Assessment, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Political Participation, Professional Development, Projects, Required Documents, Teachable Moments, Teaching Tips

Teaching Controversial Topics… like abortion laws

 

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As I scroll through social media, it’s hard to miss that Georgia and Alabama have recently passed the nation’s strictest abortion laws. So, naturally, when students walk in they want to know what I think.

I think that certain factions are trying to overturn Roe v. Wade (my standard response, which my students understand.

I’m not about to discuss my views because in my classroom, it’s not relevant.) I will not discuss this right at the beginning of my class because I need time to get to know my students. This is why I do my Civil Liberties and Civil Rights unit at the end of my class. When discussing the 2nd amendment or abortion case law as civil liberties, I need my students to know the procedures and be comfortable in the classroom. In my classroom, opinion is not relevant. You can have your opinion, but we aren’t about to debate gun rights or abortion. My job is to give you information about the Constitution, how to find relevant and trustworthy sources, and teach you how to develop an educated argument.

I’m going to assume that this issue will continue and have already started to consider how I will address it with my students next year. Here are some I have collected to help with #1 and #2 on the 5 ways to improve your practice. If you are curious about #4, I discuss it in The New York Times Op-Ed in AP Government.

  • This USA Today article gives information on the states’ abortion laws. The quantitative analysis could be a great warm up to discuss federalism (Unit 1)
    • How do states have the ability to pass laws that differ from others based on Supreme Court cases?
  • Discussing the sides of abortion in relation to factions and Federalist 10. Abortion will likely be a constant source of division because there are so many factions within the argument.
  • A great source for teachers to learn is Body Politic from Oyez. It features Roe v. Wade, Casey v. Planned Parenthood (and Justice O’Connor’s famous undue burden standard), Gonzales v. Carhart, and Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
    • In my classroom, I skip over Gonzales because of the content. Roe v Wade is a required case, Casey sets a different standard, and Whole Women’s Health is the case I was at the Supreme Court for so I know a lot about it. 
  • The Future of Abortion Laws: “Two leading voices from organizations on different sides of today’s biggest debates over reproductive rights and abortion laws—Catherine Glenn Foster of Americans United for Life and Dr. Kelli Garcia of National Women’s Law Center—join host Jeffrey Rosen to explore the key cases making their way up to the Supreme Court. Garcia and Foster also share their views on landmark abortion precedent like Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and the more recent case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, and predict how precedent might affect the outcomes of challenges to pending abortion laws at the federal level and in states like Louisiana, Tennessee, and Mississippi.” The Constitution Center.
    • I love the Constitution Center so much. The podcasts show both sides and have a very educated discussion based on law.
  • FiveThirtyEight Politics
    • This podcast goes through political ideology, polling, how cases go through the Court system, and the 2020 election. I would assign this to listen to at home or listen to it in class so that I am available to answer questions since I am the content expert.
  • The Words We Live By by Linda Monk
    • First of all, I love this book. Secondly, pages 222-224 has a great explanation of abortion under the 14th amendment.

 

With all controversial topic, knowing your kids and having your kids know procedures in your class is super important.

I plan for the comments that get us off track or may be inflammatory. My standard response is, “I appreciate your opinion, but we need to stick to the facts and get back on track.” I may not appreciate their opinion, but I want to keep my classroom a place where students can make mistakes and learn.

How do you navigate controversial topics in your AP Government class?

 

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”

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Foundations of American Democracy, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Political Participation, Professional Development

My favorite podcasts for AP Government

I absolutely love podcasts! I can listen while I’m driving or out for a walk. I love having my students listen to them as well. I often assign them outside of class, but sometimes we will listen to them if they are short and meaningful. It’s also helpful for my auditory learners or for students that just need a bit of extra information to really “get it”. The green are ones I listen to in class or assign for extra knowledge on a subject! The red are for my own personal knowledge and growth. 

Here are my favorite podcasts for AP Government!

  • Constitutional– I use this one in class and for my personal knowledge.
  • We the People– I have to admit, I love Jeffrey Rosen. And when he followed me on Twitter one day, I about died. THIS is a podcast I have my students listen to because it presents both sides from a scholarly view point. It has been especially amazing for the redesign. I highly recommend this! 
  • The Daily– I listen to this daily. Each day on my way to work. Like clockwork. 
  • Teaching American History– with titles such as “How to Read Federalist #10” , many AP teachers jump for joy. Let’s be honest, we all need to brush up on some of our document knowledge. This is a great resource for teachers who don’t want to be caught unaware! 
  • More Perfect I love using this in class. More specifically, they have a great one on Citizen’s United which can be used with my lesson on the required case. There are 3 seasons and I’ve found they are easy listening. 
  • PBS News Hour- quick, easy, informative, and part of my Alexa morning routine. 
  • Ain’t No Free Lunch– I met Danielle at my Street Law summer and really loved listening to her talk. Her and her friend, Taikein look at current/past issues. I appreciate hearing different points of view because it makes me a better teacher and better citizen. Plus, I am working on expanding my resources so that all students feel represented. And my students love the back and forth. 
  • Slow Burn– Nixon’s Watergate. Clinton’s impeachment. So enthralling and something I listen to so I can strengthen my history knowledge. 
  • Up First– The news from NPR in 10 minutes. I recommend to students who want to listen to the news and keep up. They can listen to it on the way to school or work. 
  • The Wilderness– I started to listen to Pod Save America awhile ago on the recommendation of a friend, but soon found it to be not up my alley. I decided to give this a try because of it’s look at what happened to the Democratic Party in the 2016 and what they need to change. It’s like an autopsy and it’s refreshingly honest. This is a podcast I listen to for my own personal knowledge.  From the website: “The Wilderness is a documentary from Crooked Media and Two-Up about the history and future of the Democratic Party. Pod Save America’s Jon Favreau tells the story of a party finding its way out of the political wilderness through conversations with strategists, historians, policy experts, organizers, and voters. In fifteen chapters, the series explores issues like inequality, race, immigration, sexism, foreign policy, media strategy, and how Democrats can build a winning majority that lasts.”

 


Tell me, what are your favorite podcasts and how do you use them?

Political Participation, Projects

Keeping Interest Group Interesting

As you know, I only get a semester to teach AP Government and that requires me to get a little creative when I want to make sure that students “get it”.

Enter the Interest Group Project. I introduced the project on a Thursday and made it due the next week on their block day {Wednesday/Thursday} with limited in class work time.

I like to sometimes give more creative licensing to my students. I don’t care about the format, I care about the content. This is why I didn’t put specifications on having to use PowerPoint, although most did just that or used Google Slides. Just follow the rubric. I also didn’t give them a list of interest groups because I want THEM to do some research! Per usual, they did incredibly well and I was so interested to learn about each group!

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This was the AARP group. They took it up a notch with dressing up! 

Here is a student example from the AARP. {posted with student permission}

What I will change for next time:

  • I want to add a portion of how they use high tech media to get their (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc)
  • I didn’t teach them anything about interest groups yet, because I wanted them to do this FIRST and then be able to tie it all in. I liked this, but I think I’ll try it the other way to see if it works just as good.

What I REALLY LIKED:

  • Letting them be in charge of their own learning because inevitably they chose groups they had an “interest” in researching {pun intended}
  • Giving space to research without giving too many guidelines
  • Being flexible with the guidelines
  • Requiring that most work be done outside of class since they had a choice of groups or to do the work individually.
  • They turned NOTHING in. It was all a presentation grade. I LOATHE papers everywhere, so this suited me nicely

If you try this project, let me know how it goes!

 

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