By Dr. Dorothy Battle - Reflections on a "Deliberative Pedagogy Workshop," Miles College, Fairfield, Alabama

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The following article, by Dorothy Battle, PhD, is about a Deliberative Pedagogy Workshop that was held September 21-22, 2016, in Fairfield, Alabama.


A Deliberative Pedagogy Education Workshop was held at Miles College in Fairfield Alabama, bringing together pre-service educators and K-16 professional educators who worked in Birmingham City Schools, Lawson State Community College, Miles College, the University of Alabama and the Alabama State Department of Education.  As we were learning about deliberative pedagogy, C3 and Social Studies Framework, and Alabama State Standards, taking shape was an education pipeline. This pipeline of institutions of higher education education and k-12 schools and classrooms ushered in a possibility for a much needed focus on making our democracy work as it should.

This workshop was the brainchild of Peggy Sparks. It is an example of her ongoing efforts to work with educators to bring about changes in teacher education, school curriculum and civic life in general. Peggy Sparks believes that such changes would not only lead to improved academic outcomes for students, but also prepare students to enact their roles and responsibilities as citizens.

The summit was intended to serve multiple and overlapping purposes. One purpose was to present how teachers could use Deliberative Pedagogy as strategic means for bringing about dynamic changes in teaching and learning. Another aim was to illustrate how deliberation can be used as a teaching approach to meet adopted social studies standards contained in the National Council of Social Studies C3 Framework, and mandated Literacy and College and Career Readiness State of Alabama standards. Accordingly, the National Issues Forums model was used to demonstrate how deliberative pedagogy, a dialogic process, could be incorporated into classroom curriculum and how use of National Issues Forums align with crucial aspects of the C3 Framework, and State of Alabama standards for Literacy and Career and College Readiness skills.      

Deliberative Pedagogy was an anchoring concept for the summit. Deliberative Pedagogy was cast as a dynamic means for changes in teaching and learning. It was pointed out that the traditional ways in which teachers teach by lecturing, assigning and assessing leave little room for students to become engaged critical thinkers. Deliberative Pedagogy, of which the essence is a dialogic process, fosters teaching as a co-creative endeavor in which teachers construct conditions in the classroom that allow for students to make meaning out of their personal shared knowledge and experiences. Students have the opportunity to envision the world that they want, to see the inconsistencies between the world they desire, and the issues and concerns that get in the way. Through deliberative dialogue students can discern possibilities for addressing the issues and concerns, and the actions that accompany the possibilities.  Deliberative Pedagogy opens the door for teachers and students to move beyond best practices to democratic practices.

The C3 Social Studies Framework presentation specifically pointed out that the standards of this framework called for lessons that addressed student critical thinking and inquiry skills employing evidenced based reasoning. Students are required to build knowledge and understanding that substantiates their perspectives. Learning under these circumstances is not a matter of right or wrong answers or predictable solutions. Learning becomes a quest for discovering what is valuable and meaningful.  

The opportunity for educators to learn in real time how a National Issues Forum is useful for Deliberative Pedagogy and the development and support of student critical thinking and inquiry occurred as educators participated in a deliberative forum: Making Ends Meet: How Should We Spread Prosperity and Improve Opportunity? They were able to discover how thinking and the ability to form and express and exchange ideas are best learned through dialogue. Participants realized that dialogue pertaining to a complex issue did not necessarily bring a solution to a complex problem. However, they experienced how listening to each other offers not only or necessarily information and facts, but also exposure to individual and common values. They learned that there are no easy answers to complex issues.

We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.”

                                                                                                            ― John Dewey

Participants offered reflections about the summit. Here are a few:

I can use what I know now to develop inquiry based actvities and deliberation. I have resources that can help me and I have people that can help me as well.

I absolutely loved getting to participate in the forum activity. It helped me to see a way that you can include valuable discussion in your classroom. Having everyone sit in a circle helped build a community, which is what I want to create in my classroom.

It was really good to see how the forums work. Listening and being able to speak in a safe environment was a good example of how it should be in our classroom.

