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Classroom Discussion Of Terrorist Attacks in U.S.

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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I am indebted to Constance Cook, Director, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, Associate Professor of Higher Education, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan for the following message. Hopefully the guidelines will be of some value to you in discussions you may want to have with your colleagues and students regarding yesterday's events.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Gender and University Teaching

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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From: "Constance E. Cook" To: reis@Stanford.EDU Date: Tue, Sep 11, 2001, 12:58 PM


Rick -

The University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching wrote guidelines today for UM instructors in response to the university president's request that they discuss today's tragedy in their classes tomorrow. You might feel that the guidelines would be useful to instructors elsewhere as well as at UM, so I am sending you the URL:

Feel free to distribute the URL more broadly if you think it could be useful to faculty at other institutions.

I hope you are safe and well on this tragic day.



President Bollinger has suggested that class time on September 12, 2001, be dedicated to discussion of today's tragedy. As the leader of the class and the person facilitating the discussion, it is important for you to maintain your authority over the classroom environment in order to guide the discussion appropriately. CRLT has compiled the following suggestions to help you prepare and facilitate these discussions:

1. Think through supportive ways to introduce and close the session.

2. Ask the class to establish ground rules for the discussion. Some ideas you might want to propose to students before they begin discussion include:

A. Avoid blame and speculation.

B. Respect each other's views and avoid inflammatory language.

C. It is okay to share personal stories and feelings. (Be prepared for students to be emotional, and try to support and comfort them.)

D. It is okay to express anger and frustration within limits. (While it is important for students to express themselves, it is also vital to control the class and maintain an environment that feels safe for all students.)

3. Be prepared for the fact that, sometimes, in the wake of these tragedies, when a particular group gets blamed by the media, there is a backlash against people who share an ethnic/cultural/religious heritage with those accused. It is important that students not be doubly hurt by this tragedy -- first by the shocking news that has shaken us all and second by misguided generalizations.

4. Create a framework for the discussion. Possible discussion topics include:

A. What hopes and fears do you have about this discussion?

B. In what ways are you personally affected by these events?

C. How might these events affect your/our future?

D. What positive actions can individuals take in response to this tragedy (e.g., give blood, support students new to campus or far from home)?

5. Allow everyone a chance to talk (when possible), but don't force students to participate. Ways to accomplish this include:

A. Use a "round" (give each student a chance to speak in response to a guiding question without interruption or discussion, allowing students to pass if they desire). Following the round, open the discussion for general response.

B. Divide students into discussion partners or groups.

C. Give students a chance to write before speaking.

6. Other ideas for instructors to consider:

A. Join sections together to have more than one leader. In large classes, consider breaking students into small groups with GSI discussion leaders.

B. Where you can, explore links to the content of your class or discipline.

C. Try to balance emotional with intellectual approaches.

D. Ask students to do some writing when discussion seems to be getting out of hand.

7. Exchange ideas and strategies with other instructors, including debriefing the class discussion.

8. Extensive counseling support is being offered to students through each of the residence halls and in central locations such as the Kuenzel Room of Michigan Union. Students who have questions or need support can call (734) 763-9595.

9. The Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FASAP) is available for faculty and staff who need counseling support. U-M faculty and staff who need support or who have questions about their work situation should call (734) 763-9700.

10. CRLT consultants will be available to talk with you by phone (764-0505), by email (, or in person (3300 School of Education Building). Please feel free to discuss with us the issues you face in the classroom as a result of the tragedy we all have experienced. There are no right answers or approaches, so we all need to learn from each other.

CRLT 9/11/01