See Matt’s Video on Teaching Channel: Encouraging Students to Take Action
A petition is a concise, direct, and powerful tool to teach the essentials of civic engagement.
After going through a few cycles of civic engagement projects in my classroom, I found that what distinguished effective projects from mediocre ones was the ability of the student group to articulate a clear and appropriate demand that was addressed to a specific target audience. To help students think about the criteria of an effective “ask” and its relationship to a target audience, I have all of my students write a petition as their first semester history final. The petition serves as a “trial run” for their civic engagement projects and as a checkpoint, midway through the year, to define and practice the fundamentals of civic engagement.
I didn’t come to the realization about the importance of a petition project in terms of teaching civic engagement on my own. This conclusion was the result of many conversations and an inquiry cycle that was supported by the history department, both at my school site and at the district level. I think this is crucial to point out because teaching for civic engagement depends on several supportive conditions, primary among them the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers. My teaching has grown tremendously through the conversations I’ve been able to have with my colleagues in the space created, and funded, by my school and district.
It was in an inquiry cycle during my first year of completing civic engagement projects that a colleague asked, “What do you think separated the effective projects from the not so effective ones?” This simple question helped me identify the differences between two specific projects.