Citizenship and Elementary Education- how do you teach that?
July 09, 2015
Citizenship and the Elementary Classroom – a seamless, perfect pair
Students in grades K-5 are rarely referred to as active, engaged, and informed citizens. I believe I more often than not hear them called young, impressionable, and naïve. As an elementary educator, it is my responsibility to ensure that every student who walks into my classroom leaves understanding the power of being a United States citizen. While this may be my responsibility, the challenge comes with actually implementing these ideas into the classroom.
You may be wondering, how can this be done? How can elementary students learn citizenship? Will they all have a full understanding of the three branches of government; probably not. Will they all be able to recite the constitution from start to finish; it is unlikely. However, they can all learn the basic principles behind citizenship. They can learn that they have a voice and that it matters, they can learn how critical each individual’s role in society is, and they can learn the importance of being informed. Yes, even kindergarteners can learn these things. Through just a few new implementation strategies children of all ages can realize the importance of being a citizen.
A great way to incorporate citizenship into the classroom is through classroom democracy. While this can be implemented to different degrees and ultimately teachers must use their own discretion, allowing students to help in classroom decision making gives them the opportunity to use their voice, see the democratic process in play, and reinforces the constitution in which our country is based on. Students will not just learn about democracy, but they will be “doing democracy” on a smaller scale.
Some other implementation ideas include:
Like any good teacher knows, one of the first things we do when we get a new set of students is set up our classroom rules and expectations. A great way to allow student voice in this process is to allow them help brainstorm and create this list of rules they are expected to abide by. After the class has come to a consensus, each student may sign the chart or poster. The signature is an important part of this process. Here students are saying, “yes, I helped create these rules” and “yes, I agree to follow them”. This “classroom constitution” also provides the teacher the opportunity to teach a mini lesson over the constitution and compare and contrast the two documents if he/she chooses.
Formalizing Informal Voting
Allowing students to vote on different things during the class day helps show students how the voting process works and reinforces student voice. Teachers often do this informally. A teacher might ask, “How many students want to play this reading game? How many want to play this one instead? Okay, the first one wins. ”. When a teacher makes the conscious decision to use formal voting terminology it makes this simple act exponentially more educational. Instead of simply stating which had the most votes a teacher may say, “Wow, ____________ won by a landslide vote!” or “Someone didn’t vote, it looks like we have an absentee voter”.
Alyssa Messier (@alyssamessier) is a current Baylor University Master’s Degree candidate who will be teaching 5th grade English/Language Arts in Katy, Texas. She has always had a passion for working with kids and helping them reach their fullest potential, which makes teaching the perfect profession for her. Follow her on twitter: @alyssamessier.