Annual Conference Keynote Lecture: Dealing with Controversy and Polarisation in the Classroom

Alicia Rijlaarsdam Association, EUROCLIO

Maarten van Alstein, Flemish Peace Institute

Why is it important that we learn to disagree with each other? How can we teach young people to disagree in a democratic and peaceful manner? Maarten van Alstein from the Flemish Peace Institute contextualized and answered these questions during the opening of EuroClio’s 27th Annual Conference. His lecture Dealing with Controversy and Polarisation in the Classroom built on empirical research, democratic theory, and insights from conflict transformation. Based on his research, Maarten van Alstein came to the understanding that schools should be seen as a place where students can explore differences in a constructive manner. Through a wide diversity of methods ranging from dialogue to artistic practice, he made a case for conceptualizing the school as a laboratory for democracy.

Democracy as dialogue

Central to the idea of tackling controversial topics in the classroom is dialogue. As tensions are rising in our society in the form of conflict and polarisation, dialogue is a method which can facilitate deliberation about societal topics and acute questions. Van Alstein illustrated the extremes of democracy with two concepts relating to the digital sphere. The first is the echo chamber, the idea that the digital sphere creates one single voice and erases multiperspectivity. The second concept describes the chaos of tweets in which polarisation and chaos become the norm. As in society, we should take these extremes into account when facilitating dialogue. In the classroom, educators should create space for democratic dialogue ranging between these two extremes.

The meaning of conflict

“Conflict is like oxygen” (Bickmore, 2007 )

The quote illustrates the inevitability of conflict. Both Maarten van Alstein and Kathy Bickmore argued that conflict will always be present in society. The danger lies in the explosion of conflict. The group polarisation theory illustrates how, due to confirmation bias mechanisms, putting a group of likeminded people together will generally lead to polarisation. When people in groups polarize this can be very dangerous, think of hate groups or terrorist cells. However, polarisation and conflict can be used for the better, an example is abolitionism. There are numerous examples of positive change stemming from conflict, the women’s vote or the more recent Black Lives Matter movement. It can be, on the one hand, destructive and dangerous. But, if we are able to manage it well, we can create a force for good. Then if conflict is an ambivalent phenomenon, how do we deal with it?  

Suggestions for pedagogical practices

When dealing with controversy and disagreement in the classroom, recognizing that conflict is inevitable is the first step. When recognizing that conflict is normal, creating dialogue around it becomes easier. How do we translate this concretely to the classroom? At the Keynote Lecture three main suggestions were given.

Tailor your approach in function of what is happening in the classroom

While this may sound like kicking in an open door, the big challenge for educators lies in tailoring the approach to what is happening in the classroom. Finding good techniques for discussing controversy and polarisation requires making a distinction between different scenarios. Each scenario calls for a different approach. First, when the class is in turmoil, a more provocative or extreme discussion may call for depolarizing strategies. Second, controversial issues in the curriculum sometimes steer the educator into a certain direction complicating multi perspectivity. Finally, controversy as pedagogy means looking for multiperspectivity and controversy in the subject matter. This scenario allows for a more open discussion in which artistic pedagogical practices can be used, such as painting.

Defuse harmful forms of polarisation, but keep the space for discussion as open as possible

Creating an open classroom helps students express their opinions freely. When students are comfortable discussing controversial topics their generalized trust increases. Generalized trust means their trust in society and in others. This, in turn, has positive effects on citizenship attitudes as students are able to recognize that conflict is normal in a democratic society. In the classroom educators should be intent on teaching students to disagree. However, it is crucial for students to recognize polarisation. Of course, dialogue has certain limits and the emphasis should be placed on reasonable arguments. Maarten van Alstein advised that the teacher, especially initially, should focus on the language used during discussions. 

A good conversation often starts with a good question

The final suggestion was that a good conversation often starts with a good question. The use of open-ended questions is something educators themselves can train. Safety for all pupils should be guaranteed. It is a good idea to be impartial as a teacher, but not necessarily neutral, reflection is, of course, needed on positionality. Additionally, van Alstein advised not to start discussing the most controversial topics first. Start with a more safe and so called colder topic. When students feel more comfortable discussing, one can move on to hotter topics. Actively facilitate the discussion, it might be polarising otherwise. 

