Should We “just Stick to the Facts”? The Benefit of Controversial Conversations in Classrooms

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Theory Into Practice






Controversial topics may be uncomfortable for teachers to include in their in-class discussions. However, there are considerable cognitive and social-emotional benefits to engagement in controversial conversations, or classroom discussion about controversial topics. It is critical that teachers support students in respectful discussion to help them develop skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, and the ability to consider issues from multiple perspectives. These skills can enable students to meet larger educational goals such as engaged citizenship. The goal of this article is to highlight the benefits of controversial conversations in the classroom and describe teaching approaches that facilitate effective controversial conversations. First, we identify important factors for teachers’ consideration in supporting effective and beneficial controversial conversations. Second, we provide examples of topics of conversations that may be appropriate for students of varying ages. Third, we review how the structure of conversation, scaffolding, classroom context, relationships, and students’ individual differences can shape controversial conversations.