Dealing with “Citizenship Project Part C” – Reflection on Knowledge Gained and Skills Developed

So, this is the final installment in the series of blog posts about the Citizenship Project. Most of the students (hopefully) will have, by this point in the year, completed their actions and written up the majority of the “Part B”. In theory, at least, they also will have had some time to reflect back on the process they have undertaken over the last few months. For others, inevitably, it’ll be a bit of a mad dash to the finish line on the 24th April.

So what I did with the “Citizenship Project Section C Sample” is to pick a different project, where the candidate did a very good, but not a perfect report. The overall mark for Section C was 15/20. If the students can see what the candidate did very well, but also identify some of her minor mistakes, they should be able to help avoid some of those obvious pitfalls themselves.

I’d be asking students to read through the final part of her project and notice the following:

  1. The lack of headings makes it a little difficult for the examiner to see exactly where the marks are supposed to be assigned, particularly in the final section. This is a very easy fix…
  2. While the opening section (Knowledge and Insight) is very strong, it is TOO LONG. Of all the sections, the Section C has the fewest words available. While she does get 6/6 for this section, she pays the price later on by having her ‘Feedback’ and ‘Reflection’ sections squashed into a couple of lines, and certainly not developed enough for two 4/4 answers. The students need to be efficient in their writing and disciplined with their word count, skills that are often pretty thin on the ground.
  3. There are a few spots, like the ‘Skills Developed’ section, where, while the content is strong and focused on the requirements of the question, I’d want maybe one or two bits of specificity. As it reads at the moment, it could apply to virtually any project that any student, anywhere in the country could have written. I always think that the personal touch is best and helps to set your work apart. It also looks like you’ve actually undertaken a deeper personal reflection when you do this…
  4. If you’re a student that really struggles to write efficiently and directly, I’ve included a few sample ‘starter’ sentences that are designed to help you stay really focused on the kinds of things that the SEC seem to want you to focus in on. They’re only suggestions (and there’s obviously multiple ways to address any of this stuff), but they should be a good jumping-off point.

***As with all of the handouts you can download in the Citizenship Project tab of the website (where you can find the other handouts), the suggestions are simply my BEST GUESS as to how the projects have been marked by the SEC. I have no special insights, other than having had three classes go through the process in the last two years and the fact that I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to reverse engineer how I think that process must have been undertaken. The SEC are also, obviously, free to change the marking scheme year-on-year without telling anyone, which I think it hard on students, but that’s life… So with those CAVEATS in mind, I hope that you find the handout useful in preparing the final drafts of your projects.***

I’ve always thought that the biggest problem that students face is not knowing exactly what the expectations around the standard of writing in the Report Booklet actually are. Hopefully, this final handout, and the ones that have gone before, will help to alleviate at least some of that anxiety!

Best of luck with your submissions!!!!

Jerome

The Difficult Answer to a Simple Question…

The question I have been asked most frequently by my own students is simply this:

How do I improve the mark in my exam essays?”

This is a fair question, with which students perennially struggle, but one whose asking seems to have increased in frequency in recent years in both my Pol-Soc and History classes. As someone who taught English at JC and LC for many years, I can’t help wondering how much this is linked to the fact that the new Junior Cycle doesn’t require English students to write any kind of extended essay, discursive or narrative? A question for another day, perhaps…

Well anecdotally at least, in the absence of that key skill, students seem to be arriving in to fifth year Pol-Soc class with lower levels of writing skills that we must nonetheless address. So over the holidays I tried to put together a one-page guide (God, I love trying to fit it onto one page!) to an incremental process designed to help students make gradual improvement in their discursive essay writing. Of course, there’s no substitute for content knowledge (which this takes as a pre-requisite), but I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen good students under-perform in exams because of poor time-management, rather than because of a lack of knowledge (and reciprocally, average students who have gotten to grips with this process, out-performing their seemingly abler classmates).

