro-Debate Rounds give them the platform to demonstrate learning and express critical thinking in this guided and closely organized way.  Then they are able to put all of the sub-issues together in the Macro-Debate Round, evaluating the competing argumentation and explaining how it is that the argumentation more focused on single issues comes together to favor their overall position on the debatable issue.

Should the United States substantially restrict immigration?

Common Deficiencies

Help Students Begin Their Speaking with an Introduction

The student presenting the argument and the counter-argument in each round should begin by stating their name and their position. Remember the position is the overall stance on the issue.  The two position statements in these debates are: “I am [or we are] arguing that the United States should substantially reduce immigration” and “I am [or we are] arguing that the United States should not reduce immigration, that immigration levels are fine where they are.”

Counter-Arguments, and All Refutation, Should Include a Refutation Construct

The side stating its argument should then state its argumentative claim. The side making counter-arguments should say, “They say that [summarize the argumentative claim,] and they have evidence that says [summarize the evidence,] but our view is, first, [state the first counter-argument] . . . .”

The rebuttal and refutation speeches (technically, everything after the opening argument is a form of refutation, so these are just the names we’ve given these speeches for this format) should (a) summarize the argument that they are about to respond to (e.g., “They said that high-skilled immigrants take jobs from native-born Americans”), then (b) they should respond to the argument (e.g., “but the Financial Times evidence that we read says that the jobs they take are more than offset by the jobs they create by starting new businesses”). They should do this type of refutation, as much as possible, against each point made in the previous speech.

These argumentation templates or stems are often called refutation constructs.  They are important in that they require students to express their understanding of the argument to which they are about to respond.  How a student summarizes that argument reveals their level of understanding of that argument.  In more advanced debates, the refuting student can “angle” the argument they are about to refute a little bit, accentuating the way in which it seems to call for the refutation it is about to get.

Effective Refutation Relies on Impact Statements

The refutation speakers (counter-argument, rebuttal, and evaluation) should do one more thing – not every time they respond to an opposing argument, necessarily, but at least once and preferably a couple of times – (c) connect back to their position, explain why winning the detail means that are winning an argument that supports their position (e.g., to finish the (a) and (b) from above, “Since high-skilled immigrants are not overall a drain on jobs in the U.S., and might even make it easier for native-born Americans to find work, we should not be keeping them out of the country”). It is very important that all arguments are given impact by being attached back to the arguer’s overall position in the debate.

Students Will Need to Learn the (Logical) Responsibilities of Each Speech

The rebuttal should respond to the counter-arguments and the refutation should respond to the rebuttal. Each of these speeches, though, should refer back to their side’s initial, structured, and evidenced arguments.  The rebuttal should weigh the original argument’s evidence and reasoning against the counter-arguments’ evidence and reasoning.  The rebuttal should try to argue that the argument (and his or her extension of the argument) is stronger than the counter-argument.  Likewise, the refutation speech should favorably weigh the counter-arguments’ evidence and reasoning against the argument’s evidence and reasoning.

Teacher Implementation Should Use Fairly Strict Timing

Timing should be relatively strict, and should go like this:

Argument: 2:15

Counter-Arguments 2:15

Rebuttal 1:45

Refutation 1:45

Students won’t always make their best points during this timing, but debate is rules-based argument, and timings are baseline rules.

Flowing Is Always an Aid to Refutation and the Critical Thinking It Generates

The flow sheet is not required, though you are encouraged to try to flow the debates. It is definitely used to “score” the rounds.  Judging who wins an academic debate is always based on two criteria: (a) who has the better evidence and reasoning to support their claims, and (b) who does the better job of refuting the other side’s arguments.  Generally, an argument has to be extended into the last speech (rebuttal and refutation, in this format) for it to be considered by the judge.  Judge quickly, and you probably do want to announce your decision after the two Micro-Debate Rounds on each sub-issue, giving a one-phrase explanation – e.g., “stronger, better cited, more clearly reasoned evidence.”

The Macro Debate Round Has Its Own Format

The Macro-Debate Round should last about 5 minutes. Alternate sides in calling on students to speak.  No one should speak more than 45 seconds.  They can respond to any argumentation raised in debates at any time, and they should first and foremost explain why they think their side should win the debate.  Students should follow a four-step process in the Macro-Debate Round:

State their position

Summarize the argument they wish to respond to

Respond to this argument

State why their response means their side should win the debate

Using analytics like these can be a powerful format of feedback — to students in your classrooms and (as we have experienced) to partner schools and the educators we work hard to support.