American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Assessment, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Foundations of American Democracy, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Political Participation, Projects, Required Documents, Teaching Tips, Writing for AP Gov

Teaching how to write better argumentative essays in AP Government

Besides teaching AP Government, I also teach 8th grade. In one of my classes, I have 31 students and the other has 10. Every time we do class discussions, I have to really figure out how to vary the instruction to allow all students to talk and learn. This also allows me to try new techniques!

I’ve also been reviewing the year and my AP Government students just could not fully grasps really using evidence and reasoning. I loved this with my 8th graders and will incorporate it with AP next year, especially after reflecting on my practice as my students are currently sitting in their test.

The set up: We just finished our economics unit and I needed a transition to our final exam, which is a Moot Court on a current case (the students haven’t yet decided which one and yes, I do Moot Court with my 8th graders) Our DBQ is from Voices of History from the Bill of Rights Institute (requires a log in but is free and an amazing resource, including eight of the required cases). We chose to do Kelo v. New London. Let me tell you something, it’s a beast! It also lends PERFECTLY into an argumentation essay.

Day 1: read and annotate the background essay and have a small class discussion to ensure understanding

Days 2-3 (depending on time and length of documents) I split the handouts into sections for groups of 4-5 (depending on class size). In those groups, the students become ‘experts’ in those documents. They answer the questions and think about how to use that evidence to answer the question provided, in this case “Evaluate the Court’s ruling in Kelo v. New London”

Day 4- Four minute Socratic seminars:

  • Students within their groups will have a Socratic discussion regarding their assigned documents and the overall prompt. There are leading questions within the DBQ.
  • I give 4 minutes for the discussion within the group. The rest of the students are taking notes. In my classroom, I have 6 groups, but this can be adjusted for any number of students.
    • For my class of 10, I will have each of them become an expert on a set of documents and talk us through them as I record the evidence on the board.
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I took notes during their Socratic seminars

It’s very simple and can be adjusted to accommodate any classroom. I was able to sit with some groups and help them with some of the meatier pieces. After this round of Socratic discussions, students should be well equipped to write an argumentative essay. My kids killed it because we read AND discussed before they wrote.

If you are doing this with your first DBQ, it’s a great time to introduce the argumentative essay rubric and discuss what is expected of them. At this point, students will write their argumentative essays. (Oh, and the famous Brutus 1) After the first one, you can lessen the time in class needed as the process has been established. For me, the Socratic discussion is the most important part to do in class.

Here’s the clincher- Students either get all the points OR a Z. I learned about this from a college professor. Earning a Z means you aren’t quite done yet. You have the rubric and have seen what you’ve earned, but you also see what you haven’t earned and you have an opportunity to go back and adjust your writing to earn those point. The purpose for this is to get them to a point where they know they have an opportunity for feedback and revision. The end goal is to ensure they know how to write an argumentative essay and how to understand the rubric to get all of the points. Depending on your schedule, you can give up to two weeks (or for me, the end of the unit) to submit their revisions. I realize this will be a lot of front loading, so I may do it as groups to start with. Luckily, I start school in July so I will be able to test it out before many of you are in school.

Continue reading “Teaching how to write better argumentative essays in AP Government”

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?

American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Teachable Moments

Teachable Moments- Birthright Citizenship

Today, I was reminded why it’s so vital that we teach what we do. The day was going along as I assessed the media unit, and assigned the Supreme Court Speed Dating cases to students because some will be gone tomorrow before the Thanksgiving break. 3rd hour, students came in heated and angry from another class because of a conversation on birthright citizenship. There were tears, there was anger.

I allowed students to tell me what happened with leaving out names, because that information is neither hear nor there. *This is where I tell you to know your class. We called a family meeting because I know my class, and I know what we can/cannot do. Based on the political ideologies we did at the beginning of the year, this will be a good conversation. 

We keep this up all year to remind us that we all have different ideologies. We need to keep it Constitutional.

I listened to the frustrations and boiled it down to the student was upset because the opposition didn’t have as much knowledge (because they haven’t taken Government yet) and therefore, wasn’t making Constitutional arguments.

Immediately, students started to look at the 14th amendment and make their arguments to me. I gently pushed back, trying to explain the other side. And then I had a moment of genius. I asked the class, “Is this something you want to further explore? I have articles and a podcast we can listen to tonight and discuss tomorrow.” That, my friends, was a moment I am proud of because there was emphatic yeses. I put the following links on my Planbook for the students:

Essay from Constitution Center

Breaking Down the Birthright Citizenship Debate

Does the Constitution Require Birthright Citizenship? Podcast

Plyer v. Doe (discussed in the podcast)

The Constitution Center is all in with the new redesign and I love that they have both sides presented in a civil manner. In the current political climate, it’s not often we see respectful, educated disagreements. It’s very important to me that we model this is many ways in our class.

Yes, the College Board standards are important and it’s my job to prepare them for the AP test in May. Yes, I only have a semester to teach. Sometimes, going off the lessons is important and valuable. And when you’re unsure, there’s a mountain of available resources just waiting for your students and you to help dissect the information.