It was interesting to be a part of the forum. I am excited to use the activity in my classroom in the future. I feel like students would be able to form ideas and create their own options.

I thought this workshop was very helpful. I learned a lot about history and how to facilitate discussions in the classroom. I like that we discussed the standards and how they intertwine. It was great hearing people’s opinions from other colleges.....I am a lot more excited about teaching social studies now.

After today I have learned about primary source resources, children’s literature to use for social studies lessons, and how to facilitate a forum as well as facilitating group investigations on a primary source. As an early childhood teacher I can still include forum opportunities in early childhood settings by discussing and deciding class rules/procedures. The overall workshop was very helpful in supporting my constructivist view that students learn based on their prior knowledge and the value of hearing many opinions in the forum setting. I like that all the participants were able to collaborate with each other. I also like that elementary and secondary education majors were at the workshop. I enjoyed new ways to teach social studies and how to utilize deliberative pedagogy.

Some participants implied a need for additional opportunities for learning how to incorporate deliberation into the elementary curriculum. This was done through the questions that were raised in their reflections.

As an elementary teacher, I would like more information on how to effectively facilitate this in the classroom. I can however, use what I know now to further my knowledge to become a better facilitator of a forum in my classroom.

            I really want to know how often a teacher should do a forum.

            I wish we would have learned a little more about how to use deliberative pedagogy in K-2 grades.

            I feel like it would have been more helpful for me if it were geared more towards elementary education. 

Lastly comments from participants who had previously attended a workshop on Deliberative Pedagogy, and have experiences with incorporating deliberation into their curriculum affirm the ongoing potential of Deliberative Pedagogy.

One is a Birmingham City Schools teacher who termed Deliberative Pedagogy as a Bridge to the Future. This teacher claims that his commitment to use deliberation in his classroom stems from his relationship with Peggy Sparks. He recognizes her passion and dedication to deliberation and National Issues Forums. An excerpt from this teacher’s reflection indicates a profound perspective that equates deliberation in the classroom with opportunities for real changes in education.

As I enter my 12th year of teaching with Birmingham City, I ponder the friendships and professional relationships I have entered into during that time. One of the most fruitful of those many relationships I have been honored to have been a part of is also one of the earliest. Ms. Peggy Sparks and her devotion to the Kettering Foundation and their deliberative pedagogic brainchild, the National Issues Forums has created, both in my classroom and in many others throughout the district and the state, a democratic methodology that is at the forefront of the transformative changes we hope to see in education. Perhaps nowhere has that dedication been more evident than at the recent Deliberative Pedagogy   workshop held at Miles College.

A Lawson State Community College instructor titled his brief reflection Transforming The History Classroom:

The history classroom is periodically transformed into a forum format where open deliberative dialogue and discussions take place. Using the National Issues Forums (NIF) Model, the classroom is rearranged and students are seated in a circle. A major shift in learning takes place when students and instructors become co learners while examining complex current events and issues impacting today’s world on a local, state and national level. When pros and cons debating format is removed from the equation, students become more relaxed talking in deliberative dialogue sessions and often their concerns are personal. They are able to see themselves as part of a historical narrative, creating their own concepts of  historiography while reconciling historical conflicts and opposing viewpoints regarding current events that were impacted by the past. This deliberative learning model gives each one a voice and helps develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that connect student to current political, social, economic and educational issues. This classroom strategy encourages democratic civic participation and activism, thereby constructing new sources of historical knowledge. Most importantly, this approach will provide a positive impact upon faculty and students outreach beyond the college classroom. Students must realize that they are  able play a role in preserving historical stories, sites and artifacts that are quickly becoming irreplaceable sources of information about the past and often overlooked within local communities.

Two days of a summit or workshop as some participants named the September 20th and 21st experience at Miles College has set the stage for changes in educators, education and systems. Dr. Peggy Sparks with her passion and commitment, exemplified through her belief in the power of deliberation for human and systems change, is herself a forceful agent of change.