The list of suggested practices encompass some of the best ways for teachers to engage students in gaining the knowledge, skills and dispositions they need for informed, active citizenship. They have been culled from the Civic Mission the Schools project, based on research by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, and the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Social Studies Standards, which are based on the C3 Framework developed with the National Council for the Social Studies. We have added links to examples.
From the Civic Mission of Schools:
- Addressing current events and controversial issues (e.g., Take and Stand, Human Barometer, Active Listening, Civil Conversations, Philosophical Chairs)
The need to include controversial political issues in school-based civic learning has a new urgency because of the increased vitriol of contemporary public policy discourse and migration among many American adults to ideologically homogeneous communities. As a result, many Americans increasingly talk primarily with people who share their own views, access media that reinforces their own prior beliefs, and generally confine themselves to an echo chamber of like-mindedness. Yet research shows that “cross-cutting” political talk—in which citizens engage in discussions about important issues and events with people who disagree— develops tolerance for others and builds understanding of the range of views about how to best solve public problems.
- Service Learning (e.g., ServeLearn)
Service-learning is an instructional methodology that makes intentional links between the academic curriculum and student work that benefits the community by providing meaningful opportunities for students to apply what they learn to issues that matter to them. Service-learning is far more than community service alone; high-quality service learning experiences incorporate intentional opportunities for students to analyze and solve community problems through the application of knowledge and skills.
- Simulations of democratic processes (e.g., Mock Elections, Simulated Town Meetings, Mock Legislative hearings and debates, Mock Trials, Moot Courts)
Games and other simulations contribute to civic learning by allowing young people to act in fictional environments in ways that would be impossible for them in the real world; for example, they can play the role of president of the United States or an ambassador to the United Nations. Games and simulations can be constructed so as to be highly engaging and motivating while also requiring advanced academic skills and constructive interaction with other students under challenging circumstances. In addition to the obvious benefit of increased civic knowledge students learn skills with clear applicability to both civic and non-civic contexts, such as public speaking, teamwork, close reading, analytical thinking, and the ability to argue both sides of a topic. All of these are skills that prepare students both for active citizenship and for future academic and career success.
From the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Social Studies (2020):
- Developing Questions and Planning Inquiry (e.g., Students Develop Questions, Philosophical Chairs)
Developing insightful questions and planning effective inquiry involves identifying the purposes of different questions to understand the human experience, which requires addressing real world issues. Inquiries incorporating questions from various social science disciplines build understanding of the past, present and future; these inquiries investigate the complexity and diversity of individuals, groups, and societies.
- Gathering and evaluating sources (e.g., Padlet discussion boards)
Finding, evaluating and organizing information and evidence from multiple sources and perspectives are the core of inquiry. Effective practice requires evaluating the credibility of primary and secondary sources, assessing the reliability of information, analyzing the context of information, and corroborating evidence across sources. Discerning opinion from fact and interpreting the significance of information requires thinking critically about ourselves and the world.
- Seeking diverse perspectives (e.g.,Civil Conversations, Take a Stand, Human Barometer, Polls Everywhere )
Making sense of research findings requires thinking about what information is included, whether the information answers the question, and what may be missing, often resulting in the need to complete additional research. Developing an understanding of our own and others’ perspectives builds understanding about the complexity of each person and the diversity in the world. Exploring diverse perspectives assists students in empathizing with other individuals and groups of people; quantitative and qualitative information provides insights into specific people, places, and events, as well as national, regional, and global trends.
- Developing claims and using evidence (e.g., Civil Conversations, Students Develop Questions, Guided Discussions, Socratic Smackdown)
Developing claims requires careful consideration of evidence, logical organization of information, self-awareness about biases, application of analysis skills, and a willingness to revise conclusions based on the strength of evidence. Using evidence responsibly means developing claims based on factual evidence, valid reasoning, and a respect for human rights.
- Presenting arguments and explanations (e.g., Civil Conversations, Take a Stand, Debates)
Using a variety of formats designed for a purpose and an authentic audience forms the basis for clear communication. Strong arguments contain claims with organized evidence and valid reasoning that respects the diversity of the world and the dignity of each person. Writing findings and engaging in civil discussion with an audience provides a key step in the process of thinking critically about conclusions and continued inquiry.
- Engaging in civil discourse and critiquing conclusions (e.g., Socratic Seminar)
Assessing and refining conclusions through metacognition, further research, and deliberative discussions with diverse perspectives sharpens the conclusions and improves thinking as a vital part of the process of sense-making. Responsible citizenship requires respectfully listening to and critiquing claims by analyzing the evidence and reasoning supporting them. Listening to and understanding contrary views can deepen learning and lay the groundwork for seeking consensus.
- Taking informed action (e.g., Project Citizen, Generation Citizen, Civic Action Project, Youth Participatory Action Research)
After thoroughly investigating questions, taking informed action means building consensus about possible actions and planning strategically to implement change. Democracy requires citizens to practice discussion, negotiation, coalition-seeking, and peaceful conflict resolution. When appropriate, taking informed action involves creating and/or implementing action plans designed to solve problems and create positive change.