Understanding the Illinois Civics Mandates

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

This fall, middle schools will join their colleagues in high school in requiring at least a semester of civics for students in the curriculum. The mandate goes beyond “what” to teach, but also “how” to teach using the proven practices of civic education. We kicked off our online summer professional development series on Wednesday, May 27 to support the implementation of the civics mandates in grades 6-12.

The Understanding the Illinois Civics Mandates webinar began by asking participants the simple question, “Why teach civics?” Their responses captured in the word cloud above, indicate the need to go beyond the traditional content measured on a constitution or citizenship test but pointed to deeper knowledge of democratic institutions, skills to navigate complex systems and work with others, and dispositions of civic engagement.

Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, presented important data about the “what” and “why” of the mandate to support the participants’ vision of civics, including recently published NAEP scores that illustrate the inequities in civic achievement along racial and ethnic lines (left) and the preference of teaching civics as a stand-alone course in middle school to achieve the “why” identified by participants at the outset of the session.

Both the upcoming elections and the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate the need for continued investment in youth civic development principally through high-quality, school-based civic learning opportunities. IllinoisCivics.org developed a Curriculum Design Tool Kit to help educators enhance their practice and implement the civics legislation with fidelity. Each week, elements will be added to the tool kit that align with the weekly webinar topics. This week, resources to start reviewing the mandate, conduct a civic audit of the current curriculum, and create a civic and reflective classroom space in person or remotely were shared. You can access a recording of the webinar if you missed it.

At the end of each webinar, several Illinois Civics Instructional Coaches share their top strategies and resources for implementation. This week, the coaches shared “just one thing” they would encourage their colleagues to start with if teaching civics for the first time this fall. Here are their suggestions for your consideration.
  • Jason Artman from Mendota likes to use the Student Government Affairs Program Newsletter to support current and societal issue discussions because the “Student Government Affairs Program provides non-partisan background written at a student level and includes statements on both sides of multiple issues.”
  • Alia Bluemlein from Crystal Lake recommends Street Law. “There are a few different resources available for civic simulations — both in-person and online. Street Law requires you to “check out” with the materials — don’t be deterred — it’s free.”
  • Tracy Freeman from Normal asked her students what they would recommend for the classroom. iCivics was the overwhelming favorite. “Civics simulations are so important. iCivics is key!”
  • Patty West from Springfield recommends educators explore ProCon.org. “It has lesson plans, videos, and materials on a wide range of controversial issues presented in a pro-con format.”
  • Matthew Wood from West Chicago likes ListenWise. “Listenwise has clipped episodes of podcasts that can be really useful in getting comfortable with Civics in classrooms. It has pre-built assessments, transcripts of podcasts, speed settings, Lexile scores, and integrates with Google Classroom. A great alternative to Newsela.”
It is not too late to register for the remaining webinars. Each session will take place on Wednesday morning from 9:30-10:30 a.m. Educators can join live to interact with hosts and ask questions or watch a recording of each session. Each webinar is free and participants can elect to earn two PD credits per webinar for completing a post-webinar application activity.

What are you doing to implement the middle and high school civics mandates? Please comment below. Together we can prepare ALL students for college, career, and civic life.


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