Diana Hess on Discussion

Diana Hess’ presentations on classroom discussion of controversial issues at the Constitutional Connections Summer Institute catalyzed participant Heidi Morris to continue the line of inquiry.  In her investigations, she found an article Hess wrote for the Winter 2002 issue of Theory and Research in Social Education.  From the conclusion:

Before undertaking this study, I expected that the teachers who were accomplished at teaching their students to participate effectively in CPI discussions would be classroom “wizards.”  Tedd Levy (1998) describes such teachers as the “great exception,” the individual teacher who “overcomes apparently insurmountable odds to succeed where others have failed” (p. 3).  I expected this finding because the literature shows that few teachers include CPI discussions in their curriculum.  Perhaps so few teachers use CPI discussions, I thought, because they are just so difficult.

While I still believe that it is not easy to teach students to participate effectively in CPI discussions, I have modified my assessment of the difficulty of CPI discussions as a result of what I learned from this study.  I do believe that the teachers I studied bring to the classroom a host of skills that some teachers may not possess.  Additionally, I recognize how fortunate they are to be in schools where they are receiving support for their practice from parents, teachers, and administrators.  Notwithstanding this assessment of their abilities and school settings, one of the factors that makes these teachers successful is not classroom wizardry, but well thought-out and thorough lesson plans informed by sophisticated conceptions of the purposes of discussion.

What new approaches to classroom discussion of controversial public issues has Constitutional Connections stimulated for you?  As the year evolves, be sure to tell us what you notice!

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