MAY 30, 2017
Millions of students play “Do I Have a Right?” each school year. Within the game, they have the opportunity to create new identities for themselves, to exercise agency, and to behave altruistically through helping people solve problems around constitutional law issues. Students bring their knowledge of the outside world into a fictitious environment, and along the way become well-versed in the legal protections provided in the Bill of Rights and other amendments. An additional bonus is that it’s just fun!
What about students who are learning English as an additional language, emergent bilinguals? How can they reap the same educational benefits? What opportunities are there for them to connect their personal experiences with the world of “Do I Have a Right?” How can they access the content of this game? How can their teachers best support them in the process?
Developing answers to these pressing questions was the charge of the iCivics ELL Convening. For two days in May, a small group of bilingual researchers, teacher trainers, curriculum experts and classroom teachers, along with a video game designer and members of the iCivics team met for this important task. The work was simultaneously expansive, philosophical, and precise, as we wrestled with issues such as:
- How can the curriculum materials be designed to focus on the rich academic assets emergent bilingual students bring instead of on the learning obstacles they may face?
- Would it be possible to add voice-over audio files in English for the lawyer-client conversations within the game?
- How can the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment be represented appropriately in a visual?
As I write this a week later, I am still trying to process the experience. It was transformative both professionally and personally. I teach United States history and government to emergent bilingual students. My students come to this country in pursuit of the American dream. As they learn about our country’s history and system of government, they also explore ways in which they can participate in the civic life of their new home. To work closely with a group of professionals so passionately invested in the success of these children, whom I love, was awe-inspiring. To tour the Supreme Court building later on with the group and experience the deep feeling of history in my bones was powerful.
I left the iCivics ELL Convening inspired and invigorated. The guiding words from our final session:
Dream big! Contribute freely!
Listen enthusiastically! Write stuff down!
Ada Bélanger teaches ESOL and US history/government at Fox Lane High School in Bedford, New York. She is excited to continue her work with the iCivics ELL project and is eager to introduce a new version of “Do I Have a Right?” to her students in the fall.
Read More! You can read more about this awesome experience from the perspective of Filament Games CCO, Dan Norton here.