Learning Citizenship: Practical Teaching Strategies for Secondary Schools
By Jenny Wales and Paul Clarke
There is much to welcome about this new book on the pedagogies of citizenship. The authors have rightly identified the importance to citizenship learning of using a wide range of active teaching strategies, the strengths and demands of which should be understood by teachers wanting to weave them into the fabric of their courses.
The book underlines time and again the indissoluble link between developing knowledge and understanding at the same time as nurturing skills of discussion, debate, critical thinking, empathy, participation and so on.
I welcome the emphasis on producing thoughtful, reflective and open-minded students by means of these methods.
Eight of the 12 chapters are each devoted to a key strategy, the principal strategies treated in this way being discussion, formal debates, investigative work, role plays, group work, presentations, simulations and ICT.
In each chapter, after an introduction, a case study is offered where a lesson using the strategy has been observed and documented for analysis.
Lesson plans are set out for each case study, followed by interesting exchanges between the students and teacher and, where appropriate, some reflections on the strategy by the class teacher.
Following the case study, there is a reflective section on those aspects of citizenship knowledge, understanding and skills that were developed by this particular strategy.
I found this innovative structure interesting because it allows readers to consider the value of these different strategies for themselves in the context of real worked examples, and thus concretising many of the practical issues surrounding the use of such strategies in one's own school.
One of the particular strengths the authors bring to this text is their understanding of the economics and business strand of citizenship, so we find many examples offered here which are less often found in texts developed by writers with the more usual political or social studies background.
Having said this, I am sorry to say that I cannot endorse this book wholeheartedly. I found parts of it difficult to read because the text is rather loosely written and has a tendency to be repetitive and undisciplined.
I thought that the authors' embracing of citizenship across the curriculum was, by and large, useful and positive but it was at times too uncritical.
We need to be crystal clear about this issue. I cannot see that simulating a company in its development of a new kind of yoghurt is citizenship (though some aspects of economics and business studies undoubtedly are) and I was baffled by the suggestion that students investigate the effectiveness of organic versus non-organic fertilisers as part of their citizenship-through-science work.
There is still a good deal of confusion about where and how different subjects directly (as opposed to tangentially) contribute to citizenship learning and this is one issue the book might have paid more attention to.
Don Rowe is director of curriculum resources at the Citizenship Foundation