Assessment, Teachable Moments, Writing for AP Gov

Writing a Collaborative FRQ

Every teacher has their own ways to teach FRQ writing for AP Government. When I taught APUSH with my team of 2 other teachers, I was the writing coach. It’s just something I’m good at. The other two gentleman are crazy content experts who would come in and wow the kids with their knowledge of every.little.detail, and I gave my strength to the team with my knowledge of writing. Now, APUSH writing is so different, but I took some of it, as well as my  year of AP reading experience to determine what worked for my class. I also ask my students what works and what doesn’t, and moved on from there.

This is something that works for us and that kids really got.

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For my students, just writing FRQ’s isn’t enough. They need the practice in a setting that allow them to discuss and understand what they are doing, as well as how to fix errors. Just writing the FRQ and turning it in for grading doesn’t work for us. I don’t want mountains of papers to grade and they want immediate feedback. I adapted this from a Kagan strategy I used when I taught 8th grade.

Set-Up:

Depending on the FRQ you give, have students organize into groups of 3-5 with nothing but the following:

  • Paper
  • Blue or black ink pen (pencil smudges)

What you need to have prepared:

  • Printed copies of the FRQ ( I used to put them on the board or overhead, but the students like to have copies to write on)
  • Grading pens (different color. I used purple so I can see it)
  • A timer

I have students put phones/backpacks/etc away because our sole focus is writing FRQs in an environment that mimics a testing environment. I divide the class into “rounds” and have the direction on the overhead.

Google Slide version of FRQ Round Robin (I do change this for each class/semester/or after reflection) **You can save a copy of this and make changes!

Round 1: Take 3-5 minutes to read the FRQ to see what it’s asking of you. Underline the verbs (see below), circle any numbers, understand the question is asking of you. This is the #1 reason I saw that students didn’t get points. Their answer was right, it just didn’t answer the question.

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2018 FRQ

 

Reminders for the students before Round 2:

  • stay politically neutral, you are not writing an op-ed, you are a political scientist answering a question.
  • if a question asks for 2 examples, provide 3. Give yourself a back up or 2.
  • for any question that asks you to explain, determine what you need to show you understand prior to explaining. For example, in the 2018 example above, make sure the reader sees that you directly understand WHAT gerrymandering is before you explain how electoral competition is affected by it or WHAT a single member district is before you explain why they make it difficult for third parties to win elections.

 Round 2:

Each student answers part A without talking (4-5 minutes depending on the question) They will have plenty of time to talk once we are done. Once the timer goes off, have them trade their papers to the left.

Round 3-5 (depending on the length of the FRQ)

Continue writing and trading to the left.

Once you are finished, each member should have a completed FRQ with each piece written by a different person. You can time your students depending on their level of comfort. I usually give 4-5 minutes.

Round 6:

With the FRQ in front of the student, have them put away their pen and grab the grading pen. In this round, the individual student (still no group talking) can make ANY edits to the FRQ that is written. They can add or subtract. I like the different pen because I want to see their thinking.

Round 7:

This is when students get to talk. In this round, the group will decide which FRQ they will submit for grading. This part is the most collaborative and allows them to talk about the FRQ. This is my favorite part! I love to walk around and formatively assess students’ understanding of the FRQ. Once they decide, they staple the one to grade on TOP of the others. I do want all the FRQs turned in.

Round 8:

Grading. This is when we go through the FRQ as a class and discuss the rubric. You can do it all together OR give each group a rubric. I do have them switch with another group to allow them to see other’s writing. This is the part where we really dig into what was being asked and what acceptable answers are.

Example of FRQ rubric

**Remember, students can write down something that is correct, but doesn’t answer the question. If it doesn’t answer the question, it doesn’t get a point. Period. 

Once students are finished and all questions have been answered, I have students do a reflection because I need to see how this went and where we need to go from here.

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Using the reflections, we also did a FRQ in a group and I graded them on the spot to give immediate feedback. That’s for another post 😉

I can do one FRQ in my normal 55 minute class period without feeling stressed or pressed for time.

