Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Making Civics Real Workshop 8: Rights and Responsibilities of Students  
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Workshop 7

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Teacher Perspectives
Student Perspectives
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Teacher Perspectives: Groups

Matt Johnson: When I start the school year and I put together the first groups for an assignment, I will be very random in how I do it. I just know names and I don't really know the kids yet so it's really an opportunity for me to learn a lot about the kids. That first assignment tells a lot--who works well together, who approaches groups with a positive attitude. I take notes and keep track of who works well together and who doesn't. At the beginning of the year, I will try to keep the sexes evenly represented in each group--but that's about it. As the year progresses and I start to fine-tune my groups, sometimes I'll say, "Do you guys want me to put you in groups, or do you want to pick your own groups?" A lot of times, the kids want me to continue to control who is in what group. At that point, I think I can group kids pretty well. I've watched that over the course of a couple of months.

[It] was easy for me to put these kids together because I really feel that I know these 30 kids pretty well and know who will work well with others. When I was putting [these] groups together, I looked at spreading what I would call the more dominant, at least verbal, personalities throughout the 10 groups and trying to put kids [in each group] that I have observed throughout the course of the year as really having been consistent in their approach to the class, so that every group had somebody that I would say knows the material pretty well. That's about it. Try to split the boys and the girls up so that there's not any one group that's all boys or all girls.

If I wanted to just give the kids information, I don't think I'd bother with groups. It'd be so much easier for me to just [say], "Here's the information. Here's what I want you guys to know. Memorize it for the test on Tuesday." These kids are smart, and they'll come up with some novel ideas and novel approaches. I'd be doing them a disservice if I said, "Here is the argument I want you to make in this moot court."

The group [arguing for Otis Bewear, the petitioner, against the Banneker Student Government Association] really has a pretty strong command of the cases and the appropriate materials they need. They're three fairly strong personalities and three very articulate students. My only fear is that they won't share the spotlight, but I think they'll work well together. They've all been in moot court and done very well. They know what's out there and I know they'll come up with a pretty strong argument. When I observed [them], they were initially trying to figure out what position to take in their hypothetical and struggling with finding cases that supported their position. I had to sort of move them in the direction of taking cases that on their face hurt them, but turning them around and figuring out a way to either say this doesn't apply or the language in that decision actually helps you. So they were working through the precedents and then starting to put together how they would approach their oral argument.

[The students representing the respondent, the Banneker Student Government Association] are both quiet in the classroom, but when they get together and it's more one-on-one, I see those two as very hardworking. [One] is always surprising me because she's ready for class all the time and [the other] is very quick to voice her opinions and she's usually pretty accurate.

The group [representing the petitioner in Sloan v. the District of Columbia Public Schools] had a little trouble getting started because they are all similar personalities. They are a little quiet. They'll do their work, but they're not big on sharing, so they have to get over that and work cooperatively. All three of them are capable. It may be a question of who is going to speak first, though. I don't think that anyone will volunteer, but once they get the ball rolling, I think they'll be pretty strong.

[The students representing the respondent in Sloan v. the District of Columbia] are interesting. That's the only group that has a junior, but she's a pretty strong-willed student. [A second member] is a very articulate young man who can pick things up quickly. He knows the cases and so does [the third member]. An issue in that group [may be] not letting [one member] dominate the discussion. My hope is that they will all participate. I know they will in the putting together of the argument, but [one member] may hog the spotlight a little bit. I was pleasantly surprised. They took the hypothetical and immediately starting identifying cases that helped them, which was maybe part of [one member’s] leadership. When I went over and observed them, they were moving along, identifying cases, and starting to immediately think of an argument. That hypothetical threw them off at first. They didn't understand the voucher issue and why a parent would be opposed to the vouchers. Once that was explained to them, they saw what they needed to do.


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