Joseph Kepler - 'Looking Backward', 1893

My classes are in the middle of their Immigration unit and I'm looking ahead to their final project.

The essential question for the unit is, "Who Deserves to Be an American?"

Yes, I know it's a provocative way to ask the question, but that's the idea; aside from learning about an important theme from American history, I want my students to be able to look at a controversial topic from several different angles, listen to a variety of opinions, and then form their own opinions. It's not important to me what their opinions are - just that they are based on something other than gut feeling.

We do some really interesting activities in this unit, which I'll post about soon, but their final assessment for the unit is to write a research paper.
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They are supposed to express one (and only one) opinion about Immigration, discuss it with vocabulary terms we have learned over the past unit, then back it up with events we have learned about in class and a news story from the past year or so. It can be of any length.

This will be the fourth year I've done this project. I always get some amazing, inspired writing. I also get a few students who cannot, for the life of them, come up with an opinion. All the students in the past have said that this paper is one of the hardest assignments they have ever had to do and that the very hardest part was coming up with their topic sentence - after that, everything was fairly straightforward.

Over the past few years, I've come up with various ways to scaffold this project for students - showing them various papers and critiquing them as a class, for instance.  This year, I've decided to make up a list of possible opinions that I can make available to students if they've struggled for several days without being able to come up with an opinion.

Here are some that I've come up with so far:

·       All Americans should have to speak English.

·       No Americans should HAVE to speak any particular language.

·       In order to become citizens, all new immigrants should have to perform some form of community service. Young men should have to serve in the military.

·       We should not have a cap on how many new immigrants come into our country; as long as they are good people, the number shouldn’t matter.

·       We shouldn’t let any more new immigrants into our country.

·       Quotas were a good idea; we should go back to that system.

·       Illegal immigrants should not be able to get any government services, like emergency room care or education.

·       “What? Are you crazy? They are still human beings! Of COURSE they should still be able to get basic services, regardless of what their legal status is.”

·       Illegal immigrants should not be able to get scholarships to go to college.

·       Scholarships should be available to anyone, regardless of their immigration status.

·       We should open up certain jobs – dangerous ones, hard ones, ones we have trouble filling – to illegal immigrants.

·       Immigrants should not have to change who they are in order to be American.

This is where you come in. I need some strong, common(ish) opinions about Immigration that might strike a chord with them. Could you leave an opinion in the Comments below, that I can add to the list. It should go without saying that this is not necessarily YOUR opinion. I'm just looking for opinions that students can explore.

I have no spare brain cells to devote to this. I need yours.

(Does that make me a zombie?)

Update - A week later:

I did end up posting my entire Immigration (well, entire-ish), but it was such an insanely long post that I've given it its own tab at the top of this page. (Or click here.) I may film and post my brilliant and eagerly awaited lecture on push-factors and pull-factors as well.

Also - It turns out that I somehow can't master the intricacies of reading a calendar. After some (very fast) panicking and soul-searching, I've had to scrap the research paper. There is just NO WAY to finish up the material in time to allow the students enough time to write their papers before Spring Break, the last week of April. So, here is Plan B:

Instead of writing a research paper, students will take a five-question, True/False test. They will receive a list of five strong opinions about Immigration. Each student will choose two of them to agree or disagree with, then explain his or her answer and back it up with three facts and X-number of vocabulary words (still TBD). This will be open-notebook and then some - they will be allowed to use their notes, textbooks and news stories (I've spent the past two years collecting immigration news stories and I'll print them up and put them in binders around the classroom). I'll borrow several netbooks and have those available to check the internet.

This is NOT as good an assessment as a well-thought-out research paper would be, but given our time constraints, it's the best I can do. The students are getting so much out of what we're doing right now that I can't in good conscience interrupt the learning in order to assess it.

Thanks again for all your help.


Thanks for getting back to me - it wasn't a huge, dramatic decision I needed advice on - just something that has been bugging me for a couple of days.

My biggest project of the year for my guys is the research paper at the end of the Immigration unit. In past years, I've had them express an opinion about immigration and back it up with facts and a news story. By the time I've modeled papers for them and we've gone through the rough-draft conferencing, they generally get a decent idea about how to back up an opinion w/something fairly substantial. This year, I ran critically short on time, so I decided to go with an open-notebook test instead. Seemed like a reasonable Plan B.

Over the past few days, I've been correcting and grading the essays that my brightest kids did.


Seriously - total dreck. Not one seemed to have any clue how to support an opinion. My very brightest, perfectionist kids were giving me half-assed, poorly reasoned opinions w/no relation to what they were calling "facts".

It turns out that they really do need that two-week process to help pull it together in terms of how to relate facts to opinions. It was obvious that they just hadn't gotten the meta-goals about critical thinking skills. If one or two students don't get something like this, it can be end-of-the-year slackyness or bad luck or something, but if ALL of them are missing the point, I've dropped the ball in some fundamental way. I was thinking about giving them a chance to do another essay for extra credit, but to do that in any meaningful way would mean taking several days out of what I'm doing right now, interrupting our current unit (which is under stressful time constraints as it is), blowing their New York City momentum, and maybe not getting the point across anyway.

So, after Skyping with ****** and bouncing this off a colleague at my school who I really respect, I've decided to just ashcan the essays. The students should definitely not be penalized for my failure to teach a concept. My students got a lot out of the Immigration unit just in content terms. They know more about the history of American and New Hampshire immigration than most of the adults in their lives and they can read a political cartoon like nobody's business.

I'm not going to beat myself up about the critical-thinking skills SNAFU - as a teacher, you try a lot of stuff and not all of it works. I'll chalk this one up to experience. One of the Science teachers at SLA this year said that his classroom philosophy was - "We teach our kids to fail fast and fail often" (presumably, he meant failure in a Scientific-Method sense - not in a grading one.) and that seems like a good attitude to take about this.

Lesson 1 - A test is not a reasonable substitution for the term paper in this unit. (In terms of accomplishing my critical-thinking goals)

Lesson 2 - That means much more careful planning on my part for next year, in terms of scheduling and planning backwards.

Lesson 3 - I may have to think about redesigning the unit a little, to incorporate lessons in critical thinking skills as we go.

As soon as I made the decision, I felt all this weight fall off my shoulders. I didn't realize how stressed out I was about this. (I still had about 50 of these essays to grade and no way to get it done and each one was chewing on my heart as I graded it and.... well, you know.)

Anyway. Thanks.

- John

4/4/2010 03:48:57

Here are some ideas for your students to think about:

All immigrants are criminals

Immigrants drive up the cost of healthcare.

Our economy cannot survive without immigration.

There is also a very interesting HBO documentary on immigration called, "Which way home". You might want to show clips of it to your students.

4/4/2010 06:57:45

Here's a link to some essays that may or may not be helpful:


It was a contest sponsored by the Minneapolis Star Tribune (newspaper) and 360 Journalism (grad school program) for K-12 students.

The topic was How do you count? in regard to the census. What makes you an American.

Great project!!!

4/4/2010 14:03:51

Excellent project to really get your students thinking critically!

How about this one:
Should children of illegal immigrants automatically become citizens of the US?

4/6/2010 01:18:46

In order to become citizens, all new immigrants SHOULD have to perform some form of community service. But...citizens who were born here should be required to serve beside them.

Whether it's through military service or through organized civilian efforts, we should be ALL be made to earn and to re-affirm our citizenship with service to our community.

Congratulations, Mr. Fladd, on a really thought-provoking project.


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