 

 

From the heart, Teachable Moments

The Content Dragon

To start, my class is a semester long. This semester, I have 17 less instructional hours than I did from last semester. I am grappling with field trips, college visits, and most recently a threat to the campus that left me with about half of my classes. I’m making a calendar for my 1st semester kids as a guide to study. I also have a two week break coming up, which sounds amazing, but I also have a May 6th AP test at 8am.

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That small voice inside me says, “You can do it!” The logical part of me is having a panic attack.

The hardest part of the redesign for me is really taming the content dragon. What do they need to know? What vocabulary is needed? Will I spend too much time on something and have it not be on the test (like the Supreme Court cases last year… yeah, I’m looking at you CB) Is Albert.io helping or hurting? WHY IS THIS SO DIFFICULT? WHY IS THERE SO MUCH INFORMATION?

I wish I had some amazing perspective, or some incredible insight. I don’t. All I have is this:

I am in the same boat as you, friends. And my arms are tired because I feel like I’m paddling without an oar, upstream in thunderstorm. I have so much help and there is so much information and great ideas that I feel like I’m drowning in information.    

All I can say is this. I’ve been focusing on the skills. The thinking, writing, and making sure they have a base knowledge to answer questions. I’ve come to the conclusion that yes, I want them to feel ready for this test, but what I really want is for them to be informed citizens. I know that I can’t teach everything, but I can hope that they leave that test feeling that I prepared them. I cannot possibly teach every piece of content.

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In conclusion, my friends, it’s not easy being an AP Government teacher, but it’s sure fun! And I wish I could call myself Elizabeth of the House AP Government, Slayer of Content Dragons, Mother of FRQs, Relayer of all information relevant and pertinent to the test.

 

But for now, I’ll just call myself Ms. Schley 😉

What are your best ways to slay the content dragon?

National Board Certification, Professional Development, Teachable Moments

Push Past the Boundaries

If you have ever heard of or considered National Board Certification, I urge you to read the latest blog post from the Standard written by yours truly entitled Push Past the Boundaries.

I cannot overstate how much this process changed me. It let me become the teacher I have always wanted to be by opening doors, both professionally and personally. I have my Master’s, which helped my pedagogy, but this took it to another level.

I highly encourage anyone to look at this process and challenge yourself to become the teacher you’ve always wanted to be.

 

American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Foundations of American Democracy, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Projects, Required Documents, Teachable Moments

The State of the Union Twitter Party

Article II, Section 3

“He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient…”

Well, this State of the Union address has been mired by the government shutdown and a disinvite to the chambers by the Speaker, so at this point I wonder when and if it will happen. Regardless of this, I wanted to think of an extra assignment that students could participate in that would require them to apply their knowledge.

In my younger teacher days, I have been guilty of giving a bingo card with just words, which in it’s own right it fun, but I wanted something this year that would require them to show what they know, not just check off a box when they hear the word. I also want to keep this as scientific as possible, and less political.

In the past, my students have used Twitter and our class hashtag. So this year, I’ve decided to plan a SOTU Twitter party. You can also do this in class without technology as you watch a SOTU speech. Since the current year is up in the air, teachers can use older speeches and paper BINGO cards.


Objective:

Students will watch the State of the Union (current or past) and find examples of the main concepts of the unit to show understanding of current application of the concepts from Unit One: Foundations of Democracy. {This can also be done with basically all other units from AP Government}

Warm-Up: The History of the State of the Union. Fun facts and a quick overview on what the State of the Union is.

Concepts: (You can use more or less depending on where you are in your units. I teach semester classes so we just finished Unit One) Students can fill out their own BINGO sheets.

  1. Participatory democracy
  2. Pluralist democracy
  3. Elitism
  4. Federalism
  5. Popular sovereignty
  6. Check and balances
  7. Separation of powers
  8. Limited government
  9. Enumerated powers
  10. Implied powers
  11. Inherent powers
  12. Reserved powers
  13. Fiscal federalism
  14. Mandates (funded or unfunded)
  15. Grants

Two examples of each

  1. Examples from Brutus I
  2. Examples from Federalist 10
  3. Examples from Federalist 51

 

On the back, reflect on observations from the speech. Where there times some people stood and some did not? Who was there and who was notably absent? What was the tone of the speech? What is important to the President and how do you know that?


