Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Federalism Part 1: That’s a lot of F-words!

So I had jury duty yesterday. I don't know if you've ever made it past the first level in jury selection, but I totally felt like I was on a reality show. Or a weird video game where most people's goal is to NOT move up to the next level.

My whole courtroom experience really made me think of federalism. Courts, of course, come in what sound like logical levels -- county courts, circuit courts, district courts, state Supreme Court... it sounds like Federalism at it’s easiest.

But if federalism were that simple, we wouldn’t all be so confused, right?

So, today is about federalism. And Federal. And Fed(s). And Federalists.  

That’s a lot of F-words!   

Federalism affects us in two ways. First, because of federalism, as a teaching concept. Second because of federalism, as a factor in our jobs. Today, we’re going to talk about the first part. If I can get my thoughts together coherently, we’ll talk about Federalism as a job factor next week. Maybe...

So, you know federalism as a teaching concept. It's something Civics and Government teachers teach explicitly and US History teachers teach implicitly.  And Econ teachers teach it both ways.

Most seventh graders really did poorly on the Progress Monitoring questions about that concept last year. And no wonder! We often talk about federalism in it’s classic, yummy metaphors -- as if it were a layer cake (the national government is "over" the state governments) but also as a marble cake, where both the state and local governments are combined in a lot of different ways.

And then, we smush all our cake all over the table, just to be weird. And confusing. And to add in the other F-words.

Federalism is an f-word for a reason. It’s super-confusing.
Some possible meanings of the words Federal and Fed
  • The confusing relationship between the state and national governments (federal system)
  • Just the national level of government (the federal level)
  • Union Soldiers in the civil War (the Federals)
  • The FBI (Movies often refer  to "the Feds" for the FBI)
  • The Fed is a nickname of the Federal Reserve
  • Street slang calls local police “Feds”
  • Don’t even add in the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists and their accompanying “Papers”.

And we teach kids to figure out words based on root words and word families! But the F-words don’t follow those rules. And they’re pretty big, important concepts in our various courses.

No wonder kids (and adults) get confused! Federalism is complicated.

Help your kids out when you are teaching topics with numerous vocabulary terms and a high probability of confusion. Check out a Semantic Feature Analysis.

A Semantic Feature Analysis is a simple chart. Vocabulary terms are listed vertically and features of those terms are listed horizontally. Students can then make distinctions between the concepts according to particular features or criteria.

All students need to do (if you are preparing the terms and features for them) is put an x or a check in the box when a feature applies to a term.

Bingo. Instant distinctions.

Try this strategy the next time you have words that are confusing. I used to use it for the many different terms for Colonist and British sides in the American Revolution (Tories, Whigs, patriot, loyalist, redcoats, etc.).

After your students become more comfortable with a Semantic Feature Analysis, up their game. In the basic idea that scaffolding is a crutch that is later taken away when kids don’t need it any more, try to decrease your scaffolding by having the kids add the vocab terms or the features/criteria later in the year.

So I sat in a county courtroom with a circuit court judge to talk about whether someone broke a state law -- and honored the 6th Amendment to the national US Constitution of an impartial jury.

Federalism is complicated. But the F-words don’t have to be.

Will you try this out with some confusing terms or concepts? Let me know how it goes! I always want to hear about it!

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