Learning about Issues through Discussion in the Primary Social Studies Classroom: A Shared Inquiry Approach, pp. 4 of 16

Shared inquiry of issues through discussions

Parker and Hess (2001) define discussion as a shared inquiry which involves listening and talking to others about an issue or a text on hand. The common object of inquiry is the issue or discussion topic in question and the materials used can include a text, an idea, a policy, an artwork, a performance or a speech that have different and even conflicting interpretations. During discussion, individual students voice their views to one another, evaluate claims, evidence and values, make meaning and build into their own understanding other people’s interpretations and life experiences. The outcome is that the individual and collective understanding of the issue or topic is deepened, expanded and advanced (Walsh & Sattes, 2015). In other words, shared inquiry leads to shared and enlarged understanding. 

Parker and Hess (2001) consider discussion to be a worthwhile endeavour as it contributes to knowledge building within communities of inquiry and community building in a democracy. Discussion can increase student understanding of important content, develop their skills of critical thought and ability to dialogue across differences, build their tolerance for diversity, and promote positive civic behaviour and engagement (Hess, 2004, 2008). Discussion is most suitable for topics dealing with values, attitudes, feeling and awareness which will provide students practice in formulating and evaluating opinions. It can also be used in lessons where students’ opinions will add value to the lesson (Petty, 2009). Parker and Hess (2001) make a distinction between teaching with discussion and teaching for discussion. The former uses discussion as an instructional strategy to develop student understanding of a text or an issue under scrutiny whereas the latter is a learning outcome as students are expected to acquire discussion skills and dispositions. Such distinctions are useful when ruminating over lesson objectives and they need not be mutually exclusive when planning issue-centred lessons for instruction.

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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