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”

Interactions Among Branches of Government, Writing for AP Gov

Wrapping Up with Lessons in the Judiciary

It’s been 9 weeks since we started school and I am half way through the semester and the redesign. I’m tired and unsure, but after giving the FRQ and the unit test, I’m feeling a bit better about how I’ve taught this quarter. If you are struggling or doubting yourself, chances are you are doing an amazing job and putting way too much stress on yourself. We all do it. We are teachers and want to do what is best for our students.

This past few weeks, the Judiciary Committee has given us plenty to discuss in the way of their power of “advice and consent” One of the reasons I love/despise teaching AP Government is because each day is something new. We watched the hearing a bit to see the interaction of Congressional committees the executive pick for the judiciary and discussed how politics plays into the questions the Senators act, or who we think will run for President in 2020 based on their mini speeches they give before they ask the questions for the nominee.

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Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP

Within my week of the judiciary, we also had our Congressman come and talk to the students, leaving me with 4 days to teach my favorite branch of government. I gave the usual notes and carried on because after my time at Street Law’s Summer Institute I feel like I could go on forever, but I wanted to focus on the interactions of the branches, so I turned to FDR for help.

Federalist 78 is one of our required documents. I didn’t have students read this one because they are burnt out on documents. We did a quick video before moving on to FDR’s Fireside Chat on the Plan for Reorganization of the Judiciary

Because we were short on time, I let the students know that they needed to read this on their own as it would be a part of their FRQ. Next semester, I plan to make this a Socratic discussion because it ties the two branches in very nicely.

Concept Analysis FRQ:

“What is my proposal? It is simply this: whenever a Judge or Justice of any Federal Court has reached the age of seventy and does not avail himself of the opportunity to retire on a pension, a new member shall be appointed by the President then in office, with the approval, as required by the Constitution, of the Senate of the United States.
That plan has two chief purposes. By bringing into the judicial system a steady and continuing stream of new and younger blood, I hope, first, to make the administration of all Federal justice speedier and, therefore, less costly; secondly, to bring to the decision of social and economic problems younger men who have had personal experience and contact with modern facts and circumstances under which average men have to live and work. This plan will save our national Constitution from hardening of the judicial arteries.
The number of Judges to be appointed would depend wholly on the decision of present Judges now over seventy, or those who would subsequently reach the age of seventy.”
Fireside Chat Discussing the Plan for Reorganization of the Judiciary, President Franklin D. Roosevelt; March 9, 1937
 After reading the above, respond to the questions below.
  1. Explain Hamilton’s view of the judiciary in Federalist 78. (1 points)
  2. Compare your answers in Part A with FDR’s view of the judiciary from the above reading. (2 points)
  3. Using your knowledge of the Constitution, evaluate the constitutionality of FDR’s plan. (2 points)

Students had a harder time on the second FRQ, so on Monday {we are testing this week} we are going to go over it again, just in a different way, together. We are going to talk about this as a class so they understand what was expected of them on the original. I did give three different questions, as I have three different classes.

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Doug Mills/The New York Times

I am looking forward to doing this again next semester, but changing it up a bit to better use my time!

What is your favorite lesson on the judiciary?

Interactions Among Branches of Government, Professional Development, Writing for AP Gov

The American Presidency

On August 28, I had the pleasure of attending a Teaching American History Seminar on Executive Powers. I always appreciate going to these because it opens my eyes to new documents to use. (Full Document of Readings)

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These were the readings we were required to complete beforehand. I appreciated this because it forced me to look at documents I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Documents I will use in my AP class:

  • Federalist 70
  • FDR “Fireside Chat Reorganizing the Judiciary” *I will use this to bridge between the Presidency and the Judiciary
  • War Powers Resolution and Nixon’s Veto

I actually came back to school the next day and was just starting the executive powers. This was a great way to start off the roles and powers of the executive. The students read through the War Powers Resolution the day I was gone, and came back and read Nixon’s Veto with me. We had a brief discussion on what the president’s power was and how this evolved through the 20th century to dealing with ideologies as opposed to just countries.

I decided to use these documents for an argumentative essay. I plan to have a Socratic seminar first to really allow students to develop their ideas. I don’t plan to give them the prompt per se, but I will let them know they need to make sure they reference these documents. I often take for granted that my students need help to really develop ideas.  find I get much better writing when

Prompt: Using your knowledge of the War Powers Resolution and Nixon’s Veto, develop an argument that explains the Constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution as it relates to the roles of the Executive and Legislative branches.

