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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”

Foundations of American Democracy

Reflecting on “Document Week”

Document Week 2018 has come to an end.

My students killed it. I am so impressed. I am also so tired! We all became best friends with the trifecta we worked with, even if some students were reluctant at first.

We capped off the week with Federalist_No._51 excerpts, and will begin next week with a comparison of a quote from Brutus 2 and Federalist 51 (listed on page 3).

A few things students noted:

  1. It was helpful for me to go over annotations AFTER they had a chance to read it. Since I already showed them how to annotate with the DeclarationofIndependence(which many were familiar with), they wanted to do it themselves and then have me review the document.
  2. They liked the progression of the documents because they saw the cause and effect.
  3. They appreciated being able to come back with questions. I did have them complete a Summary (3) on Federalist 10, but I made it due the next day at the END of class so they could ask clarifying questions.

 

The ultimate goal at the end of the week

Things I liked:

  1. I liked giving them a focus each day. Example, for Fed 10, I wanted them to focus on Madison’s response to Brutus and the superiority of a large republic in controlling factions (CON-1.A.1)
  2. I really liked working through the documents with them and seeing the moments of realization.
  3. I appreciated the fluid state of the week. I know where I wanted to end by Friday and it gave me more license to work to get the students to really get the messages. You can see how I progressed via my online lesson plan book.

Things I will change or look more closely at:

  1. Next semester, I will do a bit more of a background on the Federalist and Anti-federalists as homework instead of using class time.
  2. I want to develop a reader that goes along with Brutus I to help the students through the document.
  3. I also want to develop a “Call and Response” to help students compare Brutus I and Federalist 10. {Basically give a Brutus argument and then what Madison’s response was}
  4. I want to have enough time to do a Socratic seminar and really allow them to ask questions and work through it in a bigger group.
  5. I am going to make a reader for this unit with focus questions {stay tuned} so that we can have the above mentioned Socratic and I can assess them on their knowledge this way.

 

*As a post script, I was absolutely blown away by the response to my post about Brutus I. I love the collaborative nature of teaching and the ability to share everything and have great discussions. If there is anything you’d like to see from this blog or specific questions you may have, please feel free to comment or contact me! 

 

Foundations of American Democracy

Brutus I- In the Trenches

As I’ve started to work through the redesign, as we all have, I’ve noticed how document heavy the first unit is. I warned my students this week that it was Document Week {like Shark Week but less scary… and with donuts}. We are hitting the trifecta of Brutus I, Fed 10, and Fed 51.

Today is Brutus I. To be fair, I’m still working my way through this document. I have not spend as much time on the Anti-Federalists as I have the Federalist papers. I worried about giving this whole thing to my students. Once again, I was wrong. My students continually surprise me.

Prior to this, students have had their knowledge from APUSH or US History. I show them a quick graphic on the Federalist vs. Anti-Federalist the day before in their notes on ratification.

We looked at Brutus_No_1. (From the Bill of Rights Institute)

It looks scary at 11 pages, but there are annotations which take up half the page. I gave the students a quick reading at the beginning of class (15 minutes) from their textbook so they have a solid background on the Anti Federalist point of view. (I used the high school We the People books, pages 92-96 because of it’s sole focus on the Anti-Federalist. I also have the 2016 Presidential Election Edwards book. That’s a quick read on page 44-45)

Students worked in groups using Brutus I and guiding questions (from Bill of Rights):

  • Which form of government (a large national republic or a confederation of small republics) is more likely to preserve and protect personal liberties and why?
  • Can a larger republic, based on the principle of consent of the governed, sufficiently protect the rights and liberties of the individual states and people, or is a confederation the only method of securing such liberty?
  • Should the federal legislature be able to repeal state laws in order to impose federal laws for the purpose of promoting the general welfare or common defense of the nation? If so, why? If not, why?
  • Brutus argues that in a republic, “the manners, sentiments, and interests of the people should be similar…if not, there will be a constant clashing of opinions and the representatives of one part will be constantly striving against the other.” Should a republic be made up of a small group of like-minded people? Or, is diversity of opinion beneficial to the success of a federal government?

