Portfolio Entry #5: What I Wish I Knew at the Start of the Year

The goal of the portfolio is threefold: to document some of the work I did this past year, to take the time to reflect and learn, and to share with the larger community I am lucky to have through this blog.  I will be posting a portfolio entry a day until it’s done.  There are eight entries, one for each year of my career thus far.  Questions, comments, and thoughts are always greatly appreciated, but are even more so for this.  Previous entries are here.

I’m going to examine this prompt again a little differently when I reflect on my year out of school in Entry #7, but here, I’m focusing exclusively on my Government/Economics course.  Back in March, I posted the following question:

How do I choose/balance between the following modes of praxis in a course where I’m not concerned with a massive amount of content for a state exam?

  1. Teaching through inquiry, which best develops students’ ability to think critically and to learn how to learn. In true open inquiry, learning a specific body of knowledge is limited or sacrificed.
  2. Teaching through extensive reading, watching, and research to gain the necessary cultural literacy to enter adult society and assume the responsibilities of citizenship. Given the tremendous amount of information students need, this limits the emphasis on skill development.
  3. Teaching students to do authentic intellectual work (which often, but not always, is through Project Based Assessments), which emphasizes the practical skills of communication and production, as well as have students engage with specific content.

I’m not sure I know the answer universally, but I do know how I wish I would have approached it for last year’s course.  I wish I would have divided the year into three equal parts, each mainly focused on one mode of praxis.

  1. For the first third, I would have focused on using inquiry using a slightly expanded version of Looking for an Argument.  I’d want the course to focus on a series of questions, many of them developed by students using the Right Question Institute’s Question Formulation Technique.  These questions would be based exclusively on current government events.
  2. The second third would focus on authentic intellectual work to make sure student learn how to research.  I still would use Project Citizen as the focus of this section of the class, but I would have added an initial research assignment where students choose one of the topics we looked at in the first third, and do something with that, perhaps an op-ed that would be submitted to local newspapers.
  3. The final third would be a more traditional course looking at the major ideas of classical microeconomics, budgeting, and investing.  I did six weeks of this; kids love it and need the info to be functional adults.  I think any attempt to do more with economics might be a huge disservice to students.  With that said, I actually think high school economics should be moved to math departments.

Next Entry: Top 10 Moments from My Year at Young Writers