I enjoyed your post and your strong recommendation to challenge students to develop their thinking skills. Partly because I try the same myself, partly because it feels like an educator-ly type of duty and partly because I believe that encouraging students to demand more of themselves is key method of development, exhortation to and demonstration of higher level thinking skills is vital.
Getting students actively involved in their own meaning making is essential. Kegan (1982) puts it very well. (I’ll quote the entire paragraph as it is relevant. Please exchange preoperational for college student and I think that the intention is still the same.)
“Eventually, preoperational children do evolve, constructing, as a result, a new organisation of the physical world. And when they do, it is not because they have listened more carefully to tutoring grownups, or had it unfold within them like their developing physiologies, so much as it is because of their own activity in the world, evolutionary activity — an activity biologists speak of as the move towards the greater coherence of one’s organisation” (Kegan, 1982, p. 41)
The key knowledge I derive from this passage is that educators cannot force development. What we can do is to create learning environments in which students create “their own activity in the world”. I like your use of debates and choice making activities. Through these types of efforts, students’ development will “unfold”.
Kegan, R. (1982). The evolving self: Problem and Process in Human Development. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press.