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What If We Asked Circular Questions to Transform Controversial Issues?
Possibilities for the Classroom

Liliana Castañeda Rossmann

California State University, San Marcos


The questions we instructors ask propel classroom conversations in various ways. Though sometimes our questions merely elicit information from students or allow us to gauge how well students have digested course material, our questions may also stimulate students' insights and lead the entire class to novel understandings of controversial issues. Different ways of talking, including how we ask questions, bring about different learning experiences and ultimately create different realities.

When we address controversial issues such as gender and racial/ethnic inequality, religion, and politics, the discussions among students and between instructor and student(s) take turns that may challenge the instructor's ability to manage the discussion productively. Many times in my own Intercultural Communication courses I have encountered students who make remarks perceived by others as racist or insensitive, stirring controversy and distracting us from the issue at hand. Although no technique can prevent such disturbances entirely, a technique called Circular Questioning has been used effectively in some conflict-prone settings and shows promise for applications in the classroom setting.

I would like to take the question in the title as a departure point to illustrate how I use Circular Questioning (CQ) to facilitate student discussion of potentially controversial material . First, I will give a brief background on Circular Questioning; second, I will provide details of how the process works in other settings; and, third, I will explain what I seek to achieve by adapting CQ for use in the classroom.

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Posted October 17, 2002

All material appearing in this journal is subject to applicable copyright laws.
Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board.
©2002 by Liliana Castañeda Rossmann.

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