During the SOTU address, students will check off boxes as they write down the example of the concept mentioned. For the Twitter Party, students will use our class hashtag and #SOTU. We will do a live tweet so as soon as they hit a BINGO, they can claim it! (for extra points) This gives students opportunities to participate in a positive social media experience. I will set guidelines for our class hashtag, as I learned my lesson last semester.

Tweets will look like this: Checks and Balances, the President mentioned his veto power over the federal budget because he ultimately approves or vetos laws Congress makes. #sotu #apschley19

*You can do this in class as they watch or with a live SOTU. The possibilities for engagement are endless!

As an assignment, I will give it the week because not every student can watch the speech live. I’d like to have a whole class discussion once this is done to ensure students see different examples from

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LBJ Library

My hopes for this is it allows students to take a non-partisan look at the speech and be scientific about their observations. If you have a particularly political area you teach in, taking an old speech may help. This is the first evening televised speech by LBJ or you can have students choose their own. The main point here is to find examples that illustrate the concepts.

*** Update February 5***

Since we were able to go over the roles of the Presidency, I updated the assignment to reflect.  This can be used in class with any assignment and changed to not include social media.

 

How do your students interact with the State of the Union speech? What has worked for you in the past?

Assessment, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Projects, Required Documents

Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2 v. State of Indiana… A Moot Court

It has begun. We’ve started our week of deep diving into Street Law’s Winter SCOTUS in the classroom case, Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2 v. State of Indiana. This is the final exam for my AP Government class as well as my accelerated 8th graders. I have discussed how I do this in a previous post. This is how I’m doing it for this year!

We end our semester in AP Government with Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Since this case was argued November 28, the media is fresh and there is a lot of information out there. It’s in the news, it’s on podcasts, it’s part of our everyday lives.

This is how the last week and a half goes:

Preface: I’ve given them case and assignment before to allow them to look it over and decide what they will want to do or what they will be successful at. I’ve developed these roles because I know students show their knowledge in different ways. It’s an ever developing project as I get feedback from my students.

Day 1/2: Listening to oral arguments and discussing what we hear.  I started to write down the cases as they were mentioned, do a bit of research to see if they were worth a look by the students, and list them on the board. (I also get for graduation robes so the students can have robes and be a bit more official)

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Related cases:

  • McDonald v. Chicago (HELLO required Supreme Court case)
  • Bennis v. Michigan
  • von Hofe v. United States
  • US v. Bajakajian
  • Austin v. US
  • Kokesh v. SEC
  • US v. Halper
  • Van Oster v. Kansas

Vocabulary to Know:

  • in rem
  • in personam
  • civil forfeiture
  • stare decisis

 

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Day 3 (Block Day) Full practice exam– not related, but I want one last exam before they leave so I can see where they are at and personalize review assignments for the spring AP test.

Day 4,5: Research case, amicus briefs (example from SCOTUSblog), related cases, etc. I like to do a few days in class so they have each other and me, the content “expert”. There is also a podcast from First Mondays called “8,000 pounds of shark fins”. (Even though the actual case is called United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. Yes, that is real. There is also a John Oliver clip, however I don’t show it in class because… well, we all know John Oliver…

Day 6: Finalize papers and turn in. Run through what to expect with Moot Court. I look through all papers that night to ensure quality before the moot court date.

Day 7: Moot Court (It’s our final exam day and we have 90 minutes)

I will update as we move forward, but wanted to give an overview of what I’ll be doing the next few weeks!

 

Update:

Man, this was fun! I even had a student come up with their own media company to live tweet the case.

 

Things I will change for next semester:

  1. As much as I trust my students, there was an issue of misuse of technology and a student tweeting something with inappropriate language tied to our class hashtag. I had it immediately removed, but it taught me a valuable lesson.  Next time, I will review appropriate use of technology as it relates to using class hashtags and have a set punishment for. It is the unfortunate byproduct of using social media in a classroom. Lesson learned.
  2. Because I had my 8th graders do this as well, they came up with the idea to write a newspaper as they watched! {Twitter wasn’t an option}5th hour
  3. One class got off topic and the Justices were asking irrelevant questions. I need to be better at preparing them as to what to ask.
  4. The Justices in a few classes were on a mission to be tough. Next semester, I will be more specific with what they need to do. I caught one class and reminded the Justices that they are to let the lawyers answer their questions and to not try to trick them.

