Stamford Public Schools’ (SPS) Turn of River Bilingual Language Arts Teacher Miriam Gonzerelli and Curriculum Associate for English Learner (EL) Instruction Cynthia Manifold joined a prestigious group of educators in Washington last month to discuss ways to strengthen the impact of iCivics, a popular civics learning program, by incorporating EL strategies into one of its games. iCivics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 2009 by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, uses interactive digital games to explain how the United States government works. The program is used nationwide by more than 150,000 teachers and more than 5 million students.
Gonzerelli and Manifold were joined by fellow teachers, as well as ESL/bilingual education researchers as part of a newly formed iCivics English Language Learning Advisory Council, to discuss the specifics of adapting the game, “Do I Have a Right?” for EL students. The game teaches constitutional law by allowing players to run their own law firm where they decide if the client has the “right” and to match those clients with a lawyer that specializes in that area of the law. As created, the game requires students to have general grasp of the U.S. Judicial System as well as understanding of complex English vocabulary.
“Using proven effective EL strategies, such as connecting knowledge to what students already understand, providing visuals and graphic organizers, annotating academic vocabulary, and varying question strategies for language proficiency levels, will benefit all students, not just EL students. All students will gain an increased understanding of our government,” said Manifold. “Being asked to work with the esteemed group of educators that make up the newly formed council was an honor and a learning opportunity for us all.”
In addition to Manifold and Gonzerelli, the iCivics English Language Learning Advisory Council comprises Dr. Katherine Barko-Alva, assistant professor of TESOL, College of William and Mary; Ada Belanger, teacher, ESOL and Social Studies, Bedford Central School District, New York; Dr. George Bunch, associate professor of education, University of California, Santa Cruz; Dr. Luciana de Oliveira, professor and chair, College of Education and Human Services, president-elect TESOL; Dr. Socorro Herrera, professor and executive director, the Center of Intercultural and Multilingual Advocacy, Kansas State University; and Sarah Ottow, owner and founder, Confianza, certified WIDA and PRIME V2 trainer.
As part of her work on the council, Gonzerelli sought guidance and input from her Turn of River middle school students, who have been playing many of the iCivics games as part of their social studies instruction.
“The input of students has been very helpful in generating ideas for consideration by the council,” said Gonzerelli. “Students who are learning through the use of the materials have a more realistic perspective about what areas might require clarification than those of us who are already familiar with the materials.”
The council’s work, which will continue over the next year, is funded by the Ford Foundation.