Teachit Citizenship Newsletter
The first term is a crucial point in every Citizenship teacher’s calendar. Students must be confident that Citizenship lessons are fun, useful and up-to-date.
At no other point in the year is it as important to engage young people, so take advantage of these recent recommendations from our libraries:
- James Bulger: punishment or rehabilitation [The legal system]
- UNICEF: Kenyan drought [Sustainability]
This newsletter comes straight from the coalface, as four Citizenship specialists share priorities for the new term. Their collective experience and innovative approaches will not only inspire you but make you laugh, and the list of tips for energising students on those dark mornings is priceless. Never used the tweet-length challenge before or asked a pupil about school dinner food miles? Never swapped your duty for a Citizenship club or co-taught with a colleague from MFL? Now’s your chance!
I’m sure you’ll enjoy hearing from Citizenship colleagues nationwide as much as we have.
In this edition:
- Citizenship as a welcoming tool for new year-7s | Salma Azam
- Think outside the lesson-shaped box | Hans Svennevig
- New term = new teaching techniques | Sharon Lupton
- Now class, who can tell me what ‘Citizenship’ means? | Helen Brutnall
Citizenship as a welcoming tool for new Year 7s | Salma Azam
Frightened. Small. Lonely. Confused. Lost. Intimidated. Overlooked. These are some of the words that my Year 7 tutor group from last year used to describe their first term of high school. No teacher wants to think of young students feeling unsettled at school, so I used various Citizenship-inspired activities to make them feel part of their new community. Some of these ideas might be useful at your school.
Playground activities can be difficult for those who are not sporty or who do not have established friendship groups. Children who are dropped off early can become quite isolated before lessons start, so I recommend running a weekly pre-school Citizenship club. Each Friday morning last year, Citizenship club members and I set ourselves a different challenge. One week we picked up litter, one week we did online research into the cost of outdoor seating, and one week we arranged a meeting with the heads of year to discuss bus stop safety. The club only had six members in September 2009 but there were about a dozen motivated youngsters by the second term. The promise of praise letters home and the satisfaction of improving their school really appealed to all members. A great thing about the club was that I ran it on my duty day – it definitely beat patrolling smokers’ corner!
Assemblies are another useful way to welcome Year 7s to your school using a Citizenship focus. This half term I will be running an assembly about local people and organisations in the community who can support the new year group. I have invited speakers such as our Connexions adviser, a local police officer and a representative from the nearby leisure centre to talk to our Year 7s. This will help them to access guidance during their first year with us.
After-school clubs work just as well as the morning clubs; many Year 7s are keen to stay at school after last lesson and make new friends. Last year, our Year 9s ran a project for the new intake which was a great success. The project was called 'WeAreTheWorld' and involved setting up pen pal links with schools in other countries. The internet has replaced the need to wait a long time for written replies, so our Year 7s really benefitted from finding friendships abroad. Not only did they feel more settled at our school but they learnt many things about how life is different for children across the globe.
School trips can really help young pupils to settle into a new environment, so our new Year 7 tutor groups will go to a local adventure park. It offers team-building activities with a Citizenship theme (sustainability). The students are so busy making friends and having fun that they don’t notice how much they are learning about green issues and communication techniques!
Try out some of the ideas above as you will be surprised at how effective they are. Make sure that Citizenship is an important part of Year 7s’ first term outside of their Citizenship lessons. They will love your efforts, as will the dreaded Ofsted inspectors!
Think outside the lesson-shaped box | Hans Svennevig
The new government is raising concerns within the profession as to the future of Citizenship. The length of time for which it will formally remain within the curriculum is a moot point within educational circles. Citizenship-trained teachers are convinced that Citizenship is vital to any learner, and it is thus hoped that Clegg and Cameron will recognise the importance of this essential subject and retain it for all age groups.
In the new school year, the key responsibility of Citizenship specialists lies in promoting the worth of the subject, not only to pupils but to esteemed colleagues. In many cases Citizenship education operates behind closed doors and thus non-specialist staff have a limited understanding of the benefits that it can bring to young minds. It is therefore important that specialist teachers promote Citizenship-based thinking at all points during the first term so that this can disseminate into the minds of fellow teachers. A variety of strategies are crucial.
Cross-department linking between two subject areas can raise the status of both. With a flexible management structure in place, a themed project across a year group can offer colleagues the opportunity to expand their teaching repertoire and explore new areas of thought. A Citizenship-Geography collaboration lends itself to exploring the theme of the flooding in Pakistan. A Citizenship-MFL link can offer exploration of consumer rights across Europe. A Citizenship-Art partnership affords the opportunity to delve deep into the theme of immigration.
In addition to department links, it is part of the responsibility of Citizenship experts to bring Citizenship issues to the fore during staff meetings. It is essential that Citizenship teachers play their part in discussing the work of local charities, in publicly praising the achievements of students who are politically active, and in reinforcing equality, rights and responsibilities. After all, if Citizenship teachers do not challenge homophobia in the staff room, then who will? If they do not arrange for pupils to be mentored by local businesspersons, then how many wings will be clipped? If they do not invite religious leaders to open evenings, then will anyone else?
