Author: Andrew Crocker (Political Science Instructor, Ozarks Technical Community College).
In teaching any class, it is a well-known maxim that making people care about the subject is the best way to get them interested. This is doubly true in Political Science, which has immediate life impacts, cultural explosiveness, and immediacy.
It is easy to get a grasp on a topic that interests your students and open up many questions. Students often conduct independent research to find out more about real-world events or the material you have covered in class. Sometimes, a student will send you an email about something they discussed in class or about a news article that they read.
Real political events are the best for this. They are full of drama and encourage a lot of discussion about the issues that are important to students.
Students love being involved in the classroom. Many students enjoy being involved in the classroom, rather than listening to lectures. This is a great way to reinforce your students’ sharp political observations.
Plan to use the Inauguration in January to encourage student engagement. Here’s a fun exercise that my students enjoy:
Your students can watch the Inaugural Speech.
It will be held on Wednesday, January 20, 2021.
These addresses were usually given between 15 and 25 minutes ago. If your students are not political experts, you can limit the time they watch to 30 minutes.
Make sure your students have easy access to the address.
Many of your students have work commitments or other obligations that prevent them watching television. Others may not have televisions. Fortunately, YouTube has you covered. Many news outlets, if they are not all, will livestream the Inaugural Address via their YouTube pages. But, more importantly, it will also appear in its entirety on their pages later. You can send links to students right away after the speech.
Ask your students to summarize what they saw and give their general feedback.
The minimum threshold for the paper should be low enough. Students should summarize the speech in half of the paper. What was their interest? What statements were they most interested in and why? Ask students for examples.
The second half of this paper should include students’ general feedback. What did you like and what did not you like about the paper? This was a rhetorical masterpiece. What would you prefer to hear if there was? This forces students to consider the speech objectively and then subjectively.
Do not grade their work lightly.
This paper is not one you will lightly grade. It is important that students were able observe the speech and make rational summaries of it and comments about it.
As long as they did it, you can give them full credit. We are not trying to teach them the subject. We also want to increase their confidence so that they can be more vocal as voters in the future.
Give students a few days to complete the assignment.
These speeches are often given in the middle of the day so asking students to watch a speech and write a paper about it may be too much work for a quick turnaround. Students might benefit from extra time to reflect on what they heard.
Ask students to form small groups in class and discuss their impressions of the Inaugural Address.
For participation points, ensure that every student group takes out a piece paper and writes their names on it if you meet in person. Ask each group to type up the discussion for online courses.
Expect many students to have strong opinions. You’ll be able to share your feedback with the class in five to eight minutes.
Ask the groups to share their feedback.
You will almost certainly interrupt the class to ask each group for their feedback. Write down the findings of each group using a whiteboard, or a blank document. Each group should be walked through, one at a time. Highlight the instances in which they agree with one another and the areas where they disagree.
Talk in a positive and supportive manner.
You can agree with or provide context for every observation. If students present wild or conspiratorial ideas, you are welcome to disagree with them occasionally.
However, it is important to consider the context of every observation. Ask students for examples. Remind students at every stage of the process that almost all their feedback is valid and understandable.
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