Similarly, students often fail to take the basics of ‘exam conditions’ into account. They fail to practice writing essays without the crutch of their notes for support, or fail to realize that they should find a neat, light pen (blue or black) that doesn’t require them to put too much pressure on their writing hand, that they use exclusively from Christmas in Sixth Year until the end of the exams (buying 20-30 of them so as to never worry about running out!). They wouldn’t use a brand new type of football boot at the start of a county final, so why should they do it during the most consequential minutes of writing they’ll do in the early part of their adult lives?????

Anyway, take a look at the one-page guide here: Study Skills for Pol Soc Essays, and if you have any suggested ways to improve upon it, I’m all ears (which is, unfortunately, both literally and metaphorically the case…). How I’ve explained this process to my own students is to remind them how they learned to ride their bikes. First they started off with all the necessary supports – a parent to hand, all the elbow and knee pads that money can buy, 2 stabilizers, smooth flat ground… Gradually, each support is removed so that the process no longer feels so daunting and insurmountable. Essay writing is actually just like that. (P.S. If you missed my post on suggested exam timing and exam strategy, you can find it here.)

The process requires students to make a brutally honest self-evaluation at the start so that they can identify what areas in the process they need to address most urgently in order to make maximum progress. We can’t help with the honesty bit, unfortunately!

Best of luck in the run up to the mocks (and if anyone is using the DEB paper, I’d be similarly interested in any constructive feedback that people might have about the exam).

And remember, as Ernest Hemingway said, writing is easy, “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Hard things are hard, but if you chip away at it, it gets ever so slightly less difficult in an exam setting…

Best,

Jerome

Dealing with L.O. 2.5 – “To what extent does the Irish Political System Represent the ‘Will of the People’?”

Initially, I found this area of the course to be potentially impossibly broad, never knowing ‘how much was enough’. So I decided to take a specific tack which I’ve developed over the last 3 year groups. Here it is:

While this is one of the areas of the course that is relatively mechanical in terms of gathering relevant data (from sources like www.citizensinformation.ie) it is a really good example of trying to translate information into opinion. Two or three different students can legitimately find themselves forming opposing, but equally valid, opinions about how the systems of elections or governmental structures can work. Having covered a lot of introductory material on key thinkers at the start of fifth year, I find this topic an excellent way to introduce/develop group work where students are supporting each other (and where I get to take a back seat!). It’s a shift in gear that the students respond well to (touch wood).

I’m not saying that this is the only way to approach the topic, but here’s how I go about doing it. I waited until the recent by-election in Dublin Mid-West – our constituency – to do it, so that students could follow election events in relative real time. That won’t be possible every time, obviously, but there’s nearly always some kind of election happening somewhere in the world that you can piggy back on!

  1. Download and print (2-sided if possible) the relevant worksheet and follow the process I outline below. I have a PDF( To what extent does the Irish Political System Represent the ‘Will of the People’) that will print easily, and a MS Word version( To what extent does the Irish Political System Represent the ‘Will of the People’)that you can adapt to suit your purposes….
  2. Break students into groups of 4.
  3. Ask them to divide the topics for research and discussion amongst themselves. For the sake of simplicity, I ask them to choose one area from each side of the page (this will make the feedback process easier for them, trust me, it was a disaster first time I tried it!) Each student, therefore, has two topics to investigate in detail.
  4. Depending on the overall class ability, give them 4-5 class period/days to undertake their research.
  5. They report back to their group and disseminate their findings so that every student has all 8 categories complete on their sheet, and where each has had the experience of being the ‘expert’ on at least 2 topics (and can contribute on the others). If issues are a bit problematic, or multiple students are struggling with aspects of the research, there’s no harm to do a bit of ‘direct instruction’ – the auld “Chalk and Talk” if you will…
  6. Introduce the Idea of ‘Preponderance of Evidence’ – i.e. do you have more information in the “Represents the people well” category or the “Represents the people poorly” category? If you have 5 arguments for and 2 against, do you think that makes “For” a viable argument?
  7. When they’ve completed their sheet, they might end up looking something like this:

