This is a small-group discussion format designed to help students get the most out of an issue or case study by assigning them "positions" in terms of the issue presented by the case, asking them to generate arguments in favor of that position, then forcing them to argue against that position, and finally asking them to synthesize what they have learned into a position upon which both sides could most likely agree.
Constructive Controversy requires a case that has clearly opposing sides, or clearly opposing actions that the main players in the case must choose between. This can be as simple as ending the case which a question like: "What should the main character do? Action A or Action B?"
Do not require groups to generate lengthy documents: this inevitably lands on one person within the group and makes the workload unfair. Instead, ask for "position statements" that consist of bulleted lists of paragraphs, generated in class on laptops, if possible.
Students are assigned the role of delegates from various nations which have competing interests in some way (claims on a piece of land, desires for something to be described in a certain way, economic interests in a certain event or place). Together, they must compile an encyclopedia entry describing the situation upon which they can all agree, with the teacher facilitating the negotiation conversation and projecting the statement as it evolves using a laptop and computer projector.
This conflict can be between individuals within groups, or between groups. This means that one can assign each group to be a nation and the negotiation takes place as a whole-class discussion, or groups can have a student representing each nation within them, with negotiations taking place uniquely within each group. The latter can be a bit more chaotic, but enables a final all-class discussion comparing the various synthesized products which can be fascinating.
Having unique negotiations happening in many groups simultaneously works best if there is at least one laptop in each group, so statement language can be quickly drafted, altered, re-drafted, and so on.
From: UT Professor of Music Sonia Seeman
From: D. Johnson, R. Johnson, & K. Smith (2000) Constructive Controversy: The educative power of intellectual conflict Change, January/February, pg. 28-37.
We all want students to carry our teachings into their lives. Often, however, we must make our intentions very plain for students to understand that an assignment will equip them with skills and empower them, and is not an arbitrary hoop through which they must jump.
For this reason, frame each activity using these four steps: