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At the end of last year, knowing that I would be teaching AP US G&P again but not for sure what else I would be teaching, I sat down and started doing some thinking ahead. In the last few weeks of my summer break I’ve been trying to continue that planning. Life has intervened so I haven’t gotten as much done as I wanted. I’m writing this up because I want to keep coming back to these thoughts throughout the school year.

Three Big Questions for Myself:

  1. What are my goals for this course?
  2. What lenses will I use?
  3. What do I want to focus on improving?

Goals

Basically I asked myself: what do I want students to get out of this class? It’s not quite the same as enduring understandings, more like, when the ideal student has finished my ideal course, what will they have learned? how will they have developed?

  1. Students will become critical and informed consumers of media (especially news and political ads.)
  2. Students will consider new ways of looking at political issues beyond ‘red’ vs ‘blue (discovering third space*).
  3. Students will feel empowered as citizens to act politically.
  4. Students will understand the complex processes that influence public policy through knowledge of government and linkage institutions.

Lenses:

I approach history from what is considered a ‘moderate postmodern structuralist’ perspective. I bring this up because one of the key understandings of postmodern historians is that all human works are biased in some way, so rather than pretend to be neutral, we should acknowledge our perspectives.  What does this have to do with teaching government? Well, I feel that any class we teach, no matter how hard we try to be ‘neutral’, has a perspective, has a lense or two through which it views the subject. I also think that making those lenses explicit in teaching actually gives the course more value for students.

Last year was my first year teaching this course so my perspective was something of a mishmash. Certain themes emerged through my teaching, though, and I’d like to focus more directly on three of them this year.

  1. Freedom vs Harmony: a lot of disagreement within politics can be explained by conflicting values. We value freedom, but also harmony, security and equality, yet these often conflict with each other. I found it very useful last year frame disagreements about policy in these terms for my students.
  2. Policy Cycle: this is a new one to me, but I think it will be very useful to start with the question of “how do we do something about a problem?” and use the process/cycle of policy to frame the whole  curriculum.
  3. “The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice” – MLK Jr: Basically, looking at how our politics can be seen as a series of struggle of different groups towards justice. Similar to looking at an American history course from the framework of how we have strugged to live up to the promises of the Declaration of Independence.

Improvements

I always have a long list of things I want to improve, but I know I need to focus on a few big picture improvements and a few more small ones. I really need to fix how I do assessment in this course. One of the big issues last year was that I was not consistent in giving students timely feedback – sometimes I would be able to, other times I would collect a project and it would take a month to grade them all, at which point the feedback was useless to students. A big part of what I want to do to fix this is to make sure that I am giving meaningful feedback beyond grades. I have toyed with the idea of Standards-Based Grading in this class, but am not sure I feel up to writing standards that will make good assessment focii all by myself! I have the AP curriculum and my goals up above to start from but my attempts to try SBG with World History have made me aware how hard it is to create really useful standards. Even if I don’t move to SBG, I will be trying to get rid of chapter quizzes and focus more on the non-multiple choice assessments I already was doing.

In many ways I was pretty happy with this course last year. We did a variety of projects, simulations and other learning activities that students gave me good feedback on. I do feel that I need to lecture less-there were points in the year where I defaulted to lecture too often. I know that I need to build more class time in on improving students writing and preparing them for the FRQs on the AP test (not the same thing).  I also know that I need to bring current events into the classroom more if I want them to pay attention to them. Finally, although we had a lot of good discussions in class last year in a variety of formats, I need to work on finding ways to allow quiet people and introverts to have their voices heard more.

Conclusion

I have a few other things to consider in my planning for this upcoming school year. Due to staff shortages, I will only have 3 sections of  AP which means close to 30 students in my classes. Some of the informal nature of my class last year with classes of 15-22 students will not be possible, and I will probably try to work in more self and peer evaluation simply because I will have 40 more students to assess! I will also have a student teacher intern from the local university. They have expanded the intern experience from 1 semester to include a month in the classroom in the fall and then a full student teaching semester in the spring. I enjoy working with preservice teachers because I generally enjoy collaborative teaching, so I don’t see it as a burden or anything like that. However, I do have to remember that any Big Picture plans I make will include giving much of the teaching responsibility over to someone else at semester break.

I have laid out tentative unit schedules for the upcoming year on my calendar to get an idea on how much time I have for each subject. My next step is to look at some of these areas of improvement and really get the nitty-gritty decisions worked out. The biggest area of concern is assessment, and I need to make a clear and detailed plan before I work on anything else.