Simulations, Role-Play, and Dramatization & Mid-Term Lesson Review

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Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy

Simulations, Role-Play, and Dramatization

Let’s imagine we’re teaching a secondary US History course and we’re focusing on the crafting of the constitution at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We, as teachers, think that the crafting of the constitution is a good topic to focus a lot of attention on as it establishes the US government, focuses on key compromises between Federalists and Anti-Federalists, highlights failures of the Constitution that will become crisis points throughout the 1800s, and will also allow students to investigate the Constitution through a deeper investigation of the document. We as teacher have also decided that using simulations, role-lays, or dramatizations of the Constitutional Convention would be a good way for students to explore the convention. So what would each of these look like? Each of these strategies will begin with a brief explanation of the strategy, followed by a way we could use that strategy to teach the Constitutional Convention.

First, simulations are generally more concerned with students reacting to a particular environment rather than assuming roles (Larson and Keiper, 190). Rather than focusing on dialogue or personalities, simulations ask students to focus upon a particular setting and think about how they would operate or respond within that setting. Our setting for the Constitutional Convention will be 1787 Philadelphia in Independence Hall. One example of what we could do in the simulation is to have the students research what life was like in 1787, how Independence Hall looks like, how members were seated and voted at the Convention, and what the rules of the Convention were. Students could alter the room to reflect, in some way, how Independence Hall would have looked and then we could divide students into “state” voting groups.

Second, in role-play, students learn about and act as someone different from themselves (Larson and Keiper, 191). In short, this involves students assuming the personality and values of another person in order to understand their values or attitudes. For our purposes, students could be assigned particular Convention delegates (be sure to target willing students to take on bigger roles like George Washington or James Madison). Students could research their individuals and role—lay as Convention delegates in debates. This might help students understand debates between federal and state power, the 3/5ths Compromise, or differences between states or between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists.

Finally, in dramatization, students act in a given role in a particular scene or from a particular script (Larson and Keiper, 191). This strategy could be as simple as having students read documents or create an actual scene for a play. For us, our students can either follow purchased scripts or make their own scripts using the research they’ve completed on Convention delegates. Instead of simply reading about the Convention debates, students can actually act these out within our own classroom.

These three strategies can be effective at enhancing student understanding and engagement. But we as teachers should make sure that we plan these opportunities with clear objectives in mind. We must make sure that these will not be just for fun, instead they should have clear instructional goals and should clearly align with our content objectives. Further, teachers should plan on creating some form of assessment to ensure that all students have gained from these activities, rather than just a small select few.

Mid-Term Review: The Peloponnesian War

1) Overview of the Lesson Plan

For my mid-term lesson plan I chose to use a lesson I made for my high school class about the Peloponnesian War. Having already delivered it in class, I felt confident that it would work for this assignment. The lesson I planned focuses particularly on the causes and effects of the Peloponnesian War, as that was what was heavily emphasized in the SOL standards that focuses on this topic. The lesson was made of a few components: an anticipatory warm-up T—Chart, a short lecture, then a group significance card activity, and then a closure.

Each component of my lesson had specific uses: First, the T-Chart was used to not only get my students into the lesson, but to also set up the content for the day by asking students to review a previous lesson by writing about the characteristics of Athens and Sparta. Upon completion of this, I planned to ask students if they saw differences between the two city-states on the chart. This also related to my first lesson objective, to recall the characteristics of Athens and Sparta.

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Example of completed student T-Chart. Note how I promoted students to think about types of government as one of their choices. This student correctly identified those differences, but also used knowledge about Athenian and Spartan society to fill it out more.

The lecture was used in a typical way, to cover new content through a power point. I made sure to include an image on each slide that related to the content and tried to include some primary quotes.

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Example slide from my lecture where I focused on how Thucydides wrote his History of the Peloponnesian War by using a quote from his book and included an image of the author.