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  1. Introduce the idea of ‘Weighting’ their opinions. Are all arguments equally valid? I then tell a made-up anecdote about how well my weekend went: 3 good things (dinner with my wife in Nandos (Classy guy), watched a football match with my son, won 25 quid on a lotto ticket) and 1 bad thing (my best friend died – not really!) are these events equal in ‘weight’? Did I, overall, have a good weekend? This helps the student to see that volume of information is not the same as quality of information.
  2. Ask them to weight their opinions in each category with this new insight.
  3. Now, to form an overall opinion, they must decide whether the ‘preponderance of the (weighted) evidence’ across all categories helps them to answer the question positively or negatively.
  4. To present a “Critical Evaluation” (where they make a clear argument, but also offer at least some balance) the students then:
  5. Take a position on the topic (i.e. Answer the Question directly up front)
  6. Select the 3 arguments/topics that best support their position (each of which will be developed into a clear paragraph)
  7. Select the ‘weakest’ of the counter-arguments that they can easily debunk (forming their ‘counter-narrative’ paragraph)
  8. Sketch an outline introduction and conclusion (where they offer suggestions for reform, or indicate other systems/countries which could be emulated to improve the Irish system)

Having undergone this process, you then ask students to write their response in the form of a ‘Critical Essay’ as they might be asked to do in the exam. Alternatively, you could give it as an actual exam question – it’s really up to you to decide what you think is the most useful way…

The last little grenade that I throw into the mix is to ask them “Is there actually such a thing as ‘the will of the people’?” How can such a diverse group of people be described as having a ‘singular’ view of the world or society? Are there times when there will be a broad consensus (what are they), and time when there’s be a massive divergence of opinion (what might those look like)? Is a discussion of the terms/terminology of the question, where you challenge the very premise of the question something that is appropriate to the introduction and/or conclusion of the essay? Should they avoid that argument altogether?

This tends to mess with their heads a little bit, but it seems to me that this is exactly the kind of outcome I’d want with a topic like this… then again, maybe I’m just a sadist!

Best of luck, and hopefully you’ll get a class full of essays that deal with different issues, but in an equally rigorous and critical manner.

Best,

JD

 

Citizenship Project – ‘Section B’

Hi All,

I’ve been totally swamped with work in the last few weeks, so I haven’t been able to get the next podcast edited. I’m doing my best, but I’m only one guy…

In the meantime, you can have a look at this breakdown of how a student could go about approaching the second part of the project with this resource: Citizenship Project Section B Handout. I’ve broken it down section by section and tried to ‘reverse engineer’ how I think the marking scheme must have been applied. Obviously, I’m open to correction on this, but it might help bring at least some sense of what’s expected of the students. Maybe this helps the teachers more than the students, but lots of people contacted me to ask for a follow up to the Section A Annotated handout that I posted a few weeks ago, so here you go…

The big difference between how I approached this task, compared with the Section A example that I gave previously, is that I’ve deliberately chosen work that was deemed to be of a H2 standard, and have tried to indicate how I think it could be improved upon in a number of different areas to hit the H1 overall. At least that way, the students might be able to use the handout to see how to improve their own work from a lower to a higher grade… you know… learning and stuff….

As always, it’s just my best guess, and I’d be only too happy if the SEC wanted to give us ANY sense of how they had marked it, but I’m not holding my breath on that one!

Anyway, hope it’ll be of use to at least some of you.

Best,

Jerome

It’s time for the “Citizenship Projects” Again!!!

After a busy summer of marking and setting school and ‘Mock’ exams, preparing notes and handouts, chasing small children about (my own, I should add), and desperately trying to get up to speed on a few subject related issues, we’re back!  It seems that tons of people are engaging with the podcast and website, which is really encouraging!!! There have now been 3,000 listens across the 8 episodes and this post will probably push the website over 10,000 page views! (The ‘Key Thinker Quizzes’ seem particularly popular!?!). I’m facing into that time of the year when I have to shell out for renewal of the website and Soundcloud storage, so if you were inclined to help me mitigate those costs and keep the site free for all students, you can help here. It’s hard to keep a project like this alive when you’re trying to self-fund, so please consider donating if you’re in a position to do so.

COMING SOON!

