With so many hot topic issues in the news it is hard to avoid talking to students about sensitive issues.

In 1983, ABC showed “The Day After,” a film depicting the day after a fictional nuclear war and its impact on several Midwestern families. Everyone was encouraged to watch it, including children and teachers needed help talking to students about sensitive issues.

Many teachers were worried that their students would see the film and not be emotionally prepared.

So we at Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility developed a teaching guide about the film and suggestions for talking to students about sensitive issues.

After that, Morningside Center, then named Educators for Social Responsibility Metro, became known as an organization that helps teachers bring up difficult topics in the classroom begin talking to students about sensitive issues.

Almost 20 years later, after 9/11, Morningside Center again moved to support teachers in talking to students about sensitive issues and complex topics.

This time we launched a new Web site called TeachableMoment, which offered a myriad of lessons and approaches aimed at helping students grapple with both the emotional issues evoked by 9/11 and the many social and political issues surrounding it.

TeachableMoment’s mission is to help teachers looking for ways to encourage critical thinking on issues of the day, as well as foster a positive classroom environment.

Our approach is to integrate social and emotional skills with an exploration of interesting and relevant content when talking to students about sensitive issues.

Because we know that teachers often avoid “hot button” topics because the issues are so complex, or because they don’t feel prepared to handle the strong feelings and opinions discussion might stir, below we offer 10 suggestions for how to start talking to students about sensitive issues by taking some of these issues on in constructive, thoughtful and sensitive ways.

10 Tips For Talking To Students About Sensitive Issues In The News

Talking to students about sensitive issues:  Create a safe, respectful supportive tone in your class.

Sometimes students don’t participate in discussions about sensitive issues because they worry that they will be teased, their opinions will be ridiculed, or strong feelings will arise because the topic hits close to home.

To create a safe and supportive environment for talking to students about sensitive issues   make group agreements at the beginning of the year.

These might include guidelines like “no name-calling,” “no interrupting,” “listen without judgment,” “share to your level of comfort,” “you have the right to pass,” and the like.

Remind students that when they talk about groups of people, they should be careful to use the word “some,” not “all.”

Do community-building activities to create a positive and respectful classroom environment, and resolve conflicts proactively.

Most important, model talking to students about sensitive issues by being honest and open yourself and by being respectful and even-handed with different points of view.

Talking to students about sensitive issues:  Prepare yourself.

Before you delve into a difficult topic with your students, educate yourself with background knowledge. 

Times Topics pages, which collect all Times news, Opinion and multimedia about a subject, can be helpful, as can the Room for Debate blog, on which experts with a range of points of view are invited to discuss topics in the news.

For example, if you are going to discuss the Occupy Wall Street protests and their connection to income inequality, get a basic overview from the Times Topics page, or read the Room for Debate discussion “Is It Effective to Occupy Wall Street?” to explore different points of view.

To understand how socioeconomic class operates, you could study this infographic. (Both TeachableMoment and The Learning Network also have lessons on that provide both background information and suggested activities.)

Next, articulate your own point of view on the topic for yourself so that when students ask for your opinion — and they will — you’ll be prepared.

Though many teachers keep their own points of view out of the classroom entirely, if it is appropriate to share yours, wait until the end of the discussion.

Also consider in advance the possible “triggers” for your students. For example, if you are discussing gay marriage, remember that you will almost certainly have students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender themselves; who have gay parents, relatives or friends; or who have religious beliefs in conflict with gay marriage.

Some of these students may feel relieved to discuss a topic so relevant to their lives, while others may feel embarrassed. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discuss the topic, but you also should never highlight those students’ situations.

Be aware that when talking to students about sensitive issues strong feelings could arise and plan in advance for how to handle them. Remind your students about the ground rules and explain that this issue may affect some students very personally.

Depending on the topic, you may even want to tell students, or their parents, in advance that the subject will be part of class discussion in coming days.

Talking to students about sensitive issues:  Find out what students already know or have experienced.

Start with what your students already know. You can assess their prior knowledge in a variety of ways, whether creating a semantic web as a whole class and brainstorming associations with the topic, having them talk with a partner, or having them write in response to a prompt.

(If the topic is very delicate, you might ask them to write anonymously first, then use that writing to decide how to proceed in a later class.)

Make a list of all the questions they have. These questions are an additional window into what students already know, or think they know, and what they don’t.

Be sure to ask them to articulate where they got their information and opinions, and invite them to talk about how they know their sources are reliable.

Remind them that, when learning about or discussing sensitive information, they should always ask, “What do I know and how do I know it?”

Talking to students about sensitive issues:  Compile the students’ questions and examine them together.

After giving students basic information about your topic, elicit questions they still have. If they are focusing on content questions (who, what, where, why, when), expand their inquiry so they think beyond the basic facts and dig into deeper or “essential” questions.

For example, if you are going to discuss the killing of Osama bin Laden, content questions might be: Who was Osama bin Laden? Where did he grow up? What did he believe? Why did he plan the 9/11 attacks? How was he captured?

These questions are important, but questions like “Why do people take violent actions?” push students to go deeper, make connections beyond one news story and lead to a more complex understanding of the situation.

Another fruitful line of questioning might be to ask how the issue affects the individual involved and how it affects society at large.

CONTINUE READING… talking to students about sensitive issues.

 Thank you KATHERINE SCHULTEN for the information provided in this article Tips For Talking To Students About Sensitive Issues In The News


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