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Making Civics Real Workshop 4: Constitutional Convention  
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Workshop 4

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Teacher Perspectives
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Teacher Perspectives: Guiding the process

Matt Johnson: During this type of lesson the teacher really has to help guide students—push them to think about things in a different way—keeping in mind the task in the sense that if you see that they're debating an issue that's irrelevant, you kind of bring them back. You can also move them forward by suggesting new ideas to talk about and discuss. You have to be active as you move around, both in listening and reacting to what's being said in the groups. Some groups are fine and when you come to them you realize they're doing everything you want them to do. Others may stray a little bit and they're not where you want them to be, so you have to prod them a little bit.

I think remaining neutral [is important], especially when you're questioning kids and you're pushing them to think about things in other ways. I don't want to take ownership of any of these ideas. I just throw them out there—have them think about it.

One of the things I look for [is whether] they are answering the questions that I'd hoped they would focus on. If they are going off on a tangent, I try and bring them back to the broader question. Answering questions that kids have obviously is the first thing you want to do. But then, if a group is struggling—they're sort of blank faces—ask questions. Try and focus them on the worksheets. Steer them back if they're exploring an issue that doesn't really need to be discussed in such detail. I use questioning to elicit some other responses, to try and channel them one way or another. If I have ideas of my own—what I'd like the constitution to look like—I might pose some hypothetical or take what they have and ask them "Hey, where did that come from—what country?" and keep pushing some facts from one of the countries to jump start them.

I noticed just in the first couple of days watching the kids discuss within their groups things that we had looked at back in January and February. They were recalling some practices in the British system and the French system. Why? Because they had had to do individual assignments and present their assignments to the class. So there is ownership right from the beginning. I think that kind of discussion that we began the very first day wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t given the kids more of a role in the learning process.

My role in the (constitutional convention) is to mediate and be almost a recording person, not put my opinion into anything. Keep things moving. Try to keep an eye on the process.


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