Helping Students Become Active Citizens: One Example From History Class

 "Students need to find a way into the study of their history and their roles as citizens." ~ Margaret Haviland

Our encounters with students reinforce for us again and again how hungry they are for learning that is relevant and meaningful to their lives -- for education that helps them gain a deep understanding of the world and develop the skills to become effective citizens and changemakers.

I was excited to read about a recent example of real-life learning in the classroom.

History teacher Margaret Haviland recently posted at the Powerful Learning Practice Network about a project she and her colleague implemented to help translate their "students' understanding of past actors into action by young people today." Prior to this project, students had been studying changemakers and citizen action throughout history, so the transition was well-framed and relevant.

Students began by choosing a topic of interest to them, "from puppy mills, to invasive species, to the military and the draft, to anorexia, to fracking, to robotics, to head injuries in sports" and more.

Then, for three weeks, students read articles, blog posts, and other sources of information on their topic -- from both traditional and less traditional sources -- and then wrote summaries and analyses of what they were reading and posted them on a discussion forum that all the students had access to. Students also "commented on each other's entries, offered insight and suggested links."

Students then gave presentations on their topics, and had a debrief about the experience.

But, unlike with a lot of schools, the learning and involvement didn't stop there. As Haviland says:
"From the beginning, we asked our students to consider how they might join in the ongoing public discourse on their topic. Some students added comments to articles they were reading, others wrote letters to editors and their local elected officials. Still others wrote to advocates for a particular cause.

We wanted students to find others interested in their interests and to connect with them where possible. One student corresponded with a friend at a school with a one-to-one tablet program. She then wrote a letter to our Principal about the reasons she believed we should adopt such a policy. Another student corresponded with an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles, wanting to better understand the issues from the lawyer’s point of view.

As the final individual step, students wrote essays summarizing what they had learned about their topic and how it related to their sense of what it means to be an engaged citizen."
 Additionally, students gave group presentations that summarized the common themes in their work; analyzed the citizenship and activism they had engaged in and discussed whether it was useful or just "slacktivism"; and reflected on the meaning of freedom and citizenship in 21st century America.

Read the complete post.

~ Marsha

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