Conclusion

At the opening of EuroClio’s 27th Annual Conference, Maarten van Alstein argued that conflict is inevitable. Teaching students this notion can help facilitate dialogue and prevent polarisation. Van Alstein provided three suggestions for pedagogical practices when dealing with controversy in the classroom. First, tailor your approach in function of what is happening in the classroom. Second, defuse harmful forms of polarisation, but keep the space as open as possible. And finally, a good conversation often starts with a good question. 

Would you like to read more about Maarten Van Alstein’s work on Controversy & Polarisation in the classroom? You can find the full publication here

EuroClio’s 27th Annual Conference: an overview

Alicia Rijlaarsdam EUROCLIO ,

EuroClio’s Annual Conference has come to an end. The conference was set to take place in Belgrade, first in March and then in October, to be then moved online, due to COVID-19.  The conference centred around the question: How can you teach your students to have a respectful debate on controversial topics? This skill is increasingly important as classrooms (and societies) are diverse and teeming with opposing and diverging views. Worryingly, it seems students (and people in general) are losing the ability to respectfully engage in conversation with people they do not agree with. Paradoxically, students (and again people in general) whilst living in these diverse society, gather mostly information and opinions from others in their “bubble”. This is problematic in its own right, however, this is especially problematic when these bubbles exist of extremist ideologies, conspiracy theories, alternative facts and so-called ‘fake news’. As a consequence, teachers are more often confronted with radical and opposing views in the classroom and expected to deal with them. But how do you do that? The 20 workshops and 5 plenary sessions of the Annual Conference aimed to provide teachers with tangible strategies and lesson plans on how to go about this immense challenge.

This Annual Conference was part of the Learning to Disagree project. This project was initiated in response to the needs of educators who experience difficulties in addressing sensitive and controversial issues in their classrooms. The project, now in its final stages, offers training and support materials to teachers to face these topics head-on with their students. These materials aim at teaching students vital skills such as the ability to listen, to consider alternative interpretations, and the ability of interacting with people that they disagree with in a constructive manner. It was a great opportunity to share all the workshops that were developed for this project with a wider audience. 

This was the first time EuroClio organised the Annual Conference online, which was an exciting challenge for us. We quickly saw the benefits of hosting the conference online; many more than usual could join the Conference as people did not have to take days off work and travel to Belgrade. Everyone could attend the Annual Conference from their kitchen, bedroom, or office. Already months into home office solutions, zoom fatigue was perhaps our greatest worry.

You can imagine we were a bit nervous on the first Monday of November. However, we soon found out, as the first workshop started, that we had nothing to be nervous about. For four weeks participants from across Europe joined us every afternoon at 16:30 and actively and enthusiastically participated.

The workshops, whilst limited by the online format, were all different both in terms of content and format. Some workshop hosts explained how to incorporate the new media in the classroom. During workshops like these participants learned how they could incorporate meme making, documentary making, and graphic novel writing in their lesson plans. Others presented how one could develop historical games to play with students in class. Many workshops gave participants cases, activities and teaching strategies to encourage discussion, dialogue and debate.  Most workshop hosts had participants experience the strategies and activities first-hand, as participants became students and went through each learning activity as if they were a class of high school students.

The workshops hosted by Learning to Disagree team members, who presented the learning activities they had developed, were all received positively by participants. In these workshops participants were introduced to the many lesson plans developed as part of this project. Participants were also introduced to the many teaching strategies that are the product of this project. You can find the teachers’ guide with all teaching strategies here.

Workshop hosts were not the only ones transferring knowledge as participants shared their own experiences and philosophy of teaching, which fostered a sense of mutual understanding and made this Annual Conference a place where peers could exchange knowledge. So much so, we sometimes forgot we were not in the same room. 

We really want to thank everyone who participated in one of the workshops and all of our workshop hosts all of your efforts, participation and contributions made this an Annual Conference we will not forget! See you soon! 

