Interactions Among Branches of Government, Required Documents, Teaching Tips, Writing for AP Gov

Congress and the President

After giving notes on the presidency, I wanted to really show students how it works in action today and historically. Here are a few ways I did so. I also discuss the American Presidency in another post. I used a block day and a day for these in total. If you are curious about my schedule, check this out.

Checks on the Presidency:

When looking at my binder and topic 2.5 I wanted to make sure I showed Supreme Revenge because it talks about the failed appointment of Robert Bork and how it changed the nomination process.

Supreme Revenge: this is an excellent look at the Senate’s role in confirmation hearings and how it’s changed since Robert Bork. *Warning- this does look at Anita Hill’s testimony as well as Dr. Blasey-Ford. It is graphic. Please watch this before you decide to show it in class. (CON-4.B.2)

This led to a great conversation about the role of factions in government, how much power the Senate can have, and the best question, ¨Can they do that?¨ It also introduces students to interest groups (Federalist Society), talks about Congressional leadership, committee work, and how a divided government causes gridlock. I often stopped the documentary to show key players throughout the discussed period (Bork´s nomination to Kavanaugh) that include current presidential nominees.

Expansion of Presidential Power:

After reading Federalist 70, we also dig into the War Powers Act and Nixon’s Veto. In order to prepare for a Socratic discussion (or a make-up argumentative essay) I asked students to find another time in history that a president interpreted or justified their formal or informal powers. Because of how we studied, my essay prompt deviates from the traditional structure because I require them to use 4 pieces of evidence in discussing the presidency, including how the Framers saw the president´s role, what the Constitution says, how the War Powers Act (and Nixon´s veto) looks at that role in war time, and contextualizing interpretation or justification of powers to another time in history.

Below is the prompt:

Using your documents, write an argumentative essay on the following prompt:

Develop an argument that analyzes the constitutionality of the War Powers Act.

Use at least one piece of evidence from each of the following documents:
● Federalist 70
● Constitution
● War Powers Act
● An additional piece of evidence from a document you researched from another
time in history that a president

  1. Respond to the prompt with defensible claim or thesis that establishes a line of
    reasoning.
  2. Support your claim with evidence and reasoning to explain why the evidence supports your claim or thesis.
  3. Respond to an opposing or alternate perspective using refutation, concession or
    rebuttal.
    *You will be graded using the AP Argumentative Essay Rubric

There are so many ways to teach the presidency with the new curriculum! What are your favorite resources?

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.

Screen Shot 2019-05-27 at 7.55.08 AM
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.

 

 

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

Teaching Controversial Topics… like abortion laws

 

Love is a much needed emotion in today’s world and it is always welcomed. It is a great way of cashing in on your own moral savings. Many people donate to charities that they are passionate about, they also donate to

 

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.
img_0519
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”

Foundations of American Democracy, Professional Development, Required Documents, Teachable Moments

I {Heart} Thomas Jefferson

This past weekend, I was granted the incredible opportunity to go to Charlottesville, VA for a weekend seminar with Teaching American History on Thomas Jefferson, which included some time at Monticello, my third favorite home of a Founder. It also didn’t hurt that UVA was in the Final Four and won that Saturday!

Let me start off with the fact that my degree is in Early Childhood Development and Education. I got a Masters in Secondary Education with a History Emphasis, but my knowledge of documents, content, and all around history knowledge has come about differently in my 16 years of teaching as opposed to a history major.

I am also a firm believer that before I assign something to my students, I need to have done my homework. It easier when you have experiences like this!

This is my second weekend seminar, the first being a few years ago at Montpelier. You can actually access the readers from the one day or weekend seminars through the site, even if you don’t go!

2dd4d8d1-501e-4d4b-b399-c5de2e4da8a8-9093-0000074e8a26dc89_file

Reasons you NEED to apply for these seminars (weekend, one days, etc):

  • You will be exposed to readings you may have not seen before. Not only will you read them, but you will be able to discuss them!
  • Hearing from other teachers. I always think this is the best PD, knowing what other teachers are doing and thinking. This group of teachers was one of the best!
  • The ability to travel to the locations!
  • The professors that facilitate the discussions are amazing. I never feel wrong. I am able to ask questions to truly understand what I’m reading.
  • Because of these seminars, both weekend and one day, I am better at analyzing documents and creating lessons
  • I start to lesson plan in my head, or think of questions to prompt my students to think of other ways to look at documents.
  • I may have started to understand the juxtaposition of Jefferson’s stance on slavery and the fact that he owned slaves. May have being the key word there.

APPLY FOR THESE SEMINARS! I am a better learner and teacher because of them. I’ve gone to some one day seminars here in Phoenix knowing next to nothing about what I’ve read and I always learn so much. Don’t be shy!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

img_1837

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.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 11.00.37 AM
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.

img_1839-1img_1838-1

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.

Image result for dragon

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.

Image result for cute dragon

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.

 

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)

img_0747

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

 

img_0746

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!

img_0890

img_0839
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.

img_0688

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?