Discussing controversial public issues in secondary social studies classrooms: learning from skilled teachers
This study was about the discussion of controversial public issues (CPIs) in middle and high school social studies classes. Its purpose was to address the problem that while CPI discussions are valuable for students and for the broader society, few students are actually taught how to participate in them. I sought to better understand the instruction and conceptions undergirding the instruction of secondary social studies teachers who are skillfully teaching their students to participate more effectively in CPI discussions. To accomplish that, I studied three such teachers by interviewing them, examining discussion-related classroom artifacts, and observing videotapes and listening to audiotapes of CPI discussions in their classes. Data were analyzed in a four-step process using grounded theory methodology. During the analysis of the data, seven propositions emerged, along with six ways in which the propositions related to one another. The propositions were: (1) Teachers teach for, not just with, discussion; (2) Teachers work to make the discussions the students' forum; (3) Teachers select a discussion model and a facilitator style that is congruent with their reasons for using discussion and their definition of what constitutes effective discussion; (4) Decisions about whether and how to assess students' participation in CPI discussions are influenced by an enduring tension between authenticity and accountability; (5) Teachers' personal views on CPI topics do not play a substantial, visible role in classroom discussion itself--however, teachers' views strongly influence the definition and choice of CPIs for discussion; (6) Teachers engage in CPI discussion teaching practices that are informed by their conceptions of democracy; and (7) Teachers are receiving support for their CPI discussion teaching from school administrators, the overall culture of the school, and their schools' missions. Implications of these propositions for teachers, teacher educators, and researchers interested in classroom discussion are also presented.
- Education - Seattle