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CRLT offers 9/11 discussion tips

By Kara Bomzer / University Record Intern

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks left many across the country, and here at U-M, wondering how to deal with the aftermath. Soon after the attacks, the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) responded by creating guidelines for class discussions after some faculty members expressed confusion about how to facilitate a dialogue about the events.

As the one-year anniversary approaches, CRLT has released revised guidelines to aid classroom discussions. Constance Cook, director of CRLT, says these guidelines give students “a chance to voice their sadness and fear in a safe, supportive classroom environment.”

The guidelines, which are redesigned to give common sense approaches to classroom discussions, include the following:

  • Think through supportive ways to introduce and close the class discussion.

  • Ask the class to establish ground rules for the discussion. These rules might include avoiding blame and speculation, respecting each other’s views, avoiding inflammatory language, sharing personal stories and feelings, and expressing some anger and frustration.

  • Be prepared for blaming. A backlash might emerge against people who share an ethnic, cultural or religious heritage with those accused in the terrorist attacks.

  • Be careful about using or allowing someone else to use historical events in comparison to the Sept. 11 tragedy. Students may have relationships with past events that will make the examples offensive.

  • Create a framework for the discussion. Possible discussion topics include hopes and fears students have about the discussion, the way they were affected personally by the events, how the events might affect their future and what positive actions have resulted from the tragedy.

  • Allow everyone a chance to talk but don’t force students to participate. Ways to accomplish this include using a “round” discussion, which gives each student a chance to talk or pass; dividing students into discussion groups; or giving students a chance to write down their thoughts and feelings before they speak or if the discussion gets out of hand.

  • Explore links to the content of the class. Try to balance emotional and intellectual approaches.

  • Collaborate with other instructors by exchanging ideas or strategies, or have a debriefing after the classroom discussions.

    Cook says the purpose of the guidelines is to help instructors who choose to address the anniversary of Sept. 11 in their classes do so with the same sensitivity as in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. The guidelines, which also appeared in the January/February issue of Change, can be found on the CRLT Web site at

    If faculty members need additional information or want to discuss strategies or concerns they have about the anniversary discussions, CRLT consultants can be reached by phone at (734) 764-0505, by e-mail at or in person in 3300 School of Education Building.

    Counseling support is available for people having trouble dealing with the Sept. 11 anniversary. Instructors can contact the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program at (734) 763-9700 and students can call Counseling and Psychological Services at (734) 764-8312.

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