Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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  Workshop 1: Freedom of Religion  
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Workshop 1

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Teacher Perspectives: The lesson’s teaching challenges

Kristen Borges: One of the important things that teachers need to be able to do if they’re going to attack a lesson like this is be flexible and willing to give up some control of the direction of the lesson and the classroom. There are a lot of challenges that you’re presented with as far as how the students might react and how much energy they bring to the lesson. If you’re really used to having every single minute of your hour planned out and leading the exact direction that you had prepared for, sometimes that’s not the case when you turn it over to the students. So much of performance-based learning depends upon how the students use it and where they take it. So there will be times when you’ll have a student you know is not going in the direction that you really anticipated. And sometimes it’s difficult for students to know that they are just debating in class and this isn’t a personal issue.

The students have a lot of background information and their challenge is to try to narrow that down so that they can pick things that can be useful for them depending upon their assigned role. Another challenge is having the Supreme Court Justices keep an open mind and try not to be influenced by any beliefs they might have about religion in public settings. We’ve practiced looking at some controversial issues that the Supreme Court has had to decide and tried to look at them from as many perspectives as we could, as well as to really look at what the impact of any decision would be.

Another challenge is helping students effectively articulate their position. Oftentimes students feel that they don’t really know the answer. Sometimes it just takes a little wait time for them to get started. But if that doesn’t happen, a leading question can really get the student engaged with the discussion. I was hoping that by interjecting some comments and raising some points that might come from either side of the issue, that would trigger some ideas and allow them to carry the ball themselves.

Many times students will be able to state their opinion but have more difficulty with the evidence that would make their opinion that much stronger. I have very, very vocal students on both sides who have very strong ideas about this case. And one concern that I have is whether they will spend time listening to the opposing side and really learning how to follow procedure and not interject at inappropriate times. It will be interesting to see if students who went in with one particular thought of how the case should look actually would change their mind about the outcome.

When picking the groups I saw that many of my students who are very outgoing and very verbal decided that they wanted to represent one of the sides. My more reserved students wanted to be the Justices. So I might have a very quiet reserved court up there. I hope that because of the arguments that are presented to them they will be willing to open up a little. One student has volunteered to be the Chief Justice. She knows that it is her role to keep things going and to facilitate her peers. I’m hoping that she’s going to be able to lead the questioning. I saw today that the groups were preparing their seating arrangement and also preparing an order of questions, although they are aware that as the arguments are presented they will probably have many other questions to ask.


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