Currently in the pipeline is the editing of the “John Locke” episode that I recorded with the amazing Graham Finlay of UCD on the day before term restarted. Suffice it to say, it’ll take me a while to get it edited (especially because virtually everything Graham says is gold dust!), but I hope to have it up by the end of the midterm break. I’m also looking for suggestions for an episode to make in the run up to Christmas, so if you have any special requests, please send them on!

CITIZENSHIP PROJECTS

In the meantime, lots of sixth year students around the country are at various stages of preparation/completion of their Citizenship Projects. Part of the problem (dare I say anxiety?) that many students feel around the project is that they don’t know exactly what is required of them. I’m sure that there might be a few teachers out there that feel this too! So what I’ve done is looked back through some of the exams that my students sent me at the end of the summer and found one that had a mark of 35 out of 35 for its ‘Section A’. Fully anonymized (and with the student’s permission) you can find a downloadable pdf of that the file here: Section A Annotated.

A few caveats (warnings) apply here… Firstly, and most obviously, the titles for this year are different so what you do won’t be exactly the same, but what I’d want you to see is that the student’s project clearly engages with a personal perspective, deals with national organizations, but also is linked to both key thinkers and global Human Rights organizations and declarations. The work that touches on all three of these levels (personal, national, global) always seems to read as most fully engaged with the course criteria. Secondly, showing you an excellent Section A is not designed to say that you MUST mimic the exact format, but it COULD be a useful guide for students to see if what they are doing is in the right ‘ball park’. Thirdly, all the annotations and comments are MINE and not from any other examiner. They’re simply a few relevant pointers that I would want my own students to see, rather than just be faced with a typed document that they might find hard to interpret. Finally, it’s useful to see that the student makes it very clear exactly how the research that she undertook helped to ‘INFORM’ her subsequent action. Although I’m not an SEC examiner, I can say with a high degree of confidence that this seems to be exactly what they are looking for in the reports.

If you don’t believe me (and you should never take anyone’s word for it!), check out the “Chief Examiner’s Report” from May 2019. You can find it here: https://www.examinations.ie/misc-doc/BI-EN-16366956.pdf. There’s a section near the end that specifically deals with the Citizenship Project Reports.

The final caveat is that we still don’t know if there will be any changes to the requirements in the project booklet for 2020 (which I’m a bit grumpy about and about which I recently wrote to the SEC). Be aware that if you are downloading the 2019 booklet DO IT VIA THE S.E.C. WEBSITE. Don’t google it, as the 2018 version is the first result that you are likely to come across and this might send you down a few unnecessary rabbit holes.

Best of luck with the projects and the rest of the year ahead.

Jerome

Episode 8 is Live!

I’m delighted that the next episode of the podcast is up, but I take little credit for it. Stephen Farley and his team at Trócaire did a great job of producing a really useful podcast on one of our Key Thinkers, Fr Sean McDonagh, but it hasn’t gotten as much attention as I felt it deserved, so with Stephen’s approval (obviously!) I’m hosting it here, with just my own brief intro and conclusion to bookend their episode. Fr McDonagh has been very challenging for students, but has presented the teachers with an even bigger challenge – finding suitable resources. Hopefully this will help with that!

Listen here and let us know what you think. It’s also up on all the usual platforms like Apple iTunes and Stitcher.

I know that Trócaire had plans to produce more content, but those plans are on hold at the moment as they focus on their new podcast “The World Etc.”. From what I’ve heard of the new podcast, it’ll be really relevant to Pol Soc students too. Maybe if this episode gets a bit of traction, we can persuade the team at Trócaire to get a few more episodes up and running specifically for Pol-Soc students. (of course I’ll do what I can to help them!) There are lots of areas of potential overlap, so let’s see how it goes!

There are lots of additional resources available that accompany this episode. Trócaire produced a full resource booklet, with lots of extra case studies and classroom activities, and I have my usual listen-along guide, key thinker quizzes and revision notes. You can find them all on the Episode Notes page.

