Sunday, January 27, 2013

Getting students to read the Constitution

My fiendish plot was simple - get my students to actually read the US Constitution, which is dry and long.  I came up with a Constitutional Convention, having them work in small groups, with each group taking on the role of an important stakeholder during this time period - merchants, farmers, slaves and free African-Americans, craft workers, indentured servants, and plantation owners.

They had to evaluate eight issues that were critical at that time, using the lens of their particular stakeholder.  The activities are described in the study guide posted on Scribd.  

I used some of the role descriptions from the Zinn Education Project's version of a Constitutional Convention, developed by Bill Bigelow. This helped my students understand their roles.

Each student had to find the parts of the Constitution that related to at least two of the critical issues that were hotly debated during this time - slavery, balance of power within the government, balance of power between states and Federal government, commerce and money, defense, personal liberties (since Bill of Rights was not yet part of the Constitution), religion, balance between big and small states.  Then each had to present the issue from the point of view of their role - and we had some spirited discussions as students really got into their roles.

We voted on each issue by group - although some were unable to agree - and found that there was little consensus.  But when we voted on the Constitution overall, when faced with the alternative of the Articles of Confederation, students opted for the Constitution in some form.  Only one team across two classes voted to ratify the original Constitution.  Most also demanded a Bill of Rights, and one team asked for the elimination of slavery. 

The only technology I used was posting a lot of resources online.  Could have added online discussions.  But this was glorious face-to-face. 

A good time was had by all, and the essay test I gave my students demonstrated that they really understood the Constitution and the issues that surrounded its creation and ratification.  This could have been the deadliest unit of the year - instead it was one of the most memorable. 

No comments:

Post a Comment