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Discussion Strategies

Controversial Public Issue (CPI) Discussion

This model allows students to engage in a dynamic, open- ended discussion about a wide range of positions on an issue (Hess 2009). To have a rational, educative exchange, students should thoroughly examine rich but accessible readings and other resources exploring various schools of thought on the issue. A simple graphic organizer might support and provide scaffolding for the readings. For example, the graphic organizer might have three columns entitled (1) supporting arguments, (2) evidence or logical claims, and (3) student assessments/reflections, with a space for students to briefly explain their overall assessment of the school of thought. The teacher may choose to have students prepare for the class discussion individually, in pairs, or in small groups.

Just prior to the discussion, the teacher should remind students to respond to each other, support their claims with specific evidence, remain open to changing positions, and use proper discussion etiquette. Once students have had sufficient time to carefully review the rich resources provided, the deliberation can begin with the essential question. As students deliberate, the teacher can invite quieter students to become involved, and if the discussion stagnates, the teacher might pose additional questions to spark more thoughtful engagement. Productive questions may be posed by students or the teacher and can address a variety of issues, including ethics, evidence, policy, or Constitutionality. (Examples are as follows: Should corporations, unions, nonprofits, and other associations have the right to contribute financially to elections to voice their views? Should the media be required to give free airtime to candidates?)

Jigsaw and Sort

Students can also learn about and evaluate issues and vari- ous schools of thought on campaign finance through cooperative learning. To learn and share knowledge about the issues, students can first participate in a jigsaw (Aronson, Blaney, Stephan, Sikes, and Snapp 1978). In this activity, students are assigned to five groups, one for each school of thought (see Figure 2), and using various materials, they study their assigned content and prepare to teach it to their classmates from the other groups. Next, in new groups with at least one expertin each school of thought, students teach and answer questions about what they learned in their first groups. Through these exchanges, students can interactively learn about the five schools of thought and also develop self-efficacy by teaching their peers.

After students have developed an understanding of these five perspectives, they are ready to analyze and evaluate these perspectives in a sort (Barlowe 2004). To begin, students can independently rank the five schools of thought in order of preference. Then, in pairs, students should spend a few minutes trying to reach consensus on their favorite and least preferred options. Next, each set of partners can join with other pairs to discuss their rankings and again try to reach common ground. Even if consensus is not reached, these discussions are valuable for fostering analytical and evaluative cognition. Finally, to promote an engaging full-class discussion, the teacher should give placards to five students, each of whom representa par- ticular school of thought, and then ask different students to arrange those students with the placards in order from most to least preferred and explain their orders rationale. As in the CPI above, it is important to emphasize the importance of etiquette and evidence-based arguments throughout this process.

Structured Academic Controversy

For a discussion that focuses more closely on one particular issue or policy, we recommend facilitating a structured academic controversy (SAC; Johnson and Johnson 1995). With this strategy, frame a specific question related to one school of thought, such as, Should the U.S. Constitution be amended to eliminate corporate personhood and allow Congress to limit corporate and union political contributions?Then in small groups, students should have the opportunity to examine the arguments for and against, thus allowing for thorough analysis and evaluation of the issue.

To facilitate this activity, the teacher first divides students into groups of four or six, and then half of each group learns about one side of the argument through targeted readings or other media. Next, each dyad or triad presents their side of the argument uninterrupted and afterward responds to questions from the other side. Then, using their notes and other resources, they switch roles and present an argument from the opposite perspective. Once this role play is complete, all students in the group have an open discussion aimed at reaching consensus on some aspect of the issue. Finally, the teacher facilitates a full- class discussion of the question, starting with each groups issues of consensus and disagreement. (For more details about this approach, please see Hartwick and Levy 2012.)