Designing Discussion as Inquiry

This past Tuesday, the  Illinois Democracy Schools Network continued with its C.L.A.D. (Civic Learning Across Disciplines) webinar series. Dr. Paula McAvoy, Associate Professor of Social Studies Education at North Carolina State University, presented “Designing Discussion as Inquiry” where she considered the place of both deliberation and debate in the classroom.  This is the subject of some of her current research and is especially significant for teachers who are trying to navigate the many facets of Current and Controversial Issue Discussions

Her presentation began with an exploration of “what makes a good class discussion?”, as participants generated a list of positive traits for this type of activity.  She then shared a brief clip of a class discussion, and attendees applied the criteria they had just generated.  From this exchange, Dr. McAvoy then introduced a graphic that posited the key elements of discussion–(1) the role of the teacher (interactive lecture on one end of the continuum, and student “oversharing”at the other) and (2) the amount of conflict present in the discussion (too much at one end, and too little at the other.) This gave the participants some food for thought as Dr. McAvoy then examined two different discussion styles: deliberation and discussion. 

Several resources were offered by participants, the Democracy Schools Advisory Council and Mary Ellen Daneels,  Director of Illinois Civics Hub and Illinois Democracy Schools:

  • The Guardians of Democracy offers a 5-week course in Current and Controversial Issue Discussion where Dr. McAvoy, along with Dr. Diana Hess, are featured academic experts.  Further details here.
  • A comprehensive toolkit for discussion of current and controversial issues from the Illinois Civics Hub. 
  • Digital Resource Center from the Center for News Literacy has lots of resources and lesson plans for teachers looking to incorporate news literacy in their classrooms which can help facilitate discussions on current issues and events.
  • Heather Van Benthuysen from CPS and Erica Hodgin from CERG are the authors of  a blog post at the Teaching Channel, ‘Move Over Debate, It’s Time to Deliberate.” 
  • “Rethinking the Both Sides Reflex” by Dr. Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz explores the question of whether presenting both sides of an issue is always the best path towards objectivity and better news habits.

If you missed the webinar, you can access a recording on the Illinois Democracy Schools Network Webinar archive.  And if you are interested in reading more about current and controversial issue discussion, Dr. McAvoy’s book (co-authored with Dr. Diana Hess), The Political Classroom digs deeply into this pedagogy.  And look for another book referenced in the presentation to be published in January 2022: Making Classroom Discussions Work, edited by Dr. Jane Lo.


The Illinois Civics Hub and the Illinois Democracy Schools Network are hosting free after-school PD this year from many of the organizations highlighted above, including the News Literacy Project, the Stanford History Education Group, and the Civic Education Research Group. A description for each webinar and information to register for professional development credits through the DuPage Regional Office of Education is available on the Illinois Civics Hub Professional Development Calendar. 

The Illinois Civics Hub also has a newsletter that shares our free PD that is open to all. You can subscribe here!