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Managing discussion

Difficult discussions

Sometimes discussions won’t take off, students might need help in order to realise that they already have opinions on moral issues. Emotive starters for discussion may help.

A teacher working with possibly contentious moral issues needs to have ‘emotional
intelligence’, i.e. the ability to recognise the way in which some students can be affected, especially when the topic impinges on some aspect of personal experience.

It is worth considering whether students can be given the right to opt out from topics that they find distressing. ‘Opt-out’ can mean that students simply leave out that portion of the course but more usually in the school situation they will need to be guided in the selection of an alternative topic that will meet the course learning and teaching objectives.

Forewarned is forearmed, a difficult topic that is introduced clearly at the end of an earlier lesson with an invitation to approach you before the next session will allow you to deal with concerns beforehand. Also approach any individual known, for example, to be suffering from a skin cancer or whose sibling was killed in a traffic accident. They may wish to contribute offering a valuable perspective or request that the topic be changed.

It may be useful to make sure you are clear on how to refer students to the school counselling service or school nurse, especially if issues are likely to crop up that they may wish to discuss in confidence.

The Teacher's role

Teachers need to take care in discussion for students may look to them to seek direction and it is easy to let slip a remark that sways students' viewpoints. You can take various roles such as neutral chair or devil's advocate but these have implications. Students know you probably have your own point of view and may not be convinced by these approaches selecting only what they wish to hear from what you say.

Advice from the DfEE Advisory Group on Citizenship suggests adopting a common sense approach telling the students that there are other viewpoints that you would like to share with the class. It is also advocated by some educationists that, in order to be believable and enable open discussion, you need to make your views known in the same way as you are encouraging your pupils to, but teachers are still worried about possibly being accused of indoctrination. 

Next: Discussion online through PEEP

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