Virtually everyone who teaches gives assignments that ask students to use information (e.g., primary source documents, articles, pictures or videos) to form an understanding of some issue. In my case, I often have my students read about Congress, or about pressing policy disagreements, and try to reach a conclusion. The more I did this, however, the more I wondered about what is going on inside students’ heads as they attempt this – how do students read/watch contradictory sources and reach a conclusion?
This video reports on a research project I did using a think-aloud methodology to explore what students see when they look at Congress. In the think-aloud, I present students with a series of articles or videos about a particular issue (in this case, the Employee Free Choice Act of 2007) and about a particular legislative procedure (the filibuster). Students read source material and “think aloud” as they do so; this enables me to see thoughts as they develop (rather than after they fully form, such as would be the case if I read a formal written paper). My research reveals the importance of understanding (1) the tension between majority rule and minority rights and (2) the essentially conflictual nature of legislative activity. When students have a low comfort level with these ideas, their ability to understand the work of the legislative branch suffers dramatically. I conclude this lecture by discussing how my findings can inform our practice inside the classroom.
I hope you enjoy this video.
Jeffrey L. Bernstein
Department of Political Science
Eastern Michigan University
* What Do Students See When They Look at Congress? *