Assessment, From the heart, Required Documents, Teaching Tips

The Gathering of Knowledge

When I was in high school {20 years ago}, my classes were lecture, worksheets, and tests. So, naturally, as a new teacher I did the same. And I hated it because I hated being a student like that.

Now, worksheets have a purpose in classes as long as they are interactive as opposed to rote memorization or regurgitation. Assessments do as well, again as long as they aren’t about regurgitation of facts and are instead about the application of skill.

As a teacher, I was always confused by what I SHOULD be doing. I was overwhelmed by all of the research, all of the resources, and all of the experts telling me. I still feel that was, even though I finished my 16th year of teaching. There is never enough time to plan. It’s exhausting. I’ve seen teachers who lecture the entire time, because they are content experts, but the teaching aspect is missing. I’ve seen teachers who are amazing teachers, but lack the content expertise. Students can learn from either of these teachers, but I know students learn best from someone who is a mixture of both.

A few years ago, I was anti-lecture. That lasted about 2 weeks until one of my students said that she needed to hear lectures because she learned best that way. And I know as a National Board Certified Teacher, that I need to teach these kids at this time in the way they learn best. I spent time considering how I was going to do this. How was I going to ensure that my students received and were able to gather the knowledge necessary to succeed in the class and as citizens, which is the ultimate goal.

I’m sharing how I plan to do it next year after much consideration, trial and error, and student feedback. Now, it’s a plan because I haven’t met and assessed my students just yet.  

Ideas for differentiated instruction

Maps, charts, and graphs over words

This next year, I will be gone for a week. The second week of school to be clear. And it’s during Document Week, which is a big deal to me. I have a plan to use the Analytical Readings of Brutus I and Federalist 10 and then have students use Canva to create infographics. I did this 3 years ago with my College Prep Government classes and they loved it. My hope is to have student created infographics for all the required documents to hang in my classroom so students can reference them.

The hope with this is to have students create more visuals to help digest the information, especially since one of the FRQs is Quantitative Analysis. I know that I don’t do enough of that.

Lecture and discussion.

Podcasts! I absolutely love podcasts and listen to a few each day. Having students listen to age appropriate podcasts either in class or on their own is a great way to meet these learners.

Lectures: I attempt to lecture and mix with discussion. I ask a lot of questions to my students regarding the content in hopes that it opens the door to ask questions in life. The one thing I won’t do this next year? Lecture the entire class period. I am guilty of doing this because I am so worried that I won’t get through the content. My goal for next year is no more than 20 minutes, unless it becomes interactive (like most of the civil rights/liberties lectures)

 Reading assignments and processing information by writing notes

Ok. This one is hard for me. I do not assign text book reading because students don’t do them. You know what they do? Read short articles with content relevance. Look at current events. I do create suggested readings for students, which do include our textbook, but there is a whole internet out there with a plethora of information. I include the links on my Planbook. They aren’t required but these learners appreciate the nod to their style of learning.

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Example of extra readings for my students.

I also use Twitter with a class hashtag to share relevant articles and information. I love using a class hashtag because it connects me with my students without having to follow them.

Recreating and practicing, having the ability to be moving.

This is where my Moot Courts come in. I know exactly who these learners are because they are the ones who volunteer to be lawyers.

I wrote about giving students choice in their projects which was a difficult thing for me to do. I don’t identify much with this type of learner, so giving students the wheel to create was out of the box for me but made me realize how capable students are to show you what they’ve learned.


All in all, the difficulties of differentiated learning in AP Government has proven to be a great challenge, but one that with community isn’t impossible.

 

 

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?