MONTVILLE, NJ - This January, 65 of Montville Township’s eighth-grade English students debated topics found in the headlines.
“I choose topics that I think they will be asked to vote on in their first national election after they turn 18,” explained teacher, Nancy Bostwick, about the topics she assigns her 13- and 14-year-old students. “I look for multi-faceted topics on the New York Times’ Op-Ed Page and in The Star Ledger.”
Bostwick, who was recently named Teacher of the Year to represent the Montville Township School District in the Morris County Teacher of the Year competition, has been a Language Arts and Literacy teacher at Robert R. Lazar Middle School for six years. Each year she gives her eighth-grade students a four-week debate assignment.
Students work in teams and topics for the debates are drawn from a hat. Also drawn is the position, pro or con, that each team will take on that topic. All students research, write and present arguments which will support the topic and position they have been assigned. As a team, they determine who will present the opening and closing arguments. The students also must prepare to defend their team’s position when answering random questions from the audience. Regardless of each student’s personal view on an assigned topic, in order to effectively argue and defend the topic for their team, each student in Bostwick’s classes must become an authority on his or her assigned topic and point of view.
“In addition to improving research skills, debate promotes logical thinking,” Bostwick said. “In debate, students have to think on their feet. No one knows what questions are going to be asked by the audience.”
Audiences throughout the month ranged in size and scope, from current classmates to students from other learning teams within the Lazar community.
This year’s topics included:
- Stem cell research
- Gun control
- Capital punishment
- Violent video games
- Capital punishment
Following each debate, the audience voted on which team, pro or con, best argued and supported its position. “The students who are debating, as well as those in the audience, learn that a heated argument can be lively but respectful,” Bostwick added.