No need to be an expert! Exploring complex and controversial issues in the classroom from a critical perspective

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No need to be an expert! Exploring complex and controversial issues in the classroom from a critical perspective

  • Nessa Ní Chasaide
  • Debt and Development Coalition Ireland


  • To explore methodologies that enable students to become the ‘experts’ in exploring complex or controversial issues
  • To explore ways of developing students’ economic literacy and critical thinking skills through a range of methodologies and resources
  • To consider the characteristics of successful cooperative learning

Setting the context

  • Shift from teacher-led to student-centred learning
  • Shift from teachers doing all the talking (and most of the work!) to students taking more responsibility for learning
  • Shift from teaching content towards more emphasis on the development of students’ skills

Setting the context A shift in education worldwide – Towards developing key skills and key competencies

Business Studies – Economic Awareness (JC Syllabus)

  • Without a basic level of economic awareness citizens cannot fully participate in the democratic process. Every day, individuals make economic decisions, as do business firms and governments. It is becoming increasingly difficult to make political choices without some knowledge of economics. Business Studies aims to make some contribution to economic literacy among students in order to enable them to make an informed contribution to the democracy’

Economics LC Syllabus

  • “It is intended that the syllabus will be relevant to the lives of students and inspire in them an interest and excitement about economic issues. It should enable them as citizens to understand the economic issues that affect their lives and to offer informed comment on these issues. It should provide them with the knowledge, skills & understanding to … respond to the needs of the economy and contribute to sustained economic development”

Moral Purpose of Education?

  • Building more just relationships
  • Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy emphasises the potential for personal and social transformation through the action/reflection dialectic of ‘praxis’. It is only by critically understanding our world that we can change it.
  • People learn best through a process that connects, learning, reflecting and doing.

Setting the context - global financial crisis and growing poverty

  • Global poverty: 1.3 bn people living on less than $1.25 / day. Poverty increasing in Africa. Majority of poor people are living in ‘Middle Income Countries’
  • Ireland’s poverty: 23% of people in Ireland are experiencing 2 or more types of poverty (CSO); 15% unemployment, emmigration 40,200/yr; 1.9 m people have less than € 100m left at end of month
  • Debt Crisis: Southern countries owe over $4 trillion in external debt; EU: 87% to GDP (60% is the norm), Ireland 121% GDP, or 147% of GNP.

Thinking Critically? Promoting divergent thinking

  • In what ways can you help students to think more critically?
  • In buzz groups discuss methodologies that you might find successful

Thinking Critically?

  • good use of questioning
  • challenging assumptions and prejudices
  • encouraging more flexible and divergent thinking
  • exposing students to different perspectives
  • engaging in real world problem solving

Cooperative learning – the key to unlocking key skills

  • ‘Students may work in groups but they very seldom work as groups.’
  • Ken Richardson

Diamond ranking

  • Diamond ranking is a thinking tool that gets students to prioritise and make judgments. Then it helps them to analyse and evaluate the criteria that they have used for making their judgments.
  • It’s important that there is no single right answer but a range of possible responses.

In groups of 3 work together to rank the cards

  • Appoint a
  • facilitator/checker - ensure everyone’s voice is heard
  • timekeeper – ensure group keeps to time
  • Reader – reads out the statements

Discussing and questioning


  • What’s in a question, you ask? Everything. It is a way of evoking and stimulating response or stultifying inquiry.
  • It is, in essence, the very core of teaching’
  • John Dewey, 1933

Common Pitfalls

  • Asking questions without being clear why you are asking the question
  • Asking too many questions
  • Asking mostly closed or LOT questions that need only a short answer
  • Asking difficult questions without building up to them
  • Asking a question and then answering it yourself
  • Not giving enough time for students to think

HOT (Higher Order Thinking) Questioning

    • To promote critical and creative thinking we need to ask more HOT questions. These are:
    • Questions involving application of the students knowledge
    • Questions concerning analysis of a topic
    • Questions that involve building on information that they got in the past
    • Questions that require evaluating their understanding
    • Questions that require imagination or creation of something new

Things to consider

  • Plan your questions
  • Ask different kinds of questions
  • Allow wait time
  • Encourage students to discuss answers in pairs and squares
  • Good resource:
  • The_skill_of_framing_questions.aspx

Promoting flexible and divergent thinking

  • Placemat Methodology
  • Placemat is a form of collaborative learning that combines writing and dialogue to ensure accountability and involvement of all students. It involves students working alone and together around a single piece of paper to simultaneously come up with lots of alternative ideas.
  • (Adapted from Barrie Bennett, Beyond Monet)

In groups of 4 work on creating a Placemat

  • Question to consider
  • What is the cause of the global debt crisis and where does responsibility lie?


