The Shipley Method

The Great Debate: Using Creative Learning Methods in Fourth Grade

The Shipley Method in Action

Using Creative Learning Methods in Fourth Grade

Fourth graders in Christian Wareikis’s class approached learning the events leading up to the American Revolutionary War in a challenging and intense way. Half are dressed in red, the other in blue with colonial style black hats and feathers. As they sat on opposite sides of the library facing each other, both the Loyalists and Patriots felt unsure of what to expect. But, they were confident in their preparation for battle, or in this case, their first class debate over who is to blame for the Revolutionary War.

Success Lies in Preparation

Leading up to the big debate, students prepared in a multitude of ways. First, by learning to write persuasive style essays and next by building on those skills to learn to present in a persuasive style.
“In January, the students learned to write a persuasive piece, to learn the style and process of how to make a strong point,” said Wareikis. “The natural progression of moving from persuasive essays to the debate and to being able to verbalize works really nicely.”

Focus on Student-Led Process

“This debate being a student-led process was one of the goals,” said Wareikis. “The only thing I took the lead on was approving their arguments, because I wanted them to be strong. And from there, the students took over.”
“The students assigned individual roles for each other, and as a group developed their plan,” explained Wareikis. “And that’s really hard for them.”
Organizing what seemed to be an endless amount of research challenged the students to work collaboratively and strategically to choose the 
strongest evidence to support their arguments.
Not only was strong evidence necessary for their arguments, but also essential for their rebuttals.
“The students had to anticipate what arguments were coming at them,” said Wareikis. “They were forced to think quickly on their feet to find the appropriate counter statements backed by credible sources.”
Both the preparation process and the debate embodied the Shipley Method’s Confidence to Explore. The fourth graders committed themselves to researching facts, organizing their information, and standing up to their peers with confidence and conviction.

Emphasizing Creativity

However, Wareikis explained to students that without a little creativity, simply rattling off facts during a debate wouldn’t guarantee the guest judges would award them a win.
“Creativity was a huge part of this debate process,” said Wareikis. “I told the students to be informative, but challenged them to think about what else they could write in their opening and closing statements or rebuttals to really emphasize the point.”
The creative minds of the fourth graders sparked several surprises in the debate. Teams included visual elements such as maps, wrote their own songs, and the Loyalists even threw a bag full of feathers onto the Patriots during an argument on tar and feathering.
“That’s what I was trying to emphasize,” explained Wareikis. “I said to the students, imagine if you can pull something else in to convince, or to make your point stand out. How can you make that work?”
Faced with several challenges, the Shipley’s fourth graders rose to the occasion, impressing the judges and faculty members. In the end, a winner proved no importance. The Shipley Method’s Confidence to Explore and Creativity in All taught students the skills necessary to prepare and work collaboratively to yield success in all they do.
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.