The activity I made utilized significance cards. I made cards that fit into three categories: Causes of the Peloponnesian War, Effects, of the Peloponnesian War, and Key Figures and Events of the Peloponnesian War. These cards related directly the SOL standards, but also offered an opportunity for group work and student engagement. I split students into pre-determined pairs in which they were to organize their cards and fill out a physical copy of the chart with the information on the cards. Afterwards, I asked students to come on the board to write down responses and to discuss them.

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An example of one of my significance cards that focused on Spartan jealousy and fear of Athens as one of the causes of the war
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Example of student work of completed Explanation Card Activity. This student demonstrated higher level thinking by placing the plague and Persian Alliance as an effect of the war and important events within the war. Something I didn’t even think about before this activity.

Finally, I used a closure activity to ask my guiding question of the day: Why would former allies go to war? I asked students to write a short response to this question on the back of their warm up. I used this closure to bring the entire lesson to the close by connecting it back to the question of the day and to use it as a small assessment in addition to the card activity.

2). Reflection

In all honesty, I don’t think it could have gone better! I think that I was well prepared in this lesson because I actually delivered it a week before to my high school World History Honors class. In my lesson I had three main objectives: 1) Recall the differences between Athens and Sparta, 2) Identify the causes of the Peloponnesian War, 3) identify the effects of the Peloponnesian War. Looking at the completed student T-Charts and the completed Significance Card Worksheets (alongside completing it together on the Smart Board) I’m confident that I met all of my objectives due to the quality of student work.

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My guiding question and learning objectives were prominently displayed at the begging of my lesson. I also hoped that completing the first objective as the warm-up would give students a sense of accomplishment at the beginning of class and motivate them for the rest of the lesson.
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The NCSS theme relating to my lesson alongside the corresponding VA World History I SOL.

The best way to show how my lesson connects to the NCSS theme and the SOL standard is to talk about the student work produced during the lesson. While the T-Chart reviewed material and established that differences between Athens and Sparta were a cause of the war, I’ll focus on the results of the significance card activity. All student groups during the activity seemed to work well together and I constantly monitored the groups by walking among them, asking questions, and making sure they stayed on task. When they organized their cards they wrote their results in the chart. The student work reveals that they were able to correctly identify causes, effects, and important figures and events of the war, as seen below.

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Example of student work, a completed explanation card activity.

Upon completing both the T-Chart and the Explanation Card Activity there were a small series of questions relating to the card activity that students could answer. These were open ended questions that asked students to choose what they thought was important from the activity and I asked them to make connections to today (see below).

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Example of student responses to the questions I asked them to complete after the significance card activities. Note how I asked them what they felt were the most important causes and effects of the war. Additionally, I asked them if some of the causes of the Peloponnesian War could cause wars today.

I invited students to the smart board to record their responses. I made sure that every student had an opportunity to write a response on their board. Upon their coming to the board I asked them what they were writing, where they where writing it, and why they wrote it there. I also made a point to repeat their answers so that the rest of the class could hear.

3). Reaction

Upon watching the video of myself teaching I realized that my personality really comes out while teaching. I did community theater for well over ten years from middle school all the way through undergrad, and my stage voice definitely shows while teaching. I’m loud enough so everybody can hear and my voice fluctuates depending on what I do in class (I noticed I a different tone while delivering lecture than for going over directions). Most importantly, I noticed that I made the classroom space my own and, for the most part, I wasn’t even on camera. I moved around the front of the room during lecture, but during student activities I was off camera and in the midst of the classroom with the students.

I think one of my greatest strengths I saw, and one which I purposefully do, is to ask students their answers as they write on the board, then to ask why, and to repeat their answers for them and the entire class to hear (as seen in the video above). To me I feel like this gives them multiple layers of hearing and engaging with the content of the lesson. First, they heard it during lecture, then they make decisions in the significance card activity, then they write their answers down on their worksheet, then they write it on the board where they’re asked about their decisions by me, and then other students hear me repeat student answers.

As for improvements, I think the biggest thing I can work on is asking questions during lectures. Not only did I not plan out questions to ask, but I think I didn’t give enough time for student answers and didn’t ask follow up questions about student lessons.