  • Suggests that students learn best when they
  • ‘construct’ their own meaning
  • are actively engaged in learning
  • engage in reasoning not just reproduction
  • check their own and each others learning/understanding
  • learn from each other, e.g. use peer explaining, peer teaching, think-pair-share, group work.

Why is active engagement in learning so important?

  • We remember
  • 10% of what we read
  • 20% of what we hear
  • 30% of what we see
  • 50% of what is discussed with others
  • 80% of what we experience personally
  • 95% of what we teach to someone else
  • According to William Glasser

‘Children may work in groups in classrooms but they very seldom work as groups.’ Ken Richardson

  • Elements of Cooperative Learning
  • Positive interdependence
  • Individual accountability
  • Face to face interaction
  • Interpersonal and group work skills
  • Reflection and group processing
  • According to David and Roger Johnson

Tips for successful group work

  • Agree ground rules
  • Set clear tasks – provide ‘structure and guidance’
  • Avoid friendship groups and keep groups small
  • Ensure everyone has a role (no passengers)
  • Create positive interdependence – mutual goals, shared resources, complementary roles, shared product/grade
  • Allow time for group processing of both the task and process
  • Create a classroom culture in which students feel that everyone has something to contribute.
  • See handouts or more help in organising group work and
  • and (key skills toolkit)

Your role

  • Decisions – size of group, roles, arranging room, planning materials
  • Setting task – explaining the task, explaining criteria for success, reminding groups of desired behaviours/ground rules
  • Monitoring and intervening
  • Evaluating and processing feedback on the students’ learning and giving them positive feedback

Some strategies

  • To begin with – keep it simple
  • Use strategies such as
  • Read and explain pairs
  • Think-pair-share
  • Think- pair-square
  • Study buddies
  • Cooperative essay writing

Jigsaw learning

  • Jigsaw groups is another good cooperative learning methodology.
  • A different topic related to the same theme is given to 4 or 5 groups. Each group must study their topic and prepare to ‘teach’ it to the other groups.
  • When they are ready, the groups are re-organised so that there is ‘an expert’ from each of the different topics in each new group.
  • Within their new groups they each take turns teaching their topic.

Jigsaw Technique

  • Step 1: Students are arranged into groups. Students must be competent in the subject matter before they move on to step 2.
  • Step 2: Rearrange groups. Students ‘teach’ their area of expertise to the rest of the group.

Another useful tool - Graphic Organisers

  • Diagrams, graphs, flow charts, venn diagrams, timelines, spirals, circles, fishbones, compare and contrast tables etc.
  • Can be used as
  • a note-making tool
  • to help summarise or make sense of complex information
  • to show different views/perspectives
  • Resolving a Trade Dispute
  • Workers
  • and
  • Supervisor
  • Union Officials
  • and
  • Senior Management
  • Shop Steward
  • and
  • Manager
  • Labour Relations Commission
  • Or
  • Rights Commissioner
  • Or
  • Equality Officers
  • Labour Court
  • Or
  • Employment Appeals Tribunal
  • Shop Steward
  • and
  • Supervisor
  • Explanation
  • Explanation
  • Explanation
  • Explanation
  • Explanation
  • Explanation
  • Internal Negotiation
  • Internal Negotiation
  • Internal Negotiation
  • External Negotiation
  • External Conciliation
  • External Arbitration
  • Ownership
  • Control
  • Liability
  • Finance
  • New State
  • Sole Trader
  • Co-op
  • PLC
  • Private Co
  • Franchise

Now we’re going to create a life size graphic organiser

  • Activity – debt timeline

Graphic organisers

  • (click on graphic organisers)

Tips on dealing with controversial issues

  • Make the classroom a safe place to ask questions and discuss ideas (e.g. agree ground rules)
  • Appeal to students’ better nature
  • Sometimes useful to find out what they already think or feel about an issue before opening up a discussion
  • Expose students to multiple perspectives
  • Promote critical thinking – questioning and probing
  • Teach the skills needed for dialogue and active listening
  • Model respect and fairness

Useful links

  • (How the world works – a teaching resource can be downloaded here)

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