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.

 

 

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.

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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, 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?