4) Details from the Tuning Protocol

Some of what I wrote above was confirmed during the Tuning Protocol with my fellow pre-service teachers. One example is that a colleague noted that I “oozed” a teacher persona and demonstrated confidence in the classroom. Part of that persona was in my tone during the entire lesson, but it was also based upon my actions. One colleague appreciated how I went around the room to monitor students, check on students, and help them if they had any problems. Another colleague liked how I invited students to the board during the warm-up portion of the lesson and in the significance card portion. Instead of letting it be a passive form of technological use in the classroom, I turned it into an active one that allowed students to interact with it, albeit in a limited way.

Every colleague also thought that the three student activities of the class supported learning and connected to the lesson. First, they believed that the T-Chart was a good way to activate prior knowledge of students and they liked how it connected with the first lesson objective of the day. Second, one liked the use of the significance card activity that built upon the lecture and allowed for student group work. Finally, they thought that the exit slip on the back that simply asked our guiding question for the day was a good way for students to reflect upon the lesson and to also make their own connections.

There were also some suggestions on how I could improve. One was to think about ways to improve my notes. For the lecture I used Cornell style notes from Power Point, making no alterations to what I was delivering. Instead, they suggested that I might try slot notes or insert questions into my slides that students could answer within the note section (I think note styles is an area I could improve on and will probably struggle with in my own classroom). There was also concern that it might be a little too much information and to slow down my lesson and ask more clarifying questions between slides. Finally, there was a suggestion to maybe alter my T-Chart by adding a word bank of choices that would allow students to complete the chart with help.

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Example of what my lecture notes looked like.

5) Student Learning

One of the main ways I tried to support student learning is developing multiple levels of activities and engagement with the content that moved beyond just lecture. The first way I did this in my lesson was to use the T-Chart as a review piece, but also as an entry way into the topic of the day.

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Another example of a completed T-Chart. Notice the detail this student remembered from their prior knowledge.

I used my lecture as a way to introduce the topic, but used the significance cards as a way for students to pay close attention to the causes and effects of the war which relate directly to the SOL standards and correlate with the NCSS theme that focuses on causation.  The card activity was also designed to be work that could be completed in pairs so that lower-level students could possibly be placed with higher level students to support their learning through the activity. Additionally, by asking students to the board multiple times and repeating their responses, again, I hoped that would let there be multiple levels and ways in which students heard and engaged with the objectives.

6) Concluding Comments

There are a few big takeaways for me from this lesson review:

First, I need to continue thinking about ways to support student learning with varied activities within my lessons. Here, I think I do a very good job of it. I included an anticipatory warm-up, a closure, and went beyond the lecture with a significance card activity that enabled students to think about what was learned rather than simply just writing it down.

Second, engagement is absolutely critical. Again, I think I did this well here but there is room for improvement. One thing I did well was getting students involved in the lesson by asking them their responses to the activities and inviting them to the board to record them. However, I think I can improve in asking questions during my lecture. One way to improve upon this is to plan questions ahead of time or to include questions in my actual slides. These questions can be clarifying questions after slides and can ask students to think about the information that they just learned.

Third, think about note taking styles. I used Cornell notes because those are the ones that work for me, but that obviously doesn’t work for every student. So I need to think more about if I want to stick with these, use slot notes, or have questions on the slides that students can answer in the margins. I don’t have an answer to this yet, and maybe it will depend on the make-up of the classes I will teach in the future, but it is certainly something I can work more on.

So what are my goals as I move ahead?
-Continue engaging students in the lesson by letting students interact with classroom technology and thinking of activities that encourage engagement with content.

-Use and plan questions in the classroom more effectively.

-Experiment with note taking styles. Notes should be places where student thinking is active rather than passive.

-Continue making the classroom my own and bringing my personality into the classroom. It will hopefully have a positive effect upon student learning. Happiness and excitement is usually infectious.

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