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Showing posts from May, 2016

Civics IS the Plate!

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
Sometimes as a teacher, I get inundated with initiatives that make me feel like I am drowning in alphabet soup. First it was NCLB, AYP, and RTI. We also have to keep in mind students that are AP, LEP, ELL, or have IEPs. We have to work on our SIP’s in our LC’s and document CPDU’s for the ISBE. Sometimes it can make a person want to say OMG, I am ready to go AWOL ASAP!

While the mention of another state mandate often makes me cringe, I am excited that Illinois joined 40 other states by implementing a civic education requirement for high school graduation guided by new social studies standards. The civics course requirement is unique because there are directions for not only “what” that should be taught with content standards, but also “how” it should be taught, citing proven practices in civic education.

It has been said that “luck” is a matter of opportunity meeting preparation. “The Land of Lincoln” IS prepared for this moment. Il…

Support the Speech Rights of Student Journalists Act

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar, Robert R. McCormick Foundation
Student voice, and First Amendment freedoms more broadly, are all too often shut out at the schoolhouse gate. As we seek to foster students’ civic development through the new high school civics course requirement and revised state social science standards, we must also confront the reality that democracy is rarely practiced in the hallways and corridors beyond the civics classroom. This is itself is a lesson in democracy, albeit a damaging one.

Fortunately, we have another opportunity to reverse this trajectory by advocating on behalf of the Speech Rights of Student Journalists Act (HB-5902) in the Illinois General Assembly. The legislation passed the House unanimously and awaits consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee as early as tomorrow (Tuesday May 24).

Some of you might ask why a civic learning advocate is supporting a scholastic journalism bill. The answer is simple: a free press is essenti…

We Build the Car, but YOU Have to Drive it: Simulations by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor states, “Knowledge of our system of government and rights and responsibilities as citizens is not passed down through the gene pool, it must be taught.” The new IL civics requirement elevates the use of simulations to this end. Simulations allow students to practice the knowledge, skills and dispositions of effective civic engagement as they meet the new inquiry-based standards for civics.

Seniors at West Chicago Community High School engage in a semester long legislative simulation. With administrative support and investment of external resources, what began over twenty years ago as a one week “committee hearing experience,” has evolved into nationally recognized program that meets content standards and utilizes literacy skills that promote college, career and civic success.



I often tell my students, “We build the car, but you have to drive it.” While direct instruction can teach the “rules of the road”;…

Parsing Proven Civic Learning Practices, Part IV: Simulations

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar, Robert R. McCormick Foundation
Throughout my career as a high school teacher and more recently as a college professor, I have successfully employed simulations of democratic processes into my classrooms and lecture halls. I placed a premium on authenticity with a deep-seated belief that students learn by doing and build knowledge cooperatively.

Whether it was simulating the 2000 Presidential Election through a school-wide Electoral College (which proved to be incredibly timely for obvious reasons) or a semester-long legislative simulation, students role played citizens and politicians alike in preparation for real world rights and responsibilities.

Although my own research suggests that simulations help build students’ civic knowledge and skills when employed occasionally, nearly two-thirds of students report never experiencing them (see pp. 154-160).

Student Scores on the 2010 NAEP Civics Assessment by Frequency of Exposure to Simul…

Thermometers to Thermostats: Service Learning

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
My math colleagues teach mathematical principles and concepts and then students practice what they have learned and “do math.” Language Arts provides instruction on reading, writing, speaking and listening, and then students “do language arts.” In science, students engage in lab experiments to “do science”; applying disciplinary content they have learned in class through scientific inquiry. In civics, rich concepts such as liberty, equality, freedom, justice, and tolerance are explored and then…students take a Constitution Test? How do we allow students to “do civics” and practice the knowledge, skills and habits of effective civic engagement? How can we help students use inquiry to address the compelling questions that face society?

The new Illinois civics course requirement and social studies standards embrace the need for students to communicate conclusions and take informed action in a safe environment. One of the most proven prac…

Parsing Proven Civic Learning Practices, Part III: Service Learning

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar, Robert R. McCormick Foundation
Throughout my career, I’ve enjoyed opportunities working in and with high schools throughout Illinois, and I can say with complete confidence that community service is abundant. From school wide food drives to extracurricular fundraisers to serving in local soup kitchens, our state’s students are deeply embedded in their surrounding communities, and the benefits are certainly reciprocal.

However, true service learning is relatively rare, and the new high school civics course requires it. This has caused a great deal of anxiety among teachers, schools, and districts, and it’s my hope that this post and the one that follows from Mary Ellen on Wednesday begin to quell these fears.

The benefits of service learning are widely documented (see pages 134-146), and my own research shows that school-based volunteerism builds students’ civic knowledge and skills to the same degree as individual or family-inspired v…

Harnessing the Power of Dialogue: Current and Controversial Issues Discussions

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
In my first year of teaching, one of my students was killed in a tragic car accident. I turned to my mentor for advice. Should I go on with the lesson plan, avoid the situation and provide the students an escape from the tragedy? Should I address this difficult event in class, and if I so, how do I support my students?

He counseled me to address the circumstances and create a safe environment for the kids to express their own thoughts and emotions. It was a heartbreaking class- painful but cathartic. We knew that we were not alone in our feelings of grief, confusion and uncertainty about the future. I learned an important lesson about the power of dialogue and how discussion can bring people together and promote respect and understanding.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs teaches us that people do not learn (self-actualize) until their need for safety is met. As a teacher, it is my responsibility to provide a safe environment for students t…

Parsing Proven Civic Learning Practices, Part II: Discussion

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar, Robert R. McCormick Foundation
I first weighed in on the “teachable moment” that Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s campaign presents shortly after his canceled rally in Chicago two months ago. Since then, civics teachers have grappled with the challenge of embracing “the political classroom” in an election year laden with vitriol.

A recent article in The Atlantic claims that “…schools in the United States don’t teach the country’s future citizens how to engage respectfully across their political differences.”

This is far from a universal truth, but teachers face many barriers to bringing controversy in the classroom in spite of its proven benefits to students’ civic development (see pages 118-133). They include a lack of administrative and/ or parental support (or fears of backlash), lack of time, and reservations about their preparation in leading these delicate discussions.

We simply must overcome these barriers …