Tips for Discussing Current Events in the Classroom
It’s hard to believe January 2022 marks the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Capitol siege on January 6, 2021. For many of our students, living through these current events have been extremely difficult. It is hard to ignore that they’ve had significant impacts on our student’s education, family and community life – and harder to ignore their presence in our classrooms.
It’s inevitable that social studies teachers will have to deal with controversial or sensitive issues at school. Often, even the slightest discussion of these issues force the teacher to serve as a referee in the classroom. So how do we provide a space for our students to share their opinions and reflect on current events, while helping them develop their critical and analytical thinking skills?
A study published in the Peabody Journal of Education found that students felt respected in a political or controversial discussion designed as a deliberation – where the goal was to reach a consensus – rather than a debate.
“The value of deliberation is [that] it can promote an openness to changing your mind and being persuaded. [Whereas] the debate model promotes taking a position and fighting for it. These findings can help teachers decide which skills they want students to learn, depending on how they structure classroom discussions.”
The study further found that using the debate structure to talk about politically charged topics might actually be causing students to become more divided on issues. It suggests the most effective way to tackle these topics is to help students learn how to conduct thorough research, explore and listen to concepts on all sides of the issue, and develop a perspective of their own. Here are a few suggestions on how to take some of these issues in constructive, thoughtful and sensitive ways.
- Create a Safe, Respectful, & Supportive Classroom: Start with community-building activities to create a positive and respectful classroom environment, where conflicts are resolved proactively.
- Prepare Yourself: do your own research and develop background knowledge before diving into difficult topics with your students.
- Learn What Students Already Know: Find out what the students already know or have experienced about the topic. You can do this by brainstorming, creating a semantic web, or responding to a written prompt.
- Compile Student Questions: Once you’ve provided the basic information about the topic, ask the students what questions they have. Get them thinking about how the issue could affect the individuals involved or the larger society.
- Investigate to Learn More: Invite students to conduct their own research to begin investigating these questions. At this stage, it’s helpful to have some vetted sources the students can look at on the topic.
- Share Opinions & Promote Dialogue: After they’ve researched the topic properly, have them form and express their points of view. Encourage them to use evidence to support their position. Remind the class that it’s important to be open to different points of view.
Interested in other ways to discuss these topics with your students? Join the National Council for Social Studies on Tues., January 25 at 4:00 p.m. as they host a session on “Asking Inquiry Questions for Justice.” This workshop will share how educators can ask compelling questions and design critical inquiries to address issues of justice in their classrooms.For more information, and to register, visit here.
Below we’ve provided a few additional resources to help you thoughtfully engage in these conversations with your students. For tips on teaching race, inclusive history and identity in the classroom, return to our previous blog posts “Teaching Race in the Classroom” and “Teaching Inclusive History and Identity.”
Blog post image citation: Ernest Blumenschein, Paul Larence Dunbar. Ernest Blumenschein Drawings. Stillimage. Dayton, OH: 1891. Dayton and Montgomery County Public Library. https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p267401coll36/id/6829/. (Accessed January 6, 2022)