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Showing posts from April, 2016

Civics Classroom Resources for Direct Instruction

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
The new Illinois Social Studies Standards and civics course requirement demonstrate that the “how” is as important as the “what” in closing the civic education gap. Just as knowledge of the Rules of the Road does not prepare a person to operate a motor vehicle; the ability to pass a test on civic knowledge does not prepare an individual for civic life. One needs to “get behind the wheel” and practice the knowledge, skills and dispositions of civic efficacy. Inquiry is the “GPS” that guides effective direct instruction in the civics classroom.

Inquiry begins with questioning. Albert Einstein realized this when he stated:
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” The new civics standards ask students to address essential questions that refle…

Parsing Proven Civic Learning Practices, Part I: Direct Instruction

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar, Robert R. McCormick Foundation
In the next four weeks, Illinois Civics Lead Teacher Mentor Mary Ellen Daneels and I will walk through the four proven civic learning practices central to the new high school civics course requirement: direct instruction, discussion, service learning, and simulations. I’ll begin each week with a post on the efficacy and indicators of each practice, and Mary Ellen will follow in the middle of the week with an entry on an effective resource to incorporate this practice into your classroom.

We begin with direct instruction and the understanding that civics course exposure, particularly as an upperclassman, improves civic knowledge and skills. Classroom learning experiences are also predictive of positive civic dispositions, and direct instruction, when practiced in an “open” classroom environment, leads to positive social norms like working hard, voting, obeying the law, and media attentiveness.

Indicators of…

Answers to Your Questions About the New Course Requirement

Since the new high school civics course requirement was signed into law by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner last August, we have been inundated with questions about both its general and specific parameters. While school and district accountability lies in the hands of the Illinois State Board of Education and its regional offices, we have attempted to answer these questions to the best of our abilities.

Our frequently-asked questions section of the IllinoisCivics website categorizes questions by course overview, funding, course implementation, and professional development and resources. In total, 42 questions are addressed, and we encourage you to comb through each of them and inform us where we have fallen short or failed to anticipate a question entirely.

A couple of questions have surfaced repeatedly and are worthy of further examination here:

Do existing American government courses satisfy the civics course requirement? Yes, with two caveats: First, qualifying government courses must…

Announcing the IllinoisCivics Summer PD Tour

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As alluded to in our preliminary post last month, teacher professional development opportunities are central to our #CivicsIsBack Campaign. We are building a train-the-trainer model, where a cadre of teacher mentors representing every region of Illinois will receive intense training during the first full week of June in Bloomington-Normal. For the balance of the summer, mentors will be deployed to two-day workshops that touch every corner of the state.

These workshops, held in partnership with local colleges, universities, and Regional Offices of Education, will center on teaching the 2016 Election, but address all facets of the new civics course requirement, related updates to state social studies standards, and perhaps most importantly, why civic learning matters (visit our recent four-part series on this subject).


Attendees will also learn more about the programs, curricula, and resources of nationally-recognized civic education partners, Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, F…

Civic Learning Prepares Students for College and Careers (Why Civic Learning Matters, Part IV)

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar, Robert R. McCormick Foundation
I’ve already established why civic learning matters and its fostering of students’ civic development. Moreover, when provided equitably, civic learning helps close the civic empowerment gap. In today’s fourth and final post on this subject, I’ll demonstrate how civic learning builds 21st Century competencies, improves school climate, and reduces the school drop-out rate.

 Schools have a historic civic mission, but they must also prepare students for college and careers. The combination of traditional and student-centered classroom-based civic learning opportunities builds 21st Century competencies transferable to success in higher education and professional careers like creativity, critical thinking, economic knowledge, global awareness, media literacy, and working collaboratively with peers.

Schools must not merely teach democracy. They are themselves mini-polities and should practice democracy in their d…

Bridging the Democracy Divide (Why Civic Learning Matters, Part III)

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar, Robert R. McCormick Foundation
Civic learning closes the civic empowerment gap, but research suggests that students of color and lower economic strata are less likely to experience these high-quality opportunities in school.

In a study of 2,500 California high school students, African-American students reported fewer civic-oriented government classes. Asian American and Latino students were less likely to experience an open classroom environment, and Latino students also had fewer service learning experiences.

These inequities also assumed a class-based dimension: students of higher socioeconomic status were more likely to report studying how laws are made, to participate in service activities, and to experience debates and panel discussions.

Unequal learning opportunities lead to a racial and socioeconomic civic achievement gap every bit as stark as those in reading and math. Across the last three iterations of the National Assess…

Civic Learning Educates Youth for Democracy (Why Civic Learning Matters, Part II)

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar, Robert R. McCormick FoundationCivic learning matters: High-quality, school-based civic learning builds students’ civic knowledge, skills, and commitments, critical ingredients for informed and effective engagement in our democracy throughout life.

Students exposed to high school civics courses exhibit greater civic knowledge. The quantity and proximity of civics course exposure predicts civic knowledge. My own research has demonstrated that high school students benefit most from taking a civics course as upperclassmen.

In a national survey of youth ages 18-24 after the 2012 presidential election, those with quality high school civic learning experiences were more likely to understand campaign issues, form political opinions, recall facts about U.S. political system, and vote.

It is a mix of traditional and student-centered learning practices that yields optimal student civic outcomes, including skills and commitments. An international s…

Why Civic Learning Matters, Part I

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar, Robert R. McCormick Foundation Low levels of civic engagement are well-documented across successive generational cohorts in the United States. Our citizenry is increasingly disconnected from the elected and appointed officials who represent us in government. At the same time, the scale of problems facing our democracy have grown as civil society has shrunk, weakening our collective capacity to address them.

These problems are particularly acute in Illinois, and most pronounced among our youngest citizens. According to the 2012 Illinois Civic Health Index (2013, McCormick Foundation and the National Conference on Citizenship), Illinois Millennials (ages 18-29) fare poorly when compared to their national peers on several measures of civic engagement. Fewer than three-in-ten vote regularly in local elections (29.8% in Illinois compared to 34.9% nationally), ranking 47th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Illinois Millennials…