Critical Issues in American Politics
Every month we will post a new CONVO topic for students to practice the art of scholarship and citizenship. Students will research, discuss, write and act on critical issues in American politics, engaging with vital questions like: How Democratic is the United States? Should Supreme Court Justices serve for life? Should some speech NOT be protected?
Rules of Engagement
Students love CONVO and they have so much fun they don't ever realize how much they are learning. Teachers love CONVO because students learn to listen and think before they speak. CONVO is also a great way for students to develop autonomous research, communications, and action skills. In a CONVO, students research, disseminate knowledge, discuss, and write editorials expressing their point of view. Despite all the hard work, at the end of the year my students' only complaint is that they didn't get enough of them. Scroll down to read all about how CONVO works, and to find our regular CONVO topic updates. It’s time to get engaged!
How CONVO Works
1)choose - 10 minutes
Pick the topic
You can pick your own critical issue in American politics: capital punishment, immigration, Supreme Court term limits, legalization of marijuana, freedom of speech, stem cell research or another topic that is currently being debated by our fellow citizens that you and your students will find interesting, engaging, and important.
Guide students, letting them choose between good topics. To let the students have a controlled choice, I like to put a list of four good topics on board. Then as a class, we discuss the pros and cons of each topic and I guide them towards the topic I want. Then we vote as a class (I get 4 votes). Majority rules.
Or you can let the students pick their own topic. This maximizes student autonomy, but also the risk of a topic that's a dud. If you do let the students pick, you should still guide their decision towards more fruitful topics - where there are multiple viewpoints that will lead to both disagreement and agreement. Let the students individually list three topics they’d like to CONVO then move them into small groups to discuss which of their topics will create more productive learning and discussion. Finally list the small group choices on the board and then discuss the merits of the topics with the whole class and then vote.* I recommend doing this only after a couple of CONVO trials with topics picked by the teacher.
2)Research & Share - 20 minutes
opine in the Forum
Students work by themselves to research the topic, then share a substantive, illuminating, data-rich, fact-filled claim with the entire class in a post in our CONVO Forum.*
Claims should be short and concise opinions about the topic followed by factual, informative, and illuminating support in the form of a chart, graph, map, quote, infographic, cartoon, video, editorial, or report. Students should name their source (and online, hyperlink it). Students will be evaluated on their claim, support, and response.
*If you do this online, let students post their claim and support on our online forum.
*If your class does not have access to the internet, students may post their claim and support in the form of cut out graphs, charts, visuals, quotes, or articles to physically post on a class whiteboard or bulletin-board.
Students should read through their colleagues' posts. Each student should respond with a thoughtful and respectful question to at least two of your classmates’ posts. This can be done online on the CONVO forum or on a classroom bulletin board, where students write their comments on post-it-notes which they leave below their colleagues' posts on the bulletin board.
3)Listen & Discuss - 30 minutes
Students will come to class with a list of points to make and questions to ask.
During CONVO class will be arranged in two circles; a small circle of four (inside) and a large circle of the rest of the class (outside). Students on the inside may read from notes, talk, ask, discuss. Students outside the center may NOT talk at all. Outsiders may, however, tweet any questions or comments followed by the hashtag #CONVO These tweets may be projected on classroom overhead screen.
*Classrooms without internet may employ a student runner who picks up questions and comments from students who have raised their hands, and writes the comments on the chalk/whiteboard.
The goal of each student is to listen carefully and to make at least one thoughtful comment or question in our classroom CONVO. Teachers should take notes on our class discussion to evaluate each students' level/quality of participation. The goal of the teacher is to be quiet and to only ask questions if the class falls into a prolonged silence (it can happen), or comment and redirect if students make inappropriate comments. Students are forewarned that they will only be allowed to stay in class if they are quiet (outside the center) and vocal (inside the center). If you are ejected from class, you will receive a zero for your participation grade. Every single student must speak at least once in the CONVO. (Optionally, you may prod silent students into conversation by saying you will penalize the grade of the entire class per each mute student - I've threatened, but I've never actually had to deduct points.) Students must tag-out a student to switch places with them on the inside of the CONVO. Students may only tag-out a student who has already spoken. A student may only return to the middle and speak again after each student has participated in the CONVO.
Debrief by discussing the CONVO observation sheet and commending the best CONVOsationalists. Then students may share their editorial aloud in small groups, which select the group’s top editorial to share with the entire class.
Here's the observation sheet I give to each student to complete during CONVO.
4)Write - 45 minutes
Use Your Words
Students write a post-debate Editorial about the topic to persuade the reader of their position. Students must use and name at least one source from the forum in their editorial.
Here's the Editorial Writing Guide I give each student to guide their writing.
5)Act - 60 minutes
Students take action regarding the topic. They can create, join, persuade, start a petition on change.org, create a campus teach-in, start a facebook page, write a poem, submit a letter to the editor, make posters to put up around campus, pen a short story, post a video, start a Tumblr, make visual art, write a manifesto, chalk the campus, contact politicians, write an article for the school newspaper, join or start an interest group, spread the word, hold a rally or protest, or lobby the legislature. Students should work alone or in small groups, write their goals, conceive an action plan, and then share their proposal with class. Students will be evaluated based on their creativity, persuasion, and efficacy. Students will work together or alone in class to begin their project. They will document and share their project results with class at a later date.