Crash, Burn, and Up in Flames! Cue the Laughter.

“So how’s that new government curriculum shaping up for you?” you ask.  If you’d asked me a week ago, I would have said it’s going great, but over the last two days, I’ve hit a bit of a snag.  I’ve been meaning to write a post giving an update on how things are going. Well, here it is – the good and the not-so-good.

The first two units went well.  Most of the students wrote some thoughtful responses to the question, “To what extent is democracy the best form of government?”  They included in their responses references to de Tocqueville and Madison among others, and overall, I was pleased with the first unit.  Ditto to the second unit.  For the major assessment of that unit, students created original political cartoons advocating either a Federalist or Antifederalist position on the Constitution.  In general, the political cartoons were good, some particularly so.

In addition, I had a wonderful “aha moment” while grading the students’ political cartoons.  I’ve mentioned before the difficulty of creating good rubrics, but it seems like I managed to put together just the right categories and scores on this particular rubric because grading the cartoons was a breeze.  More importantly, I truly feel like students received the grades they earned.  I guess it’s true what they say; practice does lead to improvement.  Well, I’ve been practicing writing rubrics for a while now – it’s about time I saw the improvement!

So the start of the year got off to a pretty good start.  Most students seemed engaged, and I was enjoying the whole experience of teaching government more than I ever had in the past….That’s when unit 3 hit.

For unit 3, the students grappled with federalism, and as the major assessment for the unit, students participated in formal debates on topics related to federalism. Working in groups of 2 or 3, students researched the issue, prepared arguments, anticipated how to counter the opposition, etc.  After two days of listening to and assessing debates, I felt…well, confused.  Some debates went fairly well, some were mediocre, and others were train wrecks, to put it bluntly.  After one particularly poor debate, I felt both disheartened and embarrassed, as I had a fellow teacher there as a guest judge.  She must think I’m an awful teacher, I thought.   And then I thought, Maybe I am an awful teacher.  In that moment, I resolved that I would never do debates again!

But then, I took a deep breath.  I tried to put things in perspective.  I reminded myself that some students did very well, and the unit can be tweaked and improved based on the knowledge I’ve gained this time around.  For instance, I know that in the future I will provide more scaffolding for the students, and I want to include time to meet with each group individually before the debate to go over their research in more detail than I did this time around.  I also reminded myself that, as much as I hope my colleagues think well of me, in the end what they think isn’t the most important thing.  Do I wish my students had performed better in front of my fellow teacher?  Yes.  But it’s over and done with at this point, and now it’s up to me to decide how to improve this unit for the future.

So as appealing as the traditional lecture-test format of instruction may be after a particularly rough day of debates, I’m still committed to trying the inquiry-based approach.  On the whole, I have had more good days than bad with this approach, and as difficult as it can be to keep things in perspective when a lesson is going up in flames all around me, that’s what I have to do.

Oh, and one more thing.  When you crash and burn, and it’s inevitable that you will if you commit to improvement and innovation in the classroom, it’s good to be able to laugh at yourself from time to time! 🙂



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