The Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy:The Six Core Pedagogical Principles

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The Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy (EAD) is composed of three interrelated supporting components: the seven themes, the five design challenges, and the six core pedagogical principles (CPPs). The CPPs are presented in the EAD Pedagogy Companion, alongside indicators and conditions for success. The EAD Pedagogy Companion supports educators in implementing the EAD Roadmap with findings and recommendations from the latest research in education, the learning sciences, and developmental science. 

One can envision the six CCPs of the EAD Pedagogy Companion as a circular cycle that sequentially connects. It begins with the EAD teacher and shifts in approaches and dispositions to teaching civics and history. This shift encompasses high expectations yet equitable access to success and continuous improvement in civic life. The CCP cycle then expands onto the broader school community, laying the groundwork for a balance of community norms and a rigorous inquiry into challenging topics in civics and history. It is then followed by authentic student engagement and deep learning within the themes and practices of our constitutional democracy. The final CCP of the cycle further supports the previous CCPs through assessment, self-reflection, and refinement of teaching and learning strategies. 

Core Pedagogical Principle One: Excellence for All

The first CCP promotes the belief that all students have the potential to achieve civic excellence. Of course, this belief can only be actualized when all students are provided with the opportunities to access high-quality civic and history education learning. The civic learning opportunity gap has been well documented in that historically minoritized students are often not afforded high-quality civic and history education learning opportunities. In recognizing this tremendous barrier, the first CCP positions the EAD teacher as the key to providing students with participatory learning opportunities using multifaceted historical narratives and civic practices. The diversity of students should be reflected in the curriculum, resources, and culture of the classroom, and all students’ lived experiences should be acknowledged and validated. This can be done by incorporating student and community voices in the curriculum, exposing students to diverse perspectives and representations, and communicating consistent expectations and support for all students to succeed. 

Core Pedagogical Principle Two: Self-Reflection and Growth Mindset

The second CCP builds upon the first through the EAD teacher’s commitment to professional development training and self-reflection as methods to ensure high-quality, relevant, and rigorous instruction for all students. The EAD teacher seeks continuous improvement and refinement of their craft, with the goals of deepening their content knowledge and building greater internal capacities within their classroom and school to incorporate civic and history education. This also includes joining professional learning communities and sharing resources and proven practices with other teachers and school community stakeholders—likewise, the EAD teacher practices self-reflection to improve the quality of their teaching and student learning. Self-reflection can assist teachers with critically examining their pedagogical practices, providing new ideas on how to best support student learning, and further connecting the learning content to the school community context. To note self-reflection and the practice of a growth mindset can also be incorporated into the classroom for students to assess and reinforce their learning.

Core Pedagogical Principle Three: Building an EAD-Ready Classroom and School

The third CCP focuses on the classroom and school climate. The EAD classroom and school represent spaces for intellectually rigorous learning, a sense of belonging and support, and student leadership and agency opportunities. Because the EAD Roadmap elevates diverse narratives of our American history and democracy, the EAD classroom and school must promote an inclusive culture that enables all students to feel secure and equips all students with the skills to engage in spirited discussion. In building an EAD-ready classroom and school, connections to students and families are strengthened, and the school community’s diversity is celebrated. Moreover, students are provided with opportunities to build character and foster their agency through leadership positions and decision-making processes. Research shows that a positive classroom and school climate increases student engagement and learning and assists students with developing a positive identity and self-esteem, a sense of the common good, and community and social connections.

Core Pedagogical Principle Four: Inquiry as the Primary Mode of Learning

The fourth CPP outlines how and why inquiry is the primary learning process within the EAD Roadmap. The concept of inquiry-based learning stems from John Dewey, an early American educational theorist. He posited that students should be actively engaged in the learning process through choices and questions and not tasked with memorizing rote facts. An inquiry-based approach to teaching encompasses a variety of strategies, including discussion, debate, investigation, document analysis, project-based learning, democratic process simulations, and direct instruction practices like guided think-alouds, teacher-led demonstrations, modeling, reciprocal teaching, and storytelling. When the EAD teacher uses inquiry as the primary mode of learning, students develop habits and abilities to engage with big questions and complex concepts that can be applied to engaging in civic life and with American history in the long term. Research has shown inquiry-based learning to be more effective than lecture-style teaching and is a driver of increasing students’ civic efficacy.

Core Pedagogical Principle Five: Practice of Constitutional Democracy and Student Agency

The fifth CCP recommends the practice of constitutional democracy and civic participation within the school community to develop student knowledge, attitudes, skills, and practices (KASP) necessary for lifelong engagement in American constitutional democracy. To support this practice, the EAD classroom and school function as civic incubators, wherein students can authentically practice and directly engage with processes of our constitutional democracy. The EAD teacher and school community provide opportunities for students to exercise and understand their civil rights and civic responsibilities to address community issues and social inequities. Examples of supporting practices include class compacts, participatory budgeting, deliberations, opportunities for decision-making and policy-making, project-based learning, service learning, and connecting with local leaders to take informed action. Research findings on student participation within and beyond the classroom have shown an increase in the sense of community and inclusion and stronger civic friendships.

Core Pedagogical Principle Six: Assess, Reflect, and Improve

The sixth and final CCP supports the other five CCPS in that, as the final principle, it completes an iterative feedback loop. In support of the first two CCPs, the EAD teacher must continually assess and reflect upon their commitment to providing high-quality civic and history education for all students, along with their own investment in improving their craft and expanding their teaching skillset. The assessment of classroom and school climate in the third CCP includes a reflection on how well the school community supports and provides equitable learning environments replete with rigorous and diverse curricula. For the fourth CCP, assessment is embedded alongside inquiry-based learning. Students consistently demonstrate how deeply they have analyzed the information and applied their new or lived knowledge to show growth and success. The fifth CCP embraces the continual application and reflection of the practices of constitutional democracy and assessment of learning by doing. Overall, the sixth CCP affirms the commitment to high-quality civic and history teaching and learning, opportunities for growth, and a readiness to participate in our American constitutional democracy.

Similar to the seven themes, it is essential to note that the EAD Pedagogy Companion is a framework for guidance to support existing standards and curriculum. Its targeted practice outcomes are grounded in the six CPPs and “moves” described for students, teachers, and school community members. These “moves” represent the actions, protocols, or activities that can be used when engaging with each CCP. Additionally, the EAD Pedagogy Companion recognizes the need for teachers and schools to adopt and adapt the CCPs in accordance with their local context and curriculum design.

Listen to the Six Pedagogical Principles Podcast Here

Author bio
Tara Bartlett portrait photo, smiling with greenery in background

Tara Bartlett is a Ph.D. candidate in Arizona State University’s Educational Policy and Evaluation program. Her research focuses on participatory governance within school communities, particularly through a student-centered approach. Tara’s research is driven by her experience and a passion for integrating opportunities for youth and families to participate in school and district-based decision-making processes and policy creation and adoption. Before pursuing a doctoral degree, Tara was a public school educator with 14 years of teaching experience in Arizona Title I middle schools. As an education leader, Tara has been integral in elevating district curriculum and statewide standards initiatives and facilitating professional development opportunities for fellow educators. These experiences, coupled with the observed outcomes of civic action and student voice within the classroom, led Tara to reimagine how K12 schools can better equip youth with the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and practices to become political and civic changemakers within their own communities for the long term.