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  Workshop 7: Controversial Public Policy Issues  
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Workshop 7

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Teacher Perspectives: Polling

JoEllen Ambrose: The introductory activity was a poll. I asked students to express an opinion on a topic in the criminal justice area and they had to physically move to stand by that position. We could look around the room and see who agreed, who disagreed, [and] who was undecided and then we turned to each group and asked them to explain their position. If the opportunity arose, I might ask a question to clarify or to find out what they really meant.

A polling activity gets them to think about the topics that we will be covering [and] forces their participation. When you introduce a unit, you try to spark their interest. You want that attention-grabbing activity that says, “Oh, I’m hooked. I’m with you all the way.” One way of doing that is to force them to think about things that they’re going to face in the unit and take a stand on them. In taking a stand, they’re not looking at knowledge necessarily. They had a little knowledge from the textbook but they were basically coming at it from, “Hey, this is my opinion.” They’re drawing from their own experience. I think it gives them a hook. It motivates them. They’ll be adding knowledge as the unit goes on. You can bring it back at the end by saying, “Have you changed your mind on any of these positions?”

Students take a risk to express their own opinion. [Some just] their friends. It was something that I observed but I wasn’t going say, “Don’t you have a mind of your own?” because that’s obviously not a comfortable position for anyone to be in. We’re not going to hold them to [a] point of view. They can be fluid in their thinking. I don’t know what teaching method other than polling allows them to defend their position yet also change their mind.

Sometimes I think [the polling activity] could be a little bit faster paced but I thought they were all focusing on what was being said and certainly willing to respond, and it was thought-provoking.


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