The following guidelines can help instructors facilitate classroom discussion around controversial issues. Whatever the context, it is helpful to structure such discussions in a way that defines boundaries for the process and provides some degree of closure within the classroom. Such discussions are an especially important time to explicitly discuss expectations for respecting a range of perspectives and experiences in the room.
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.
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