What is Structured Controversy?
Using structured controversy in the classroom can take many forms. In its most typical form, you select a specific problem. The closer the problem is to multiple issues central to the course the better. This strategy involves providing students with a limited amount of background information and asking them to construct an argument based on this information. This they do by working in groups.
What is its purpose?
- to help students gain deep understanding of all positions related to a controversial topic or issue
- purposeful use of controversy
- requires reasoned judgment, not mere factual knowledge
- student groups argue for and against an issue, then reach a consensus that is supported by evidence
How can I do it?
- Choose a discussion topic that has at least two well documented positions.
- Prepare materials:
- Clear expectations for the group task.
- Define the positions to be advocated with a summary of the key arguments supporting the positions.
- Provide reference materials including a bibliography that support and elaborate the arguments for the positions to be advocated.
- Structure the controversy:
- Assign students to groups of four.
- Divide each group into dyads who are assigned opposing positions on the topic.
- Require each group to reach consensus on the issue and turn in a group report on which all members will be evaluated.
- Conduct the controversy:
- Plan positions.
- Present positions.
- Argue the issue.
- Reverse positions and argue the issue from those perspectives.
- Reach a decision.
- To avoid problems, clearly communicate to the students the debate rules that will guide the interaction.
- Be critical of ideas, not people.
- Focus on the best decision, not on “winning.”
- Encourage everyone’s position, even if you do not agree.
- Use paraphrasing when you are not clear about what someone said.
- Try to understand both sides of the issue.
How can I adapt it?
- Can be used as an alternative to a traditional debate.
- Allow students opportunities to have input into topic selection, defining the positions and providing materials.