“Judicial Review” Mini-Lesson Reflection

I.  DESIGN

The mini-lesson I prepared on the topic of judicial review composed one class period of a week-long Unit Plan covering the Judicial System in the context of a 7th-grade Civics and Economics course.  The first step in my design process consisted of stating the objective that I wanted the students to meet after completing the lesson.  The stated objective for this lesson was to describe the exercise of judicial review.  To meet this objective, I developed a series of activities that, while low in overall content material, offered students opportunities to develop social studies and literacy skills.  I began the lesson with a high-interest video clip of a scene from one of the newer Star Wars movies which illustrated the concept of checks and balances.  I wanted students to develop the facet of application by using what they already knew about checks and balances to understand a new situation.  Using the discussion questions as a segue, the lesson transitioned into a sequencing activity in which the goal was for students to understand the background to the Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison in order to understand where the concept of judicial review came from.  This activity was also meant to develop the facet of application.  While I did not expect students to have prior knowledge of the Marbury case, I wanted them to apply their knowledge of grammatical structure and usage to unravel a new story.  The next part of the lesson was a paraphrasing activity in which students summarized two quotations from the Supreme Court’s decision in the Marbury case.  This activity allowed students to develop the facet of interpretation, as they were required to analyze a primary source and offer personal insight into what larger meanings were contained in the source.  The next portion of the lesson offered students a chance to create their own definition of the concept of judicial review.  Using a modified framing routine, students were to brainstorm words or phrases that they associated with the words “judicial” and “review” and combine their ideas into a single definition of the concept.  This would allow students to develop the facets of interpretation and explanation by allowing them a space to creatively interpret an unfamiliar concept by breaking it down into smaller components.  To close the lesson, I decided to give students the opportunity to reflect on and respond to the following prompt: “Is judicial review important to our system of government?  Why or why not?”  This opportunity allowed students to bring the ideas from throughout the lesson back to their prior knowledge of checks and balances and practice constructing a persuasive writing piece.

II.  INITIAL REACTIONS

After completing the mini-lesson in class, I thought that overall, I accomplished what I had intended to.  My objective for the lesson was made clear and the activities and associated materials all put students into positions where they actively constructed meaning regarding the central concept for the lesson – judicial review.  I felt that I did a good job of keeping the lesson moving along from start to finish and I was able to get every member of the class involved at some point in terms of offering ideas.  Even though I was running out of time near the end, I made sure to close the lesson by bringing the students back to the guiding question and connecting with their prior knowledge.

Regarding what I could improve, I did notice a few areas that could have run more smoothly.  In terms of time management, I got myself talking a bit too much towards the opening of the class, and in return, found myself a few minutes short at the back end.  The time lost there could have allowed students more time to reflect on the guiding question prompt.  In terms of the lesson structure itself, I think it would have worked better if I had put the framing activity first (after the hook), rather than last.  It seemed like students would have been a little more engaged if we had hammered out a definition of what judicial review actually was before the last section of the lesson.  When I taught this lesson with my 7th-graders, I made this alteration and it seemed to make a little bit of a difference.  The biggest issue for me at this point in my lesson construction is figuring out how much I can expect a group of 12 year-olds to do in a given amount of time.  The mini-lesson went fairly well time-wise for a group of graduate students, but I realized I needed to trim it down for my middle-schoolers.  I eliminated the sequencing activity and instead did a quick role-playing scene with a couple volunteers to illustrate the background of the Marbury case.

III.  VIDEO ANALYSIS

What stands out most to me from watching the videotape of my mini-lesson is the general class atmosphere in that it is fairly subdued and quite a bit dry.  Unfortunately, I had the great fortune of doing my lesson last, so the class had been in session for close to 8 hours already and most everyone was ready to hit the road.  Along with that, my own demeanor was somewhat unenthusiastic, mainly due to just being tired from class that day.  All things considered, however, I think we made the most of my lesson and after watching the tape, it seemed that the students engaged with the activities I had prepared and it was clear that they were willing to offer contributions to the class discussion when called upon to do so.