 

All classes were unanimous in their decisions and had so much fun!

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We had to pack a Court because of class size. 
Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Required Documents

A Case for Reading The Whole Document- Letter From A Birmingham Jail

 

Documents used:
Letter to Martin Luther King A Group of Clergyman (1963)
Required Document: Letter from a Birmingham City Jail (1963) (Annotations)
Background documents (if you have time or students are lacking background)
What the Black Man Wants Frederick Douglass (1865)
Nonviolence and Jim Crow Bayard Rustin (1942)

I originally did this lesson with my 8th graders last year, but will differentiate it for AP seniors. I had gone to a seminar on Civil Rights in America: Speeches and Leaders last January put on by Teaching American History

I had decided to really challenge my 8th graders (who are in an accelerated program) and have them read the entirety of the Letter from a Birmingham Jail. We were in the midst of our Civil Rights unit (I taught them pre-APUSH), and we had already read, annotated and discussed What the Black Man Wants by Frederick Douglass. This set the stage for the bigger discussion on all of the documents culminating with Letter from a Birmingham Jail. 

Now, I know this year that I will not have the luxury of time with my seniors, so I am shortening the sequence but I want the outcome to be the same.

I started this with the Letter to Martin Luther King from A Group of Clergymen. This is an easier document that students can read at home. I do this to set the stage for Dr. King’s letter. I don’t think that the document should be a stand alone. The letter to King, published in a newspaper, is a quick read and I require students to write down what the clergy are asking of Dr. King. This letter basically says, “Don’t tell me how to clean up your backyard.” King wasn’t from Birmingham, and the clergy didn’t feel like and outsider should be able to come in and tell them how to deal with their racial issues. A note that it was also written on Good Friday.

King’s response? It’s OUR backyard. He starts off with “My dear FELLOW clergymen” to off the bat show that it’s an “us” mentality. This document is long, but let me tell you, I gave the 8th graders 4 days to digest it and they knocked it out of the park. I wish I could say I had an amazing lesson plan, but I didn’t. I let it all happen organically and with 8th grade accelerated students, it was magic.

For my seniors, I gave them the assignment on a Friday for homework, and gave them Tuesday after our Civil Rights notes to work on it.

Prompt: Discuss key points that Dr. King discusses in response to the Letter to Dr. King. Explain how this has translated into modern day civil rights.

The purpose of the Socratic seminar was to gain a deeper understanding of the documents.

I broke the students up into two groups. Each got 20 minutes to discuss and since we did this on a block day, I gave an additional 20 minutes to discuss as a whole. Students had so many incredible comments. There were discussion about this being a redress of grievances, as MLK discusses Jefferson and the Declaration a few times. Discussions of Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, LBGTQ+, Flint, and Kaepernick showed students ability to connect the themes to current events.

Questions arose: Was MLK’s optimism born out of necessity? Does the world lack empathy?

Students reflected on the document after the discussion: Discuss the legacy of the Letter From A Birmingham Jail.

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I appreciate the time struggle of the semester crunch, as I only have a few more weeks. However, as with every other document, I attempted to get students to understand the whole document’s themes and connecting it with other parts of political history. And it as assigned mostly at home.

How has your interaction with this document played out in your class? What have you found to be successful?

Assessment, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Projects

Supreme Court Hand Turkeys

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and our school is hosting a blood drive. This means sparse classes and excited students. Yesterday, I assigned them a Supreme Court case from the list I made so they could prepare for Supreme Court Dating next week. {My students loved the Bureaucratic Speed Dating we did and last year appreciated the Supreme Court speed dating because they were able to get a lot of info from it!} With the new cases, I want them to have a firm understanding of the case. It’s an easy assignment, it’s fun, and it’s awesome to see what they create! Hand Turkeys assignment.

To really get the cases, we will draw them, talk about them (Supreme Court speed dating), and write about them. I loved the way these turned out!