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Making Civics Real Workshop 2: Electoral Politics  
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Workshop 2

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Teacher Perspectives
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Teacher Perspectives: Methodology

Jose Velazquez: The teaching methodology that I’m applying here is a constructivist approach based on cooperative learning and reflection and discussion. It’s an authentic assessment approach where the learning is not just something from rote memory or a book but is based on actual participation on the part of the students. We want our students to participate in meaningful ways that are going to ensure lifelong skills. That’s what civics should be all about.

Of course in the process there is direct teaching. We have discussed some of the issues in the campaign by reading articles and having discussions. We’ve had exams on the issues. Students have been assessed in different ways. But cooperative learning allows you to take that direct teaching and see whether students have incorporated [it] into their own body of knowledge.

Some teachers may choose to do this in a traditional way: Here are the candidates. Here are the positions. Go home and read this and study this. You will get an exam on this next week. Here we have students that are actually involved in the learning process, taking responsibility for their own learning. They bring their prior knowledge of what the problems of the community are, then confirm that prior knowledge with research, and then make that research part of their own body of knowledge. So rather than teacher talk, what we have here is student-led discussion, student-facilitated discussion, student-centered discussion. Cooperative learning requires extensive preparation and processing as the lesson is happening. It’s a different role as a teacher but it is quite a comprehensive role. It’s not like you give up control--quite the opposite. As you become good at cooperative learning, you understand that there are social skills as well as academic skills involved.

About a week ago, I gave a traditional exam. Half of it was short-answer questions and half of it was an essay question. In that essay question, I asked them to comment on the issues and the campaign as they see it so far from the readings that they have done. Their responses demonstrated understanding of the issues as well as commentary on both the positive and negative aspects of the campaign. So you had real understanding going on there. It also demonstrates their own particular concerns, it brings out the passion in what students feel. They become part of the process, rather than just listening to a traditional lecture.


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