Navigating controversial topics in the classroom

Navigating Controversial Topics in the Classroom

If your syllabus includes controversial topics, you will want to plan and anticipate difficult and emotional classroom discussions. Discussions may consist of multiple phases such as the initial discussion, a potential need to restore community (during or after), and self-reflection. Remember always that your role is to facilitate an inclusive learning environment for your students.

Incorporate guidelines for the learning environment

Use strategies to facilitate discussion

Build community

  • Incorporate effective practices located on the Be Identity-Conscious page.
  • Ask students to think about how their reactions. mirror the subject at hand and what they might learn about the topic from their experience. To help frame the reactions, use the questions located on the Discussions instructional strategies page.
  • Ask students for feedback about the course regularly. Consider using Brookfield’s (2012) Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ) to discover the effects your teaching has on students and determine the emotional highs and lows of their learning. Using the CIQ gives you a running commentary on the emotional tenor of each class.

Navigating controversial topics in the classroom, webinar recording

Many instructors consciously avoid controversial issues in the classroom because of the difficulty involved in managing heated discussions. However, controversy can be a useful, powerful, and memorable tool to promote learning. This conversation will provide instructors with resources to facilitate classroom discussions around controversial issues, including the O.T.F.D. (Open The Front Door) and A.C.T.I.O.N. communication frameworks. For this webinar, download CELT’s Navigating controversial topics in the classroom (PDF) Note: This webinar is an additional workshop on teaching inclusively.

Watch the Navigating controversial topics in the classroom Studio video (14m 55s)

Navigating controversial topics in the classroom, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Navigating controversial topics in the classroom, is a derivative of Managing hot moments developed by Harvard University‘s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning retrieved (November 1, 2016) from