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Making Civics Real Workshop 4: Constitutional Convention  
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Workshop 4

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Teacher Perspectives: Combining methodologies

Matt Johnson: I look at the entire unit and try to think what activities might work--what do I want to see come out of this particular field of study. I use the textbook as the framework, in the sense that these are the topics that we will cover, but I supplement it with current articles. There is not a lot of controversy in the textbook but there is a lot of controversy in politics, so if you just use the textbook you’re sugar coating everything. But it is a good source for some basic preliminary information. If the textbook is going to be your sole source of information, depending on the textbook, you’re almost doing a disservice to the topic. It’s deeper than what a textbook will give it [but] there are some chapters we do more traditionally if the material just doesn’t lend itself [to constructivism].

The direct teaching that I do is woven in during the course of a country study. I usually have the kids do a basic report on the economy and the political and social forces in a country. Then I will lecture on other supporting facts and issues. Then I turn it over to the kids but I usually end up reviewing everything--lecturing again--as we prepare for the exam.

You’ve got to look at what you’re about to approach, and then work backwards. I’m a firm believer [that] the constant teacher-centered approach doesn’t work. I think, though, that you can go a little too crazy and rely on groups too much. The kids need a mix. Every once in a while [they need to] be told, “Here are the things that I feel are important.” They want to know that usually towards the end if there is an assessment coming up--a traditional assessment. They want to know, “What do we have to know for this test or this essay?” In between those periods is the time you let the kids get comfortable with the material.


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