When in doubt, get medical with it (as I explain in an earlier post) 

Stay calm, and teach on.

American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Political Participation, Writing for AP Gov

Discussing Citizens United

Oh campaign finance.

The wonderful world.

{take a deep breath and continues to pretend it’s super fun!}

money

*I take 2 regular and 1 block day for this.

On Friday, I assigned Citizens United v. FEC. They are not writing the DBQ, but using the documents (including Federalist 10) to prepare for a Socratic discussion on their block day (Wednesday/Thursday).  This is out of classwork and I like giving them a weekend to look over it and ask questions if needed on Monday during the lecture.

On Monday, I give notes on Elections and Campaign Finance. I use Edward’s 2016 Presidential Election Edition for notes, or find some via a group, friend, or other teacher. Because the notes I use are from a group, I don’t share them here since they are not mine to share.

On Tuesday, we use Bill of Rights Institute Homework Help video as well as Money Unlimited from a 2012 issue of the New Yorker and a campaign finance cheat sheet. Students are instructed to ‘draw’ campaign finance reform as a map and prepare for their Socratic discussion. I generally walk around during this time to ensure everyone “has it”.

The day of their Socratic discussion I write the question up on the board so students have a focus: Assess whether the Supreme Court ruled correctly in Citizens United v. FEC in light of constitutional principles including republican government and freedom of speech. 

How I run Socratic:

  1. Students are familiar with how Socratic Seminar- How am I graded_. Often times students get stuck with how many times they need to talk. I care about what they say, not how many times they talk. Noting that, taking up too much of the discussion gets you points taken away. For some classes, I give them 3 sticky notes. Once those are gone, they are gone. It also helps them to regulate who hasn’t been able to speak yet with a visual that doesn’t disturb the discussion.
  2. Because I have larger classes, I do the inside-outside circle. Each group gets 2 sets of 15 minutes. Students in the outside circle are listening and filling out Socratic Seminar Observations They can use them when they are in the inside circle. Below are examples from my 8th grade class.

Group A goes first on the inside for 15 minutes while Group B writes. Then they switch, but this time Group B goes for 30 minutes while Group A writes. The final switch happens and Group A is given their remaining 15 minutes. These times can be readjusted to fit your class period. This works well for two topic Socratics (Federalist/AntiFederalist). I change it up depending on the class.

You can also use an argumentative writing rubric and give points based on that. I record my observations using Socratic Seminar Observations. I can change up what I’m grading them on easily. This is the one I use most often.

At this point, after the discussion, you can have them do a piece of writing using the focus question. I love writing after a Lecture-Reading-Discussion train because they really have the ability to look at it from all angle and engage with the material.

If you have time and a class that this would work for, watch “The Kid is All Right“. This Simpson’s episode. It’s a quick 20 minutes and the kids always get a kick out of it because they actually get it after learning about political parties, interest groups, campaigns, and campaign finance. I bought the copy on YouTube for $2 and have shown it each semester.

simpsons.jpg

American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Writing for AP Gov

The New York Times Op-Ed in AP Government

Over the last few days {years}, most AP Government teachers have steeled themselves, taken a deep breath, and walked into their classrooms. This is one of the best jobs because, regardless of the administration, we have a lot of current things happening that marry nicely with our curriculum. However, sometimes you really wonder if it’s something that you want to or should discuss.

This morning, I came to work early because I knew it was going to be a topic the students wanted to talk about and I wanted to be prepared.

Enter the New York Times Op-Ed. *Note: my students have just finished The Presidency, and are half way through the bureaucracy. I feel this is important because they have an understanding of the two pieces of government that are discussed.

I’ve read it a few times and listened to today’s installment of The Daily I’ve hemmed and hawked over whether or not to discuss it, as we haven’t hit our media unit yet.

But, I decided to go for it. Just not today. I’d like for it all to percolate over the weekend. I want my students to read it and do further research on their own so they can develop their own opinions. There is mention of the bureaucracy insulating themselves from the administration. And I want them to brush up on the 25th amendment because of it’s mention in the article.

Not to mention, we have a lot to do today.

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Basically, I’m taking something that is controversial and getting very medical with it. Meaning, we are dissecting it for examples, but not getting into a debate about it or throwing out opinions that have yet to be formed. I want to give them all the information I can and let them decide. There is no right and wrong way to teach this (ok, maybe there are lots of wrong ways) and YOU know YOUR students best.

Prompt: (Writing or Class Discussion)

Using the information in the article:

A. Identify two expressed powers of the President.

B. Explain how the bureaucracy  implements policy and how they are checked by Congress and the President.

C. Explain how the check on the President from the executive branch is illustrated via the 25th amendment. Here is another article from NPR.

I am going to do C as a class discussion as to better guide the students. I do not want this to turn into a bashing of the administration or the President. It’s not a productive use of my class time. I believe it’s my job to teach them HOW to think, not WHAT to think.

