CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement)
conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

CIRCLE Online Seminar: Exploring the Practice of Engaging Youth

January 31st, 2014
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The Conversation Thus Far

Last week, over 40 participants in our real-time conversation tackled questions about how they saw the two fundamental goals (democratic deliberation & equity and quality of political engagement) outlined in All Together Now, playing out in their work. The conversation, which continued into the Facebook group during week 2, has included ideas about:

  • Creating safe spaces for youth to have conversations, because “safe space makes equity more possible,” as one participant remarked. In addition to sharing strategies to create safe spaces, participants also agreed that teachers require support from administrators and parents to teach controversial issues. As one participant said, “Creating safe classrooms are more or less successful depending on the degree to which the administrator/teacher/parents feel safe to offer input in the governance of the school itself.”

  • How to implement these goals with existing professional development opportunities and how these goals relate to the Common Core and College, Career and Civic Life Framework (C3). Participants shared resources, such as this, to explain how some localities are thinking about the intersection between the Common Core and civic learning.

  • What are strategies for students to practice deliberation? Perspective taking is one example that came up and another was to first have low-stakes conversations with students. As one participant said, there “can be an exercise on the first day of class – perhaps preceding a low-stakes discussion about something like, ‘What’s the better food – pizza or spaghetti?’ Practicing discussion and respectful dialog on things that are lower stakes can help prepare youth for more sticky issues.”

To learn more about what was discussed, check out the live chat recording for week 1. We’ll catch you up on week 2, but in the meantime, the recording for the live chat from week 2 also available.

What the Report Has to Say

During the sign-up process, we asked registrants what they would like to learn during the seminar. We were excited to see that many participants are interested in thinking critically and deeply about some of the areas articulated in the report.  The report shares many recommendations for what may lead to a more intentional system for building democratic participation, and includes:

  1. Create diverse and accessible opportunities for civically disadvantaged and non-college youth. CIRCLE’s report on disconnected youth showed that young people are more likely to get involved if they are directly asked to do so. Many of the respondents in the report had never been asked to participate. This was the case for many of the youth and especially the case for the young men.

  1. Engage in controversy and disagreement that promotes youth voice/expression, information seeking and deliberation. CIRCLE found that discussion of controversial issues is unfortunately less common in racially diverse schools, but when discussion occurs in those schools, it is very helpful.

  1. Lower barriers to youth political participation and increase transparency of the political system. Analysis for the All Together Now report found that allowing people to register to vote on the same day that they vote had a positive effect on youth turnout in 2012, and that finding is consistent with previous research.

  1. Provide high-quality civic learning experiences and assessments that develop  higher order knowledge and skills in the context of real-life issues. As one of many examples, CIRCLE found that the iCivics Drafting Board module had a significant and positive impact on students’ argumentation skills development. The free, module engages students in challenging tasks of researching an issue and constructing a logical argument in an engaging and relevant way.  Check out appendix B of the report or share your own in the comment box below.

  1. Build systems or networks of opportunities and support. The report highlights efforts in California, Florida and Illinois (pp. 45-46) where multi-sector groups are working towards policy changes in civic education.  Some of these efforts have already yielded results.

Guiding Questions for Week 3:

In order to expand our collective understanding of what is happening in the field and what seems to be working in different contexts, we ask that seminar participants consider the five broad areas noted above in answering this week’s questions.

  • How are you applying (or would you apply) the five strategies mentioned above to your practice? Please share specific examples to enrich the learning of all.

  • What additional strategies are you using? Do you have any research to share that supports the effectiveness of that strategy that others might learn from?

  • What is working in your context? (i.e. challenges, successes, lessons learned)

Ideally, we would like to synthesize our conversation about what is happening in the field to add richness to the report itself and potentially report out to a wider audience.

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