Special report: Rashid Moore

Special report: Paris Colloquium 2005, Agir pour apprendre

Rashid Moore on “Using Structured Controversial Dialogue (SCD) to Promote the Discussion of all Perspectives of an Issue in the TEFL Classroom”

By Gary Huie

It was with great anticipation that I arrived at Rashid Moore’s presentation on “Using Controversial Dialogues and Role Play in the TEFL Classroom”. I had just come from teaching my Advanced Constitutional Law course at the Cergy-Pontoise Law School and I was eager to get some new ideas on how to coax oral production even from supposedly argumentative law students. I’ve learned the hard way that in L2, discussion must be structured and nurtured along as part of a process.

Dr. Moore’s model of Structured Controversial Dialogues (SCD) provides a useful model that EFL teachers can adapt to their particular teaching situations. He does this by dividing the class into small groups and having each group take a specific advocacy position on an issue.  Then the different members of each advocacy position group meet with their counterparts in two other groups advocating different positions. There, they hear the arguments of the other two positions and compare them to their own. Then they return to their original groups and take turns presenting the other two positions with the aim of strengthening their advocacy position.  The overall aim is to encourage a cooperative learning strategy where students see multiple sides of an issue - an essential professional and personal skill in this increasingly complex world.

The original groups, with three characters, then prepare a short dialogue or conversation that illustrates the different positions and which frames the ensuing discussion. For instance, on the controversy of Digital Piracy, one character might start the dialogue by saying that she had just illegally downloaded a new video game from the Internet because the company is worth over a $1 billion so they wouldn’t miss a mere loss of the $39 cover cost for the game. Another may respond that if a million other people did the same thing, it would be $39 million lost for the company. A third might add, if everyone downloaded their programs for free, companies wouldn’t have the incentive to invent new video games. After the dialogue continues on in this vein for a while, the spectator would be asked whether he agrees with what students 1, 2 and 3 had said and whether there is a perspective on this issue that has not been presented. Further, is a compromise solution possible to the controversy?

Dr. Moore told us that the beauty of SCD is that it allows students to frame complex thoughts in a simplified language that resembles social conversation. It therefore provides “natural scaffolding” for students to understand and interpret complex content and reasoning. It also allows them to see and hear different perspectives and to learn to debate the strengths and weaknesses of each position. Finally, it allows for the synthesis and conceptualisation of new positions and the possibility of reaching consensus after evaluating all sides of the issue.

Towards the end of his presentation, Dr. Moore tried to illustrate the operation of SCD by having the audience assume 3 different perspectives on the recent urban riots in France.  Unfortunately, due to the complexity of explaining the SCD procedure, we ran out of time and could not do the exercise.

From the numerous questions from the audience, it was clear that we teachers saw the utility of using SCD to structure enthusiastic discussions of the many controversies in these days and times. Dr. Moore later explained to me that the dialogues could be replaced by a report or a memo, or in the case of my law students, a legal brief. The audience then went off to the evening cocktail stimulated and enthused by this thorough and entertaining presentation on Structured Controversial Dialogue.

Contributed by: Gary Huie
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