Guidelines for Discussing Difficult or High-Stakes Topics [web resource] [downloable]

The Center for Research on Learning & Teaching (CRLT) at the University of Michigan offers the following guidelines to help instructors facilitate classroom discussion around controversial issues. Thought the guide is intended for a higher education setting, it can easily be adapted for younger students.

Spontaneous Discussions: Dealing with the Unexpected

It is wise to be prepared to respond to the possibility that a student will raise a controversial issue in class unexpectedly. Immediate response is called for, if only to decide what to do next:

  • Acknowledge the student who raised the issue while noting that students may vary in their responses.
  • Decide whether you are ready and willing to engage with the topic right away.
  • Quickly assess whether the class would like to spend time sharing views about the topic.

If students want to have a dialogue, and you want to wait on it, schedule a discussion for a later class and suggest ways that students could prepare.

Planned Discussions on High-Stakes or Controversial Topics

Planning a discussion on a controversial topic or issue benefits from consideration of the following topics, each of which is addressed in the sections below:

View the full text of the guidelines on the Center for Research on Learning & Teaching website. CRLT has also created a downloadable handout to offer instructors ways to make the most of “hot moments” as learning opportunities. It includes specific strategies to prepare for, respond to, and follow up after eruptions of tension or conflict in the classroom.

Source: University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning & Teaching | Guidelines for Discussing Difficult or High-Stakes Topics, | © 2021 Regents of the University of Michigan

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