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”

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.