I wanted them to do this in class so that they could have classmates to discuss with, and to also have the content expert (me… most days) to help guide them through it. For my students, giving this to them to take home would not have the same value as working in groups in class.

Having annotations already helped the students to further annotate and dig deeper into the document.

A few tips:

  1. Have the students preview the questions before they start to dig into the document.
  2. We had a 56 minute class period. I gave the remainder of it for homework with the caveat that any questions need to come back to class tomorrow. I want a firm understanding of what Brutus was getting at before we move on to Madison.
  3. I’ve already modeled how to annotate at this point with the Declaration of Independence, so they know what I expect from them as opposed to just highlighting the entire document. Here are my annotations that I go over for Declaration of Independence.
  4. I let my students know in advanced that this document was challenging and that we would work though it together. I don’t want my students to think that I expect them to know absolutely everything.
  5. In 2016, I attended the Founder’s Fellowship sponsored by the Bill of Rights on Liberty and the Constitution:Federalists and Anti-Federalists which allowed me to go over the documents. Teaching American History had one this year on The American Founding, which went over the Declaration, Federalist 10, and Federalist 51. They have a good stash on the Anti-Federalists. 
  6. Do your homework too. This was the first time {yikes} that I really dove into this document.

For the next day, we dove right into Federalist 10 to see Madison’s response. I’ve stressed that I want them to see the connections between Locke, the Declaration, Brutus, and Fed 10 because that will be a part of their Unit assessment.

 

Foundations of American Democracy

Federalist 10

Factions.

What are they?

Why do we care? (ohmygoddoyouliveunderarock)

Well, you should care. Even George Washington cared. I mean, not all factions are political parties, but all political parties are factions. And let’s be honest. Factions are a huge source of discontent in our nation today.

Faction: a small, organized, dissenting group within a larger one, especially in politics.

{Can we swoon over G’s writing for a second?}

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”

Let’s all take a second with that. George knew his stuff (or whomever wrote it for him since he was SUPER insecure about his “smarts”. He was military, most of the people he knew were University) September 19, 1796 was far from November 23, 1787 but he saw the discontent in his cabinet. Famously between Hamilton and Jefferson. (SHEG has a great lesson on this, check it out)

I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go back to the Federalist 10 argument.

This is a highly quoted piece of the 85 essays. Most notably, “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires,” {God, I love James Madison… so much}.

Usually, when I teach this, there is a short video to go through the basics of the piece. It helps students to know what they are going into. It’s helpful to have them try to digest it outside of class. Giving the students an introduction to the whole of the Federalist Papers sets the scene. I give them my annotated Federalist 10. I did this when I was the Bill of Rights Institute Founders Fellowship on the Federalist and AntiFederalist Debate. I like doing this to show them that I’ve already looked at the document myself. We start with a first look, usually just a quick scan of the document, noticing the annotations or quotations that sound familiar. We write down questions and really become friends with the document. Depending on the class, you can send the document home for further annotation. The next day, a small group setting can help students share what they saw, the questions they had, and the summary of what Madison was trying to get to in this specific paper with their peers.

I don’t think going into long lessons is necessary with this document. What is necessary is an understanding that students can refer to throughout the course. What is necessary is helping students break down Madison’s argument. This can be done via jigsaw, in small groups with excerpts, or as a whole class depending on what YOU think is best for YOUR class. (You can jigsaw with Brutus 1)

The end goal is an understanding of the document so that students can move forward in the curriculum using that as a base, as well as a reference.

This can naturally spiral into debates over current divisive political issues that are current to students. At this point, it’s up to you where you let it go. I generally don’t let it go anywhere because that’s not the point of the lesson. However, this could easily transition to…

Lesson Ideas!

Writing Prompt OR Discussion-  Describe how Madison’s Federalist 10 can be explained using a modern day issue. (past 5 years)

Compare and contrast Federalist 10 with Brutus I (I like this version because it’s annotated and has guiding questions to help focus).

Documents of Freedom- Political Parties Activity: Factions and Virtue (sign in required, free resource)

**It also of note to go back around to Washington’s Farewell Address and One Last Time.. But, that’s another post entirely.

Resources:

Fact/Myth- This is a treasure trove

Documents in Detail- Teaching American History