- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Conflict Transformation is a twelve-unit, thirty-six-hour course designed to teach middle school students basic conflict transformation skills for personal, community, national, and international situations. The short stories, current events, class discussions, guided reading activities, and guided writing assignments make this course ideal both for social studies and language arts classes.
- Unit 1: What is conflict?
- Unit 2: Are conflicts harmful or helpful?
- Unit 3: How does power affect conflict?
- Unit 4: What is the nature of violence?
- Unit 5: How do values shape conflicts?
- Unit 6: How do conflicts escalate?
- Unit 7: How do respect and humiliation shape conflict?
- Unit 8: What is effective communication?
- Unit 9: What is framing?
- Unit 10: What is cooperative negotiation?
- Unit 11: What is reconciliation?
- Unit 12: How do we take action?
Why teach conflict resolution in language arts and social studies classes?
Today, our interconnections are more apparent and more fragile than ever before. The events of September 11th made this plain. We are a tightly knit community here on earth, and we will have to learn how to coexist, or pay the price. Reading, writing, and arithmetic alone will not prepare students to navigate the myriad of conflicts that they will encounter. It is essential that we teach students to apply the core school subjects as problem-solving tools, so that they grow to be reflective, informed, and engaged citizens.
If the long-term goal of teaching conflict transformation in classrooms is responsible citizens, the short-term goal is responsible students. Middle school students will benefit enormously from learning to listen, reflect, empathize, and negotiate as they grapple with the new territory of adolescence. They will be better equipped to handle the typical middle school power plays, and they will have the language to understand them. By practicing the conflict transformation skills presented in these lessons, teachers will be able to devote more time to teaching their subject matter, and less time mitigating adolescent drama. The students will be empowered with skills to address their own conflicts so that they can create a more peaceful classroom, as well as a more peaceful personal life outside of school.
Most public school teachers are pressed for time, juggling standards tests and curriculum requirements. They have significant ground to cover in their subjects and are wary of detours. However, critical thinking, reflection, analysis, listening, and precise speech are all essential for intellectual growth in any subject. Literature discussions will go deeper if students learn to support their answers with concrete evidence. Social studies reports will be more analytical if students ask how information they find is framed. If students practice the skills they learn here, they will develop habits of mind that will help them deal with difficult problems in any field.
How are the units structured?
This 36-hour, twelve-unit course is designed to be taught in order, so that conflict resolution skills can be systematically instructed, practiced, and reinforced as the course progresses. Each lesson begins with an inductive beginning, intended to engage students in inquiry as active learners. The second part of each lesson involves two aspects: students will gain information about the theme of the lesson, and students will apply their knowledge in a structured and scaffolded activity. In this way students can practice their new knowledge immediately and clarify anything that is confusing for them. At the end of each unit, students will be asked to employ these new skills or ideas independently in a small simulation, discussion, negotiation, or writing piece.
Every unit draws on difficult texts, but worksheets are supplied to help students develop strategies to break down even the most complex articles. Also included in each lesson is a writing piece, because the writing process mutually reinforces the target skills of conflict resolution: research, dialogue, analysis, reflection, and synthesis. The Vermont Standard Benchmarks provide annotated eighth grade benchmark essays and genre rubrics, which are invaluable in writing instruction.
Overall, the aim of each lesson is to balance student inquiry, dialogue, reflection, and creativity with highly structured activities and assignments that help students internalize conflict transformation skills.
What materials are needed?
Students should bring a conflict journal (a blank notebook) to class daily. All of the articles or stories used in the course can be found online. Most of the articles are available at the Conflict Information Consortium's webpage Beyond Intractability (www.beyondintractability.org). All essays and worksheets needed for each unit are listed in the materials section and in the text of each lesson. Only one story requires a fee to view it; "The New Kid," by Murray Heyert is available from Harper's. Some activities require access to the Internet for research purposes.