 

Plenary Workshop on Assessment

Alicia Rijlaarsdam EUROCLIO ,

On November 21 Majella Dempsey and Anthony Malone, both part of the Learning to Disagree team, gave a plenary workshop on assessment.  The workshop began by looking at the “Council of Europe Butterfly”, which helps us answer the question “what does it mean to be competent?”. The Butterfly shows four dimensions of competence: values, attitudes, skills, and knowledge. Within these four dimensions, we can find a variety of opportunities to bring dialogue, debate, discussion, and multiperspectivity in the history classroom. 

However, students’ performances are only assessed based on two of the four wings of the butterfly; skills and knowledge. Attitude and values are harder to assess. This is because attitudes are fluid across the classroom, and values might be too hard for students to articulate, especially at a younger age. In particular, empathy is the value that sparks most discussion when it comes to assessment: how do we assess empathy? And Does empathy even have a role in the history classroom or, for that matter, in any classroom? Can we actually teach and assess empathy? 

How to go about assessment

Majella and Anthony gave some tangible tips on how to go about assessment. A starting point is of course to look at the curriculum and make sure what you are assessing is in alignment. After looking at the topic at hand, Majella and Anthony advised which methodology is most suited to tackle that topic.  Intriguingly, Majella and Anthony advise to reverse-plan lessons; start with assessment and work your way back to the topic!

They also stressed that you should ask yourself what your students will learn: what am I assessing? Their empathy? Their debating skills? Why am I assessing these skills? What method should I use? How can I properly assess and give feedback to my students?

We have all experienced the absolute terror of being evaluated for an entire course in one single test. You might even have experienced that on that one day, you could not perform your best, due to circumstance, and you might remember the disappointment you felt as a student. Therefore, Majella and Anthony introduced learning-oriented assessment. This method doesn’t limit itself to attributing evaluating students’ performance in a specific moment but provides quality feedback that can help bring the student forward. Additionally, not every piece of learning should, or can, be assessed in the same way, so having a variety and drawn out period of assessment, will actually give a better insight into your students’ performance! 

A key of formative assessment is that, when it is properly applied, the learner knows from the very beginning what they will learn, how they will be assessed, and what success looks like. Furthermore, it is extremely targeted: it scaffolds learning, or shows students how to proceed forward. Finally, it allows for students to help each other with constructive feedback, and it builds in space for students to reflect on their own work.

Some suggestions from the group

After the presentation the group of participants mulled over the questions teachers ask their students. They reflected on their own mistakes and come to the conclusion they often focussed on content and knowledge, and asked questions that were too academic. They said they also identified a need to ask empathetic questions first, in order to connect with both students and topic. They also underscored that sometimes they would ask too many questions in the same lesson, and subsequently students would lose the focus on what “the question that counts” is, leaving teachers to gaze into the blank stares of their overwhelmed students.  

Did you miss this session? Do you want to listen to Anthony and Majella explain more on assessment? Or do you want to learn more about Online Assessment?  We recorded a session, hosted by Anthony and Majella, on online assessment. You can find the video here

Annual Conference: Marketplace on Contested Cultural Heritage

Alicia Rijlaarsdam Articles ,

“If you’re going to teach history, teach it all” (Paolo Ceccoli, EuroClio Ambassador)

During the final workshop of our Annual Conference, EuroClio ambassador Paolo Ceccoli shared this powerful quote. The goal of the Marketplace on Contested Cultural Heritage was twofold. On the one hand, participants learned about the research that EuroClio and the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR) have been doing to study contested histories in public spaces. On the other hand, the marketplace was an opportunity for participants to reflect and share lessons learned during the Annual Conference.

Drawing on more than 230 case studies from Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas, the Contested Histories project seeks to identify underlying causes for disputes dealing with monuments, memorials, statues, street names and other physical markers of historical legacies in public spaces. The objective is to provide decision-makers, policy planners and educators with a set of case studies, best practices and guidelines for addressing historical contestation in an effective and responsible manner. As director Marie-Louise Jansen mentioned during her presentation: “Understanding root causes [of controversies] necessitates a multi-perspective approach”.

