Learning about Issues through Discussion in the Primary Social Studies Classroom: A Shared Inquiry Approach


This article looks at how primary school children can learn about issues in their social studies lessons through discussion. It first spells out the importance of introducing issues in the social studies curriculum for the development of students to be informed, participative and concerned citizens. It focuses on the selection of suitable issues for primary school children and discussion as a pedagogy for shared inquiry to help teachers achieve academic understanding and citizenship outcomes for their learners. The Walsh and Sattes’ (2015) framework for quality discussion is described as a useful guide for teacher planning and implementation. Research findings on teacher belief and practice of using discussion of controversial issues and the implications on teacher professional development are also discussed. The article concludes with how to be skilful in the facilitation of discussion of issues for shared inquiry.

Why introduce issues in primary social studies?

Children are constantly bombarded with different issues that are linked to their immediate environment, community, country and the world. An issue is something that is discussed or argued about, and these can be controversial in nature. Wellington (1986) describes a controversial issue as one which is deemed important by several people and cannot be easily settled based on evidence or facts alone because value judgments are involved. According to Perry (1999), a controversial issue has the following characteristics: the subject is of topical interest and is complex; there are differing values, opinions and priorities; and strong arousal of emotions can occur.


An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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