Academic journal article Social Education

Making Choices: An Exploration of Political Preferences

Academic journal article Social Education

Making Choices: An Exploration of Political Preferences

Article excerpt

Preparation for active citizenship in a democracy is a primary goal of social studies education. Effective participation goes beyond simply voting once a year or so. (1) Social studies teachers can provide experiences that give students the opportunity to analyze information, examine views that are different from their own, and make informed decisions. Such experiences can help students understand how attitudes and beliefs, information from the media, and conversations with fellow citizens all influence an individual's opinions and political choices. (2)

With these aims in mind, we collaborated to create a lesson for seventh graders that might be especially engaging during a presidential election year. It was taught over two 50-minute periods. The purpose of the lesson is

* To invite students to consider how we form opinions about political issues, parties, and candidates

* To have students compare some of the policy positions of the two major presidential contenders

* To give students practice discussing the issues and the candidates in a civil and thoughtful manner

Food Choices on the Table

A "focusing event" or "anticipatory set" is an activity that introduces the lesson and motivates students to learn. (3) It arouses their curiosity, stimulates a need to know more, and provides a memorable learning experience. An effective anticipatory set can also set the tone for the rest of the lesson and stimulate higher-order thinking. The focusing event described in this article invites students to compare things, re-evaluate their comparisons in light of new information, and then make a final decision.

In this "Making Choices" anticipatory set, the teacher places a sign labeled "A" on one table, and one labeled "B" on another. He explains,

* After I place a food item on each table, you must silently determine which of the two items you prefer and then walk to the appropriate side of the room, closer to table A or table B, to show your preference.

He places the first set of items (canned corn on table A and canned green beans on table B) and invites students to stand up and "vote with their feet." Students congregate on the two sides of the room. Now it gets tougher for the students. The teacher explains,

* As I place new items on tables A and B, you must silently decide which food set you prefer as a whole. Your deliberations should include not only the most recently placed item, but the whole collection on each table. Once you have made your decision, walk to the appropriate side of the room. I may call upon you to explain your decision.

The teacher continues adding items to each table, pausing as students re-evaluate their position and choose a preferred side on the basis of all the items now on the tables. Students pause to think, then cross the room or stand still to indicate their "new position." When students stop moving, the teacher may call on an individual student and ask,

* Why did you "stand your ground" and not move at this time?

* (Or, to a different student) Why did you change our mind and move to the other side?

This activity works best if the first items placed on the tables are foods that students will likely be willing to give up, and the last ones are foods that students likely either love or hate (Table 1). The idea is to set out the items so that most students will feel compelled to change sides at some point. The goal should be to encourage deliberation over items, but in the end, most students should have a strong sense of conviction toward one particular table.

The teacher asks open-ended and probing questions to encourage students to think carefully as they indicate their shifting but deliberate preference:

* Why are you continuing to stay on this side?

* Why are you switching to a different side?

* Why haven't you moved even though I have placed two new items on each table? …

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