The conference focused on controversy and disagreement in the classroom. At the Marketplace, the different teaching strategies presented throughout the month of November were applied to examples of controversial cultural heritage within the local context of the participants. Cases from across Europe were discussed and compared; the difficulty of addressing colonialism in Spain, the centralised curricular system in Ukraine preventing multi-perspectivity, the tensions and polarisation in Croatian classrooms over identity and narratives of the recent past and the legal difficulties of contextualizing or removing  statues in Slovakia due to property rights are just a handful of examples mentioned by participants during the session. All participants could name an example of a contestation, either directly in their classrooms or in their countries’ public spaces.

While the issues educators face are distinct, the themes are similar. Paolo Ceccoli mentioned: “the more our societies are divided, the more history teaching should teach controversial issues, it’s not easy, ... can even be dangerous, morally or even physically, but it’s absolutely needed”. The importance of contextualization was often emphasised as was the power of comparative studies. Another suggestion was the initial depersonalization of history – shifting personal feelings of guilt or blame that inflame emotions and prevent self-reflection – allowing for multiperspectivity. Another EuroClio expert Benny Christensen put a recommendation very simply: “[When dealing with controversial histories], apply the three D’s: Discuss, Debate, Dialogue”.

Interested in a concrete example of how to teach about controversial cultural heritage? The Rhodes Must Fall Oxford content on Historiana offers a great introduction.

Call for images: photographs documenting disputes are central to our research and the team is often constrained by images that are copyrighted. If you have an image of a contested monument, street name, statue or other physical representation of historical legacies in public spaces, please share them with us! Appropriate credits will be given.

For more information and to share images, email info@ihjr.org.

Annual Conference Networking Session

Did you (e)meet colleagues that you hadn’t seen for so long, and would you like to catch up with them in private, without having to use the chat? Then, join our special networking sessions.

How does this work?

Throughout the Annual Conference, you can privately chat with other participants to the sessions and workshops, and agree with them to meet up in one of the three networking sessions that take place in December. Once you have agreed on the day that you would like to meet up, email us at alice@euroclio.eu or djoera@euroclio.eu. We will share the link to the networking session with you.

You can meet at anytime within the time slots that we have set up. For example, you can decide to meet at 17:15 on Tuesday December 1st. We will be there to let you in the meeting, and to set up a separate room for you and your colleagues to have a private chat.

If you would like to see who joins online, but have no set appointments, you can email us anyway, and we will let you in at the very beginning of the networking sessions.

The networking sessions will take place on:

  • Tuesday December 1st at 16:30 – 18:30
  • Thursday December 3rd at 16:00 – 18:00
  • Saturday December 5th at 15:00 – 16:30

Upcoming Events

  1. A Resilient Promise: Teaching the Fragility of Democracy

    September 15 @ 5:00 pm - October 27 @ 7:00 pm
  2. Using Oral History in the Classroom

    October 16 @ 12:30 pm - 2:30 pm
  3. Fragility of Democracy – Workshop on “Engagement and Activism”

    October 19 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
  4. Fragility of Democracy – Session: Teachers as Changemakers

    October 27 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
  5. Fake & Real: a webinar series on Propaganda and Fake News

    November 10 @ 5:00 pm - December 1 @ 7:00 pm

27th Annual Conference

The Networking Sessions are part of the 27th EuroClio Annual Conference on Controversy and Disagreement in the Classroom. You can find more information on the Annual Conference, including the full programme, on the Annual Conference main page.

Take me to the main page…

Interested in knowing more about the networking sessions?

Reach out to Alice at alice@euroclio.eu or Djoera at djoera@euroclio.eu

Annual Conference Networking Session

Did you (e)meet colleagues that you hadn’t seen for so long, and would you like to catch up with them in private, without having to use the chat? Then, join our special networking sessions.

How does this work?

Throughout the Annual Conference, you can privately chat with other participants to the sessions and workshops, and agree with them to meet up in one of the three networking sessions that take place in December. Once you have agreed on the day that you would like to meet up, email us at alice@euroclio.eu or djoera@euroclio.eu. We will share the link to the networking session with you.

You can meet at anytime within the time slots that we have set up. For example, you can decide to meet at 17:15 on Tuesday December 1st. We will be there to let you in the meeting, and to set up a separate room for you and your colleagues to have a private chat.

If you would like to see who joins online, but have no set appointments, you can email us anyway, and we will let you in at the very beginning of the networking sessions.

