1. Ground rules are needed to govern how class processes work and to moderate the nature of contributions to the discussion. The purpose of such rules is to enable the free flow of ideas in a safe, non-threatening environment with the goal of having students think about and question their assumptions and listen to others. Often the goal of teaching a topic is not 'clearer ideas' but 'greater confusion'. This has to be tolerated as a stage in moving towards an independent opinion (Straddling, Noctor and Baines, 1984).

  • Strategies
    • make it a rule that students (and you) only make statements about an issue, a person or group of people if they were prepared to make that statement directly and respectfully to a person to whom the ISSe is important or to a member of that group
      • that is, abusive and derogatory comments do not have a place in the conversation
      • encourage students to think carefully before they speak and to avoid emotive or inflammatory language
    • make it a rule that people have evidence for what they say - this could be based on personal experience or research evidence
      • encourage students to understand the difference between valid personal experience (e.g. a student who belongs to a minority group who has experienced discrimination from a range of sources) and personal prejudices (e.g. the 'sample of one', in which a student draws on stereotypes and uses contact with a single member of that group to confirm their stereotypical viewpoint)
      • ensure that the conclusions a student draws from personal experience can be logically and coherently supported - this is an anecdote suitable for a university class not a dinner party story
    • encourage critical diagnosis through a range of techniques e.g.
      • take note of the sources of various types of information and how they are positioned in relation to the ISSe e.g. what is at stake and what might be gained?
      • take note of the possible gaps in information and where and how they might have arisen e.g. are any points of view silenced or over-represented?
      • evaluate and prioritize the information available e.g. which information is likely to be more objective and is there a balance of information?
      • challenge the authority of the information/source by asking awkward/probing questions e.g. who benefits/does not benefit from this proposal?
      • help students to "recognise rhetoric" (Straddling, Noctor and Baines, 1984) and detect 'style over substance'
      • see Straddling, Noctor and Baines, 1984 for a fuller treatment of these issues
    • "cultivate tentativeness" (Straddling, Noctor and Baines, 1984) among students
      • encourage students to explore their fixed ideas and their prejudices
      • recognise that often students' confusion and uncertainty is a stage in development toward holding an independent opinion - support students through this uncertainty.

2. "Classroom incivilities" (Boice, R 1996) can include teacher and student behaviours that impact on the classroom atmosphere and negatively affect learning.

Teacher incivility includes rudeness, prejudice, and neglecting the needs of individual students or groups of students. Teacher behaviours that can stimulate classroom incivilities from students are those that appear uncaring of students' welfare and learning and include poor teaching practices. Student incivility can manifest as poor punctuality, lack of preparation for or non-participation in classes, disruption of classes, distraction of teacher and fellow students, and cheating.

To effectively manage classroom incivilities, a teacher must be aware of elements of teacher behaviour that are or can stimulate classroom incivilities, and be aware of elements of student behaviour that are or can stimulate classroom incivilities. (See Boice, Robert, 1996 for a detailed discussion of classroom incivility.)

  • Strategies
    • attend to the morale of the classroom
      • set out to establish the 'tone' of classes from the very first session
      • adopt 'prosocial' motivators, such as positive encouragement, instead of threats e.g. "I know you can do a good job of this" instead of "If you don't do this properly, you'll fail"
      • develop a warm, sincere attitude to students using both verbal and non-verbal means e.g. use eye contact and smile; let students complete questions before beginning to answer; do not use sarcasm or put downs; be available for students
      • check that students perceive that the topic content and activities are relevant and meaningful to their lives - boredom and discouragement can engender incivility
      • use student incivility in a positive, non-aggressive manner e.g. if a student yawns or groans loudly, respond with humour and comment that it might be time for a brief break/further explanation
      • develop and model civil behaviours e.g. arrive on time, be prepared for class, listen to students and respond positively, treat students with respect.

3. Moderating over-attachment to ideas and overreaction to criticism is an important first step in encouraging students to move from simplistic 'black-white' thinking to more sophisticated approaches.

It is important to understand that students might use a range of strategies, deliberately or unwittingly, in order to cling to their viewpoint. These can include: only taking note of information that confirms their opinion; discounting information that is not congruent with their opinion; and revising or distorting information so that is is congruent with their opinion. The extent to which this occurs can depend on how new or threatening the new ideas are and the relative value the student places on the new ideas. Therefore students need to be empathetically supported to become aware of these processes and to accept new ideas.

It involves fostering reflexivity, attending to one's own assumptions, and focusing on the learning process in place of the content. A range of activities can be used in which students can explore, test and review their own ideas and explore the ideas of others. Essential to the success of this process is that the teacher is self-reflexive and has questioned her own ideas and assumptions.

  • Strategies
    • debates, especially encouraging students to argue from a viewpoint opposed to their own, can encourage reasoned analysis of multiple aspects of a controversial issue
      • it takes time to think up good debating topics and prepare for a worthwhile debate [find ref]
    • brainstorms can encourage students to work as a group in seeing all possible aspects of a controversial issue and can be used for a range of purposes e.g.
      • fact finding to define a problem
      • idea finding to produce and develop ideas
      • solution finding to generate and evaluate potential solutions
    • role-plays and simulations can assist students to develop empathy with the other's point of view
      • for example, students can 'take a moment in history' and role play from the points of view of all protagonists
    • problem-solving and exploration, using the following model

      1. identify the problem
      2. explore the problem
      3. set goals
      4. identify possible solutions
      5. evaluate solutions
      6. select solutions
      7. plan implementation
      8. evaluations
       
    • identifying and exploring the problem requires the group to negotiate and come to consensus about what the ISSe is and what its features and effects are, and who or what is involved - this requires students to consider not only their own but also others' points of view
  • distancing through analogies

    • devise an analogous but non-contentious situation that will allow students to first explore all of the elements at a safe intellectual and emotional distance and then look for similarities to the contentious situation. This reduces the impact of personal bias.

4. Moderating negative thinking and strong emotions is an important aspect of ensuring a 'smooth' approach to controversial issues. It involves becoming consciously aware of one's own cognitive and affective responses to the ISSe at hand and then encouraging students to do likewise. (See Boice, R 1996).

  • Strategies
    • monitor thoughts and feelings before, during and after classes on controversial issues; it might be helpful to keep a written record to probe your responses and to track development
    • take note of the impact of negative thoughts, especially what blocks to 'just getting on with it' are created
    • attempt to reframe negative thoughts and feelings
      • identify which negative thoughts are irrational
      • replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts and feelings