I tried to get everyone involved by calling on students at random rather than leaning on the same few over and over.  When I did ask students questions, I made sure to wait for a few seconds to see if anyone wanted to volunteer and to give them time to organize their thoughts.  After students responded, I typically followed up by asking them to clarify or dig deeper about what they meant.

As I watched myself on the tape, I felt that while I still have some work to do on the enthusiasm front, I still felt that I was more of a facilitator than an expert.  I asked for students’ input and prodded them to explain and clarify, while the only time I really felt I was taking on the “expert” role was near the end when I gave the class a “textbook” definition of judicial review.  I can see myself getting more comfortable with the idea of facilitating discussion and idea generation as opposed to delivering information.

The activities I developed for this lesson helped students build crucial social studies and literacy skills, while minimizing the volume of content material.  Students had opportunities to sequence and categorize, interpret primary sources, paraphrase and summarize, define, and reflect.  While I’m not sure I necessarily capitalized very well on prior experiences, I think I did a fairly good job of giving the class time to reflect at the end on what we had done throughout the lesson and think about how it related to our guiding question and some prior knowledge of the system of checks and balances.

I received the impression that students were actively engaged in the lesson materials since they were willing to offer their own ideas and contributions.  Each time a student offered an idea, they were taking a risk of some sort, since our lesson activities were not grounded in any easily accessible content material (such as notes or a textbook).  When students did answer questions or offer a contribution, I tried to engage them to dig deeper and either back up what they said or clarify what they meant.

From watching the tape, I felt the learning goals were achieved fairly well.  Students’ contributions to our discussion and activities showed that they were actively engaged with the lesson and the final products (framing sample, paraphrasing sample) they created from the framing routine and the paraphrasing activity showed evidence of thought and active engagement.

IV.  TUNING PROTOCOL

After watching the tape of our tuning protocol for my mini-lesson, I feel fortunate to have received some very good feedback from the cohort both in terms of what I did well and how I can make this lesson even better in the future.  A common theme throughout the warm feedback was that I was able to tackle a tough (boring) subject in ways that did not get bogged down in tedious note-taking – the class decidedly enjoyed the Star Wars clip as the bell-ringer.  My classmates appreciated the fact that I created my own materials for the lesson and developed ways to address literacy skills, while not sacrificing content.  Regarding the paraphrasing activity, the cohort agreed I had done well to scaffold for the students.

Aside from warm feedback, I also received some good suggestions for improving the lesson in the future.  Heath mentioned his experience with attempting a paraphrasing activity and suggested that I build in more time to address students’ issues with vocabulary.  When I taught this lesson with my 7th-graders, I took Heath’s advice into consideration and I felt that the students benefited from having an opportunity to clarify troublesome vocabulary before attempting to paraphrase.  A sample of one of my 7th-graders paraphrasing handouts shows this student first located troublesome words which we then discussed before I asked them to paraphrase the quote.  Another observation from the tuning protocol was that I was a little crunched for time near the end.  This was directly related to the observation that I kept talking for quite awhile before showing the video clip at the beginning of class.  I could feel that I was talking too much and when I did this lesson with my students, I took Dr. Hicks’ advice and just had them watch the clip first and then we did all of the talking afterward.  Another good suggestion was to use the sequencing activity as a comprehension check rather than as a way to initially deliver background information.  I particularly liked Dr. Hicks’ suggestion of role-playing the Marbury v. Madison scenario first, then attempting the sorting.  When I taught this with my 7th-graders, I eliminated the sorting activity in the interest of time, but incorporated a short role-playing scenario to help get the information across.  After teaching this lesson to my 7th-graders, I found it encouraging that while some of their vocabulary was less sophisticated than the grad students, the middle-schoolers were able to pull out the same main ideas from both the paraphrasing activity (previously linked) and the framing routine.

V.  FINAL THOUGHTS

I am comfortable with where I am in my teaching at this point in my career.  There are certainly things I need to be working on.  The big things for me at this point are time allocation and trying to see things from my students’ position – how much can a 12 year old handle and how much time do they need to handle it?  In terms of planning and preparation, I consider myself on the right track.  One drawback there would be that I sometimes get the sense that I over-plan and try to make everything too perfect…live and learn, I suppose.  I am looking forward to trying out some more new ideas over the next several weeks.

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