Thursday, November 01, 2007


So here we are, November 1. In my mind, the "Constructivist Culture" should be in place. Students should be taking ownership of their learning. Students should be helping to create the relevance. Students should be directing my teaching.

So are they? Yes and No.

Students, at least overtly, do not seem to be grade focused. They seemed to take the test wit the corresonding work on corrections as a learning tool rather than a proving tool. Our discussions have been generally positive. Their blogging, for those who are doing it (not a requirement) has been powerful at times. Some are asking questions to direct me. Some are finding new items for me to discuss. Some are creating their learning in a way that also will have AP success. They seemed to take self-evaluation on essays seriously and as a learning game, not as a grade game. Some struggled with my request to tell me what they wanted me to look for in their essay, but we'll develop that.


I just had a conversation with a student who started by discussing the week she had just missed to visit colleges. She mentioned that she sat in on a class, Poltical Science, and said that they seemed to be doing what we were, but the professor was different than I am. He lectured more. She thought it was easier to know what he wanted the students to know. I asked if she thought the students were addressing the questions they had. She felt that it was more important to focus on what the teacher wanted. We discussed how and why I differ with her perception of education. I think I failed to sway her.

The student had not done well on her first test. She struggled with understanding the vocabulary (AP Government tends to have an exam that relies heavily on the vocab) and then applying the vocab. She struggled with seeing the trees and the forest. She admitted that she (like far too many of her 17-18 year old peers in the class who will be voters next fall) pays no attention to current events. When asked if she watches any news, she alluded only to a story about masked thieves in Arapahoe County. It was a story that had obvious relevance to her, but had no connection to our course. She admitted that English was more of her thing, partly because she could relate to the books. I asked if paying attention to current politcal events might help her do the same in Government. Maybe.

I'll be starting a new experiment soon to somewhat foce this relevance building. Students in the first unit, one that is largely philosophical and lends itself to discussions about their ideologies and issues they are passionate about, seem to build their relevance. Once we start talking institutions and processes, they struggle with it. So...each student will choose a domestic issue that they have interest in watching (environmental policy, education, welfare, military spending, etc). They will research it a bit to see where their issue sits at the moment: what are the major issues and what are the developing issues. Then for the rest of the year, they will use their issue as the base for their analysis of all institutions and procedures. Thus, the issue is their tree that they will be able to hang all other information. When we study interest groups, they will examine those that address their issue. When we study media, we will see how their issue has been portrayed. We will look at the party platforms on thie issue. We will track how voters tend to feel about and respond to their issue. We will watch Congress to see how they are addressing the issue in subcommittees, committees, and floor votes. We will look for evidence of the president's position and tactics with the issue. We will examine the bureaucratic agencies that enforce the lawa regarding their issue. We will track how bills become laws by tracing a bill on their issue. We will see how the Supreme Court has ruled regarding their issue. The risk is that students will be very competent on their issue, something that will not be tested by the AP Exam which will test to see if this methods works to aid in understanding everything else.

Am I frustrated? No. I have four sections, twice the number of last year, and four times what I had for the previous ten years. I have a wide range of interests and abilities among the 115 kids. I have have very passionate participants, quiet observers, and a few distractors - who at times make me laugh and at other times... I don't have to divide my planning between US History and Government, I can focus my efforts. And while I miss teaching certain history topics, I love the time I have for government (and law) to make changes I have wanted to make. I have more time to think about ways to develop a department schedule that will help others to do what they want or need to do. I've had time to discuss interesting cross-curricular posibilities (having 1 section of students take me for government and then Gaffney for English so we could teach a governemt/political themes duo course...hmmm).

Life is Good.


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