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 direct instruction begin with course design and teaching strategies. Teachers should make explicit civic learning connections between formal instruction and concrete student actions. Moreover, courses should include historic and contemporary political and civic texts that communicate ideas in writing, speech, and other media.

Course content can be expansive, but should certainly address the U.S. Constitution and its fundamental principles as applied to both the past and present (the Illinois Constitution requirement lives on!); the structure of government at various levels (national, state, and local); and ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.

Finally, critical thinking skills are central to the new Illinois Social Science Standards and the coming civics course requirement. For example, students should be able to evaluate international, national, state, and local public policies on the basis of intended outcomes and related outcomes. They should also be able to propose any necessary policy reforms.

Please examine our complete list of indicators of direct instruction.

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