Exploring Controversial Issues in the Primary Social Studies Classroom, pp. 5 of 12

Preparing to Engage in Conflict Dialogue

Drawing on their background in teaching affective education in the Primary Gifted Education Programme (GEP), both teachers created an online SLS lesson that explicitly taught verbal and non-verbal communication norms and skills for engaging with different viewpoints. The SLS lesson, created in response to COVID-19 Phase 2 restrictions, featured a video conceptualised and directed by both teachers to teach students the power of cooperative dialogue, listening to understand, suspending judgement and reading nonverbal cues (refer to Figure 1 below). A class discussion board was also set up for students to pen down their reflections (refer to Figure 2 below). Some responded in general terms which required the teacher to probe further, while others provided insightful analysis that reflected deep learning.

In the next lesson, both teachers unpacked the concept of a fair society with students using the Freyer Model, a four-square graphic organiser that prompts students to think deeply about a concept. They invited open whole-class discussion by encouraging students to list down some of the key characteristics of a fair society and consider if fairness could be equated to equality, before getting them to pin up what they had uncovered in their research under examples and non-examples. The sheer diversity of artefacts brought in by students (e.g., picture of a Black Lives Matter protest, a newspaper article about the gender pay gap and a handwritten poem about experiencing racism first-hand) reflected both their lived experiences and what matters to them. Following which, both teachers guided the whole class to create a definition of a fair society, before rounding up the lesson with individual reflections (refer to Figure 3 below). Such activities encouraged students to extensively rationalise what a fair society means to them, preparing them for educative conflict later on.

Engaging a Diversity of Conflicting Perspectives

Beyond constructive communication skills and concept clarification, this integrated unit was organised around an adapted version of a short story: The Kingdom of Sikkal by Rolf Gollob and Peter Krapf. The fictional story revolves around the key citizenship concepts of governance and social justice presented through different stakeholder perspectives, for instance, an authoritarian ruler, King Sik III, who provides for his people but expects absolute obedience from them even if it means curtailing their personal freedoms or arresting suspected political dissidents. (refer to Figure 4 below).

To prepare students to critically analyse the conflict and participate in conflict dialogue, both Ms. Angsana and Ms. Mimosa employed a diversity of pedagogical tools during this lesson. Students were instructed to form smaller groups to create character sketches, before participating in circle dialogue as stakeholders in the fictional conflict. Throughout this entire process, both teachers explicitly reminded students to keep in mind their definition of a fair society, and to exercise their verbal and non-verbal communication skills when engaging in different viewpoints. When it was time to debrief students, both teachers started a whole-class circle discussion and passed down a talking piece to encourage every student to choose whether to speak or not, while insisting that everyone else listened quietly and attentively without judgement. This strategy shifted the classroom climate from one that was typically dominated by the same few outspoken volunteers, towards a more inclusive and equitable one that carved out space for thoughtfulness and allowed less vocal students to make meaningful contributions to the dialogue. Prompts, such as “Is there anything about Sikkal that you can relate to?” and “Have you ever experienced unfairness? How did it feel?”, were also used during the whole-class circle discussion to encourage students to connect the fictional conflict to their own lived experiences.

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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