Meanwhile in the background, I’m chipping away at another few episodes that I hope to have up and available in the Autumn. Hopefully, we’ll have Locke, Marx, and Huntington in the pipeline… (if only there were more hours in the day!)

I’m also hoping to add a new section to the website in the next academic year called “Further Study” where we can showcase some of the university courses that would be a logical next step for any student who has been bitten by the Politics and Society ‘bug’. Keep a look out!

As ever, if you are in a position to help support the podcast, you can do that here.

Enjoy the last few weeks of your holidays and I hope everyone returns to school re-energized! (myself included!!!)

Best,

Jerome

Chief Examiner’s Advice

My absolute final piece of advice…

Just after the Citizenship Projects were submitted in May, the State Exams Commission (SEC) issued the “Chief Examiner’s Report” on the inaugural Politics and Society exam. It made for very interesting (and reasonably encouraging) reading. It was full of observations on how students dealt with the project and exam. The report itself ran to about 19 pages, but because I have such an exciting life, I decided to try and do a 2-page summary that includes key tips and take always.

Of course, it goes without saying that you should read the full report, but I doubt most students will, so here’s the next best thing… (If nothing else, you should see that I’m basing my opinion on specific quotations with the report!)

Tips from the Politics and Society Chief Examiner Report 2018

The biggest relief is that they really are looking for quality over quantity!!!

Also, bear in mind that this is just my take on the examiner’s report, based on what I’ve seen my own students do well and poorly at throughout the year.

My suggestion would be to scan through it on the morning of the exam, just to refresh you memory and get your essay-writing priorities in order…

Best of luck on Tuesday!!!!

Dr J (as Brendan O’Sullivan in Gorey CS insists on calling me!!!)

Dealing with the Data-Based Question

Just one final bit of advice for students about the somewhat tricky ‘DBQ’. One of the main problems experienced by the students last year was uncertainty about how long their answers should be for each section. This was made particularly problematic due to the fact that there was no indication beside each question as to how many marks each individual question was worth.

You ‘General Rule’ here should be to be guided by the number of lines available. I should also say that the latest advice is NOT to write in the spaces outside the lines, for fear that they won’t be read by the S.E.C.’s scanners (and write in either Blue or Black pen). If you need to add additional material (and if you’re time management allows you to do so), you can do so in the additional pages at the back of the booklet (*making sure that you properly label your answers).

If you want to download my best attempt to outline a useful approach to the final questions (DBQ section F), which is worth 40 marks (15 minutes of writing time), click the link to access a one-page PDF with a sample answer and some other general guidelines and suggestions. (****Update: Autumn 2019 – In the 2019 exam, the Marking Scheme changed, making this section worth 50 marks, not 40. It also stipulated that the marks would be divided along the lines of 30-20 as seen here: DBQ Long Answer Marking Scheme

***The big ‘Caveat‘ (warning) here, is that ‘This is how they did it last year – the Examiners might assign the marks differently this summer.’ That said, all we can do is deal with the evidence we have! If I was answering a DBQ question on this particular problem, I’d be quick to note that we have a ‘Sample Size’ of just one data point, which makes it next to impossible to make any sweeping statements.***

Best of luck on Tuesday!

JD

Don’t forget about “Exam Strategy”

Hello All,

One very short blog post that might help students as they face into the final week before the exam. As with every Leaving Cert exam, it’s important to maximize your grade. The quickest way to shed marks unnecessarily is to get your timing wrong.

So why not download this quick one-page guide to help with Exam Strategy and Timing, which even includes the exact time it will read on the clock that you should move on to the next question! (This isn’t the only way to do it, but it is one reliable way to do it!)

Remember, it’s notHow much should I write?” for that answer, it’s “How long should I spend on that question?”. The answer is ALWAYS determined by the number of marks allocated to the question. (There’s an outside possibility that they won’t include mark breakdowns in the Data-Based Question again this year). If they go with last year’s allocation, the final questions (2F) will be worth 40 marks.

And finally, more so than in any other exam, the Politics and Society examiners are looking for ‘Quality’ more than ‘Quantity’…

Best of luck next week.

JD