Are Classroom Discussions on Controversial Political Issues in Civic Education Lessons Cognitively Challenging? A Closer Look at Discussions with Assigned Positions

Dorothee Gronostay


Discussing controversial political issues in class provides rich opportunities for cognitively activating learning processes, i.e. in-depth processing of learning content and higher-order thinking processes. However, relating the features of a given argumentative design to specific learning outcomes is a tricky endeavor, as this theoretical paper aims to illustrate through the example of a discussion with assigned positions (for/against) in civic education classes. The potential of such discussion settings for cognitive activation was examined by considering the features of the overall argumentative design, task configurations, and learning activities. More concretely, it is argued that controversial discussions with assigned positions constitute three different task configurations depending on the relationship between a student's personal and assigned positions. Based on the ICAP framework (Chi & Wylie, 2014) for cognitive engagement, the paper further shows that students may take part in various modes of learning activities within a single instructional setting (although to different degrees). These findings point to the need to develop "more local" (Mandl & Renkl, 1992) or "middle-range" theories (Mutz, 2008) of learning through argumentation.

Klíčová slova

argumentation; civic education; cognitive activation; controversial issues; cognitive engagement

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