In your essay you must:

  • Articulate a defensible claim or thesis that responds to the prompt and establishes a line of reasoning.
  • Support your claim with at least TWO pieces of accurate and relevant information
    • At least ONE piece of evidence must be from one of the following foundational documents:
      • US Constitution
      • Federalist 51
      • Federalist 70
    • Use a second piece of evidence from another foundation document from the list or from your study of the Constitution.
  • Use reasoning to explain why your evidence supports your claim/thesis.
  • Respond to an opposing or alternative perspective using refutation, concession, or rebuttal.

I really enjoy these seminars because it requires me to learn more about the documents and it gives me more insight for my class. I can’t even count how many I’ve been to at this point!

TAH has webinars and explores Documents in Detail. I use these to help my students but also to make me a better teacher!

This year, I will focus on the following:

  • Federalist and Antifederalist (Saturday webinar- September 8)
  • Brutus I (October 24)

There are many others both upcoming and past that are super helpful for our class! Registration is free, and even if you can’t make the time, they will send you a copy of it. There is a podcast as well! Just search Teaching American History.

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You just have to love PD that you can turn around to use in your classroom immediately!

Interactions Among Branches of Government, Writing for AP Gov

Argumentative Writing for AP Gov- Thesis Statements

*Cartoon from Cagle Cartoons

When I found out that a piece of the AP Government test would be argumentative writing, I was stoked! For the last three years, our school has had argumentative writing as a school goal so I figured, “I don’t even have to spend time teaching this!”

Oh, Liz. Oh, sweet, naive Liz.

I gave an argumentative prompt for Unit One, feeling confident because of the massive document diving we’ve done. I had students peer score to help get use to the FRQ #4 Rubric I received from Dan Devitt at my APSI this summer. I often like to use peer scoring and teacher grading so that students feel comfortable with the rubric and understanding exactly what was expected of them. After grading essays, I saw a HUGE issue. The thesis that students were writing were NOT defensible. The evidence they used was mere quoting. The analysis demanded more. Back to the drawing board we go.

I always tell my students I am training them for a marathon and we don’t need to run the whole thing right now. We need to work on a 5k. I need to take that advice.

I realized that in order for the essay as a whole to be legit, a great thesis was needed. Now, when I taught APUSH {for one year because wow! I bow down to all APUSH teachers} we did a 2-1-1 for our thesis statements and it worked out. So, I needed to develop a formula for AP Government and in particular, for my students who seem to struggle. First, I developed a prewriting for the thesis:

  • Restate the prompt:
  • Choose a side:
  • Tell me why:
  • What is the other side’s claim?
  • Why is yours better?

For example:

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Congressional term limits were a topic, similar to term limits imposed on the office of the president by the 22nd amendment. Develop an argument for or against an amendment imposing term limits on members of Congress.

I don’t have documents (Federalist 53  and 57 would come to mind because we want founding documents) BECAUSE, I want students to write a thesis that can be defended.

  • Restate the prompt: An amendment imposing term limits on members of Congress
  • Choose a side: is directly opposed to the ideas of the Constitution. 
  • Tell me why: because there were no term limits written into the Constitution for any of the three branches and it would take the rights away from the voter’s to choose who they want to represent them.  
  • What is the other side’s claim? Although many critics believe that Congress is corrupt and needs term limits to bring it back to the people, 
  • Why is yours better? the people, according to James Madison, need to be vigilant. This means that the government should not have the power to impose limits on terms of Congress. 

This may or may not work for your class, but I know that for me, I had to be more specific. If you don’t have a good thesis, you don’t have a good essay. End of story.

From now on, I will require all socratic discussions to start with this formula. It’s a small thing, but ends with big results!

I plan to build using evidence during the Presidency, and analysis during the Judiciary which all happen within the next few weeks. The ultimate goal is by my Civil Rights and Liberties Unit (which I do last) is to have 90% of students writing the argumentative essay at at least a 4/6. Lofty? Maybe. Not enough? Probably. But, with the redesign and the shift in mindset away from teaching contentcontentcontent and more application, I think it’s a reasonable goal that will evolve as we move through our semester.

What is your favorite way to teach argumentative essay?