Since my students are only at where they are, I do not feel they are ready to adequately discuss the media aspect, but that will come in the next unit.

 

 

American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Foundations of American Democracy, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Writing for AP Gov

For Whom The Bell Tolls- John McCain

John McCain has been the Arizona senator since I have lived in the great state of Arizona. Senator McCain is one of my favorite people, not only because he has had a cameo on Parks and Recreation, or that he’s a hero in my eyes, but because he is one of the people in Congress that I truly admire. His ability to have and maintain friendships across the aisle, his humility and ability to say he’s imperfect, and his dedication to his county is second to none.

I encourage you to watch For Whom The Bell Tolls on HBO. It shows an age of politics that is slowly becoming extinct. This is evident in his speech to the Senate on July 25. John McCain gave his life for the service of this country. In my eyes, he is a true American hero.

My AP class is wrapping up Congress and as an Arizona citizen and teacher, I felt that closing it with the speech is the best tribute to our Senator. The prompt I wrote is also a good lead into the Presidency.

This speech is incredible, and it fits in with so many of our standards and a FRQ practice fits in nicely.

1. Argumentative Essay Prompt:

Senator John McCain addressed a full Senate in July of 2017. Some have compared this speech to Washington’s Farewell address. Defend or refute the statement that John McCain’s speech to the Senate was the modern day Farewell Address. (John McCain read Washington’s Farewell Address to the Senate on February 16, 1987 in a tradition that is carried out each year by a different Senator)

Use the following documents:

  • Washington’s Farewell Address
  • Federalist 10
  • US Constitution
  • Article 1, Section 8

** I am giving my students Washington’s Farewell Address and McCain’s Speech.

2. Writing prompt: Using Senator McCain’s speech, find examples of the following:

  • Checks and Balances
  • Separation of Powers (Federalist 51)
  • Roles of the Senate (Constitution)

Thank you, Senator McCain for your dedication to our state and our country.

American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Separation of Church and State

I just returned from my APSI in San Diego and got a lot of great ideas, as well as planned 2.5 units out. I teach a semester class, so using my time wisely is key. My lessons are viewable to the general public, so if you are a newbie who isn’t sure how to break it apart, you are more than welcome to see what I do. It changes, but it’s a rough sketch.

PS San Diego is not the worst place in the world to go to an APSI.

Lord, help me on this one.

The separation of church and state is not explicitly written in the Constitution. It’s one of the things that drives me insane when I see  or hear this as an argument. And inevitably, it comes up in class.

My favorite response? “Please back that claim using the Constitution as your source.” I say it as plainly as possible, because this is a teachable moment.

Crickets.

*Looks at fingernails, waiting for something that will never come. Because you need more than the First Amendment for this argument. 

That day (if I’m on my game) or the next, I hand the students this. It’s a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. It easy to read, accessible for most students, and contains “thus building a wall of separation between Church & State” in reference to the First Amendment.

For reference, the First Amendment (a popular argument) was ratified in 1791. I love this argument because the Free Exercise clause contradicts the Establishment clause. Well played, James, well played. I LOVE Constitutional arguments. I love them because I ALWAYS learn something from my students and the Constitution is up for interpretation!

Then come the inevitable questions.

“Our country was built on Christianity.” What? No. Oy.  I have yet to find a clear answer on this, but I like this essay. It’s a hard answer. AND THAT’S OK. History often doesn’t have definitive answers. That’s why it’s fun to study! When they say this, I ask them to find me proof. Or find me a source that refutes it. And then WE TALK ABOUT IT. I don’t know everything and I never pretend I do. Teach ME, students. (You’d be surprised)

Side note: Jefferson was never really outward about his religious beliefs, and Washington often referred to the Providence as opposed to an outright God.

“Why do we have to say Under God in the pledge?”  (You don’t actually have to. I cite West Virginia vs. Barnette– see you should know your rights!)

And a plethora of other questions. I like to challenge the students to find answers to their own questions. (Legit, y’all are on your phones all the time anyway. Why don’t you use it for something useful instead of watching your best friends’ SnapChat story about a class she should be paying attention in) This leads them to look at sources, find out new tidbits, and use their prior knowledge. In helping students to answer their own questions or find sources to further their curiosity, you capture a way to teach history that stays with students beyond your classroom. This is hard because students just want an answer.

You know what they want more? To best their teacher. Or to show their teacher that they have the answer that the teacher doesn’t (I love that one). Nothing makes me happier that being bested by a student. I leave my ego at the door because at the end of the day, I am not the all-knowing. Some days, I can’t remember if I drank all of my coffee or if it’s still sitting on my kitchen counter. I’m a human.

You may have students who hold deep religious beliefs. Good for them, it’s part of their political socialization! You may have atheists. Awesome! This is a hard topic because it can be polarizing and that is the last thing we want in our classrooms. We can facilitate conversations, model behaviors that are appropriate, and make sure the learning environment is safe for all. So, here are some resources:

Constitution Center Essays (don’t act surprised)

Podcast on the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their fight in the Supreme Court (I LOVE THIS PODCAST)