The networking sessions will take place on:

  • Tuesday December 1st at 16:30 – 18:30
  • Thursday December 3rd at 16:00 – 18:00
  • Saturday December 5th at 15:00 – 16:30

Upcoming Events

  1. A Resilient Promise: Teaching the Fragility of Democracy

    September 15 @ 5:00 pm - October 27 @ 7:00 pm
  2. Using Oral History in the Classroom

    October 16 @ 12:30 pm - 2:30 pm
  3. Fragility of Democracy – Workshop on “Engagement and Activism”

    October 19 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
  4. Fragility of Democracy – Session: Teachers as Changemakers

    October 27 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
  5. Fake & Real: a webinar series on Propaganda and Fake News

    November 10 @ 5:00 pm - December 1 @ 7:00 pm

27th Annual Conference

The Networking Sessions are part of the 27th EuroClio Annual Conference on Controversy and Disagreement in the Classroom. You can find more information on the Annual Conference, including the full programme, on the Annual Conference main page.

Take me to the main page…

Interested in knowing more about the networking sessions?

Reach out to Alice at alice@euroclio.eu or Djoera at djoera@euroclio.eu

Annual Conference Networking Session

Did you (e)meet colleagues that you hadn’t seen for so long, and would you like to catch up with them in private, without having to use the chat? Then, join our special networking sessions.

How does this work?

Throughout the Annual Conference, you can privately chat with other participants to the sessions and workshops, and agree with them to meet up in one of the three networking sessions that take place in December. Once you have agreed on the day that you would like to meet up, email us at alice@euroclio.eu or djoera@euroclio.eu. We will share the link to the networking session with you.

You can meet at anytime within the time slots that we have set up. For example, you can decide to meet at 17:15 on Tuesday December 1st. We will be there to let you in the meeting, and to set up a separate room for you and your colleagues to have a private chat.

If you would like to see who joins online, but have no set appointments, you can email us anyway, and we will let you in at the very beginning of the networking sessions.

The networking sessions will take place on:

  • Tuesday December 1st at 16:30 – 18:30
  • Thursday December 3rd at 16:00 – 18:00
  • Saturday December 5th at 15:00 – 16:30

Upcoming Events

  1. A Resilient Promise: Teaching the Fragility of Democracy

    September 15 @ 5:00 pm - October 27 @ 7:00 pm
  2. Using Oral History in the Classroom

    October 16 @ 12:30 pm - 2:30 pm
  3. Fragility of Democracy – Workshop on “Engagement and Activism”

    October 19 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
  4. Fragility of Democracy – Session: Teachers as Changemakers

    October 27 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
  5. Fake & Real: a webinar series on Propaganda and Fake News

    November 10 @ 5:00 pm - December 1 @ 7:00 pm

27th Annual Conference

The Networking Sessions are part of the 27th EuroClio Annual Conference on Controversy and Disagreement in the Classroom. You can find more information on the Annual Conference, including the full programme, on the Annual Conference main page.

Take me to the main page…

Interested in knowing more about the networking sessions?

Reach out to Alice at alice@euroclio.eu or Djoera at djoera@euroclio.eu

PubQuiz and Official Annual Conference Closing

Challenge your colleagues and find out if you have what it takes to be the next pub quiz champion

The Pub Quiz tradition continues. After an exciting Pub Quiz in Gdansk, Poland – featuring among other topics Pop Culture, knowledge of EuroClio, and knowledge of the history of Poland – you are invited to get together in carefully constructed teams and to challenge your peers with six new rounds of questions. 

Who will be the next Pub Quiz champion? Join us on to find out! 

The PubQuiz will be preceded by the official closing of our first ever online Annual Conference. How did we do? What could we have done differently? Do you have any suggestions for us? You will have space to share this and much more!