Citizenship education has evolved in a very promising direction since its implementation last decade, yet its deliverers must not rest on their laurels during this time of uncertainty. Rather, they must unite in reinforcing the importance of the subject to all with whom they come into professional contact. If Citizenship specialists do not fill others with passion about the subject area then the professional integrity of this niche community will be lost, and the students will be negatively impacted in countless ways. Modern-day young adults focus heavily on celebrities in terms of role models and as such have developed unrealistic views about what contributing to society entails. To many young citizens, ‘qualities’ such as writing a rushed autobiography or having a drink-driving conviction are more respected than taking one’s vote seriously or exercising one’s legal responsibilities. With this rather sobering thought in mind, may the viewpoints of those pupils in our care who are more interested in plastic surgery than in politics never go unchallenged. Let it never be said that today’s students are more knowledgeable about soap operas than about suffrage.
Delivering Citizenship through lessons alone will not suffice this autumn. Indeed, thinking outside the lesson-shaped box has never been more vital than at present.
Hans Svennevig is co-ordinator of Citizenship/Government and Politics A Level, and lecturer in Sociology.
He is also the Equality and Diversity Officer for his institution in St Albans
New term = new teaching techniques | Sharon Lupton
The best advice I’ve had over the last few years is to approach each new school year as if it’s the first term of your NQT year again. If the mere thought of reliving your NQT year has you running for cover, let me explain why it works for me!
My first term as an NQT brought about all the familiar symptoms: over-reliance on caffeine, waking up at 4am only to toss and turn thinking about lesson plans and a permanent grey smudge under each eye! Whilst I cannot claim to have enjoyed that first term as a teacher in my own right, it was a useful learning curve. I began to expect the unexpected, to meticulously plan every part of my day, and to be up-to-date with current affairs in order to stretch the most gifted of learners. Every September I always focus on these tried-and-tested habits. Here is why:
Expect the unexpected
The best thing about teaching is that pupils never fail to surprise us, yet we don’t often return the favour. For this reason, it is fantastic to have something up your sleeve for when a student asks if they can do some extra work at home. I recommend having a folder on your desk full of ‘stretch worksheets’ that go above and beyond the work that learners do in Citizenship lessons. In my folder I keep a survey for counting Fairtrade products during the weekly family shop. There is also a questionnaire aimed at students’ relatives or neighbours who have made a difference to the local community. My poetry template, which encourages pupils to compose an acrostic about a charity of their choice, is really popular too.
There is nothing worse than spending PPA time scrabbling around for lost documents or trying to write a lesson plan in five minutes. However, careful planning represents more to me than keeping the stress levels down. It means that when a student lingers during lunchtime to discuss a Citizenship issue with me I can actually find time to concentrate on teaching him/her something. A quiet fifteen minutes spent with one of your eager pupils will make a huge difference – just think about how much you could explore on the internet together in that time.
Keep up-to-date with current affairs
I see having breakfast in front of the news every day as an important responsibility, because we Citizenship teachers need to constantly refresh our knowledge. I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had with pupils in the dinner queue about a news item that is really personal to them. You might find that a quick informal chat about the latest Facebook legislation will turn around even your most unmotivated of students.
Citizenship should not just be delivered through lessons – it is far too exciting a topic to keep a lid on at other times. The techniques above have supported me in making sure that I can walk and talk my subject in the most interesting of non-lesson situations. They should make a positive difference to your teaching in September too.
Now class, who can tell me what 'Citizenship' means?
Have you noticed that children often use words that they do not actually understand? After all, what does ‘Humanities’ mean to a pupil? Can any of your students provide a dictionary definition of ‘Physics’? Is the word ‘Textiles’ understood by anyone under twenty in your school?
We often see ‘Citizenship’ on timetables and hear the word being used by young learners. However, do your pupils appreciate what the term means? Unless they do, how can we expect them to enjoy learning about the subject? How can we expect them to see things from a citizen’s point of view and make changes to their local and global community?
This half term, it is all too easy to launch into Citizenship teaching by providing a series of topical lessons. This approach is rational from an adult viewpoint, but will confuse learners unless time is spent clarifying what the word means and why it is relevant to their futures. There are many ways to ensure that your students understand what ‘Citizenship’ means. Here are a few suggestions:
- During an ICT-based lesson, ask small groups to search for dictionary definitions of the word.
- Show a news clip of a politician or celebrity talking about Citizenship’s relevance to modern Britain.
- Create a collage of images linked to the word itself and other important keywords (e.g. ‘community’).
- Base a circletime discussion on the wording used in the Citizenship programme of study.
- Run a competition to create the best tweet-length definition of ‘Citizenship’.
Once students understand the word, the next step is the hard sell! Why should young people care about Citizenship? These ideas will prove to learners that Citizenship really matters in their lives:
- Set up a skills/goods exchange area on your VLE.
- Invite pupils from local schools to swap ideas about classroom rights, recycling and the school council.
- Send a class email inviting the local MP to visit to discuss ways in which community life could be improved for the age group.
- Run a monthly DVD club to screen relevant films from other countries.
- Provide each pupil with a Citizenship calendar featuring local events (e.g. career fairs and charity races).
Incorporating the above is vital in terms of Citizenship teaching. If young people do not understand what Citizenship means and how it is relevant to their friends, then even your best lessons will fall flat. Citizenship must feel three-dimensional, which is achieved through constant reminders that pupils are citizens of the school, the local community, the country and the world. Such reminders are found in the questions below:
- How could you find out about the food miles in the school dinner that you just ate?
- Do you know about the working conditions of the people who made your jacket?
- Since you got up this morning, have taxpayers provided anything for you?
- Name two environmentally-friendly decisions that you could make tonight.
- What have you done to improve your school since the summer holidays?
Helen Brutnall is Head of PSHE at a secondary school in Leicestershire.
She has taught Citizenship for five years.
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