Recent Developments in Online Citizenship Preparation
by Jennifer Gagliardi, Milpitas Adult Education
posted April 2021
Citizenship applicants and their teachers breathed a collective sigh of relief on February 22, 2021, when USCIS announced that they were withdrawing the 2020 Civics questions and restoring the 2008 Civics questions. Instead of scrambling to grow and graph new civics content, Citizenship Preparation classes that had migrated to online platforms such as Google Classroom, Canvas, and Zoom are using this opportunity to adapt and expand online civics content for Adult Education.
Two key civics sources continue to be USCIS Civics Lessons and the Smithsonian Preparing the Oath videos which can be easily linked to learning management systems and/or shared directly with students. USA Learns Citizenship continues as the gold standard of an over-all Citizenship Preparation course, accommodating independent learners as well as students in online citizenship classes.
Several concerns remain. The first is how to assess students. CASAS responded to this in May 2020 by releasing procedures for remote pre- and post-testing students via the Life/Work series, then followed up with instructions for the remote administration of the CIT Citizenship Interview Test 973/974 which is based on the USCIS Form N-400 (pre-2014). This test simulates the N-400 portion of the USCIS interview by asking the student personal information and defining key terms from the N-400 Part 12 (Additional Information). The key was to distribute a CIT 973/974 pdf on which the test administrator can easily record a student's response by simply clicking the correct field (0=no response; 1=partial response; 2=correct response) then submit the form to their CASAS data specialist. The administrator can start a video call, then record student responses on the CIT 973/974 pdf on separate device (such as a tablet). The CASAS CIT 973/974 assessment provides a great opportunity for a student to prepare not only for their naturalization interview, but also offers a safe space for students to negotiate questions which use abstract vocabulary, colloquial language, and various grammar structures, plus depart from the expected interview sequence.
CASAS is now field-testing Form 965/966 Government/Civics Citizenship Listening test which delivers the assessment via a PowerPoint presentation which displays the answers to a question. The presentation automatically plays the embedded audio question twice, then proceeds to the next question. The examiner needs to start the video call with the student, then start the presentation. Either the student or examiner can record the student's answers on a separate piece of paper or create and share a Google Form for the student's responses. What I perceive to be the downside to the test, the 30-second wait between the repeated questions, allows the student to listen for key words and confirm their choices. Students look forward to taking both the CIT and Citizenship listening tests because they see these assessments as the final step of preparation to achieving their goal of U.S. Citizenship. Further discussion about incorporating CASAS assessments into the adult education curriculum were presented in an online EL Civics 2020-2021 virtual conference, gathered into a single video playlist on the CASAS YouTube channel.
The final resource that I would like to talk about is the Voxy EnGen Citizenship course. Many distance learning programs, such as Burlington English and Cambridge Ventures, extended their online ESL courses to civics and Citizenship Preparation curriculum content, and adult education coordinators would follow-up with mock interviews. And because Voxy is part of the ProLiteracy organization, I was expecting a digital version of Lynn Weintraub's Citizenship: Ready for the Interview (New Readers Press). However, the core of the Voxy EnGen Citizenship course is a repurposed 2010 USCIS Naturalization Interview and Test video with over 2.7 million views. Voxy has revitalized the vital content delivered by this video by slicing this video in to 30 to 90 second segments, then really drilling deeply into the naturalization content through a variety of challenging listening, rephrasing, and brained-based activities that focus on meaning and understanding. The older content now engages the students as they experience the content anew through different activities. One favorite activity involves in selecting the key word from a choice of similar-sounding and similar-meaning audio files. Parts of the naturalization process and "legalese" involving forms, fees, and responsibilities frequently off-loaded to legal representatives of family members are now much more accessible to the student-applicant because they actually understand the naturalization process.
Figure 1 Welcome to the Voxy EnGen Citizenship course
Figure 2 Voxy EnGen Citizenship Course has 4 modules: Civic Engagement, Application Process, Forms, and Naturalization Interview
Figure 3 Example of a Voxy EnGen Citizenship listening activity
Figure 4 Voxy EnGen Citizenship course: Students become empowered new American citizens
Is the Voxy En-Gen a classic Citizenship preparation course like the others in which student learn N-400 vocabulary and civics content? No. But it is an absolute critical addition to Citizenship Preparation curriculum because it empowers students to take ownership of their naturalization process, positioning the student for future civic participation. Victory!
What to look forward to? USCIS is currently quite busy cleaning out case processing backlogs. Immigrant rights organizations and legislators are looking forward to comprehensive immigration reform. Eventually, USCIS will return to the task of creating a new civics test. Question: How can we construct the USCIS test to reflect the American people? What new questions would you and your students add What would the new USCIS test teach us and the world about ourselves and America?