Upcoming Events

  1. A Resilient Promise: Teaching the Fragility of Democracy

    September 15 @ 5:00 pm - October 27 @ 7:00 pm
  2. Using Oral History in the Classroom

    October 16 @ 12:30 pm - 2:30 pm
  3. Fragility of Democracy – Workshop on “Engagement and Activism”

    October 19 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
  4. Fragility of Democracy – Session: Teachers as Changemakers

    October 27 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
  5. Fake & Real: a webinar series on Propaganda and Fake News

    November 10 @ 5:00 pm - December 1 @ 7:00 pm

27th Annual Conference

The PubQuiz is part of the 27th EuroClio Annual Conference on Controversy and Disagreement in the Classroom. You can find more information on the Annual Conference, including the full programme, on the Annual Conference main page.

Take me to the page…

Marketplace on Contested Cultural Heritage

Hosted by Marie-Louise Ryback-Jansen, Lidija Suica, Helen Snelson and Katria Tomko

During this session, participants will learn about the research that EuroClio and the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation have been doing to study contested histories in public spaces.

Then, they will have the possibility to reflect on how the teaching strategies presented throughout the Annual Conference can be applied to examples of controversial cultural heritage within their local context. 

To prepare to this session, participants are asked to send an image of an example of controversial street names/monuments/buildings in their country.

Upcoming Events

  1. A Resilient Promise: Teaching the Fragility of Democracy

    September 15 @ 5:00 pm - October 27 @ 7:00 pm
  2. Using Oral History in the Classroom

    October 16 @ 12:30 pm - 2:30 pm
  3. Fragility of Democracy – Workshop on “Engagement and Activism”

    October 19 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
  4. Fragility of Democracy – Session: Teachers as Changemakers

    October 27 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
  5. Fake & Real: a webinar series on Propaganda and Fake News

    November 10 @ 5:00 pm - December 1 @ 7:00 pm

27th Annual Conference

The marketplace is part of the 27th EuroClio Annual Conference on Controversy and Disagreement in the Classroom. You can find more information on the Annual Conference, including the full programme, on the Annual Conference main page.

Take me to the page…

Session Fee

You can register to this single plenary session for 15€ , or register to multiple workshops and sessions for a reduced fee.

Participation is free for Individual Members, Member Associations, and Ambassadors. Reach out to Djoera at djoera@euroclio.eu to know how to join.

Addressing Competing Historical Narratives in a Diverse Classroom

Workshop by Gijs van Gaans, Fontys University of Applied Sciences

Are you aware how you construct historical narratives? Do you understand your own bias in organising and highlighting specific historic events? Do you understand how your students construct a historical narrative based on their own experiences in life?

In diverse classrooms some historical topics can be quite sensitive. Discussing these subjects may sometimes even lead to heated debates, where emotions seem to be more important than sound arguments based on evidence. In some cases the history teacher might be reluctant to address these topics, because they don’t know how to deal with these emotions. This workshops tries to provide tools, not only how to understand these emotions and the narratives behind them, but also how to incorporate them as an explicit element in your classroom while maintaining a safe learning environment.

About the Workshop Host

Gijs van Gaans (1976) studied history and religious science at the Radboud University in Nijmegen. He has taught history and latin in secondary schools. From 2009 onwards he has worked as a teacher trainer/ lecturer of didactics in history and religious education at Fontys University of Applied Sciences. His main interests are the development of a critical historical consciousness and developing skills that allow for inter-wordview dialogue

Upcoming Events

  1. A Resilient Promise: Teaching the Fragility of Democracy

    September 15 @ 5:00 pm - October 27 @ 7:00 pm
  2. Using Oral History in the Classroom

    October 16 @ 12:30 pm - 2:30 pm
  3. Fragility of Democracy – Workshop on “Engagement and Activism”

    October 19 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
  4. Fragility of Democracy – Session: Teachers as Changemakers

    October 27 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
  5. Fake & Real: a webinar series on Propaganda and Fake News

    November 10 @ 5:00 pm - December 1 @ 7:00 pm

27th Annual Conference

This workshop is part of the 27th EuroClio Annual Conference on Controversy and Disagreement in the Classroom. You can find more information on the Annual Conference, including the full programme, on the Annual Conference main page.

Take me to the page…

Workshop Fee

You can register to this single workshop for 15€ , or register to multiple workshops for a reduced fee.

Participation is free for Individual Members, Member Associations, and Ambassadors. Reach out to Djoera at djoera@euroclio.eu to know how to join.