Debates as a Learning Tool – By Dr. Kavita Chawla
Legal debates encourage the students to think critically and quickly and to project their views forward in a professional manner.
It facilitates to develop the art of active listening (a necessary tool for every lawyer) and public speaking. I believe that debates (and not just the moot courts) can be a great learning technique to practice legal advocacy.
However, before formally introducing debates in the curriculum, it was necessary to gauge the student response to it.
Therefore, last semester, for the second-year family law students, two debate sessions that were not part of the evaluation were held.
Based on the student reaction to it, I realized most of the students enjoyed the process, and accordingly, debates were introduced as an assessment.
The first debate for this semester was organized on the topic “Correctness of the decision of Sujata Sharma v. Manu Gupta”.
The judgment extended the daughters the right to be Karta of the joint Hindu Family. Before the topic was assigned the students were given an overview of the topic, the meaning of the concepts involved such as Karta and coparceners, position before the 2005 Amendment Act, discussion of the judgment, etc.
This ensured that students were comfortable with the topic and the reasons why there was a need for the debate.
The topic was assigned one week in advance to give students enough time to research, prepare points and rehearse.
The class was divided into equal groups (luckily the class has an even number of students!) – one for the motion and one against the motion.
In the set of instructions released, students were asked to choose a moderator amongst themselves who would be responsible for choosing the presenter to make the opening statement and the concluding remarks, keep track of the time limits, ensure that each member of the team gets an equal chance to speak, maintain decorum, etc.
This way the students are involved in choosing their representative who has a critical role to play in the manner the debate is conducted.
Each team was given 25 mins to present their arguments. The moment the activity began; the classroom environment had a remarkable shift in the energy levels. It was bustling with intelligent well thought opinions, quick rebuttals, and at times self-reflection.
During the debate, the students were marked on the criteria such as relevance, coherence, communication skills, mannerisms, etc.
To avoid members of the same team one-upping the others, all the members of one team were graded the same.
This ensured that students who are great speakers help those who are hesitant to voice their points. After the debate, I gave feedback to each team on their performance and simultaneously also take feedback from the students on whether the debate was a successful learning tool for them.
In my experience, holding such alternative forms of assessments aids students to discover their strengths, polish their skills, and promotes teamwork as the students learn not only from their peers but also from the students who were their opponents during the debate.
Debates additionally break the monotony of usage of formal assignments to assess student performance. In my opinion, debates are overall a unique form of alternative assessment which involves all the components of legal teaching – research, critically analyzing the provisions, persuading the other party.
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