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Reframing USCIS: Supplementing an American Citizenship Education Curriculum with Film

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

The United States’ Naturalization Test is a non-standardized test that requires officers of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Office to assess a candidate’s English ability and knowledge of U.S. Civics. To assess a candidate’s English ability, the USCIS officers can ask any clarifying questions from the information provided by the candidate in their N-400 Form Application for Naturalization. To assess a candidate’s Civics knowledge, on the other hand, the officer may select up to 10 questions from the office’s 100 published Civics Questions. This non-standardized exam format favors memorization of as many key terms, concepts, and dates as possible, as students can never be sure of the questions they will be asked. This exam format problematizes learning for EL students who may memorize the terms but not understand the concepts. This thesis identified discussions of films that deal with important civics concepts as a potential tool to help EL students engage with civics concepts beyond memorization. This thesis introduced the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance into the curriculum of an adult Civics and ESL class to facilitate a discussion around the concepts of elections, representatives, and statehood. In this context, film was a potential, but imperfect tool. Students were able to connect the visual memory of what they had seen in the film with their understandings of Civics concepts, despite their language barriers. However, a clear purpose, viewing guide, and guided discussion are needed in future iterations to ensure that students engage with the concepts outlined and with complicated presentations of other topics. Furthermore, the format of the test remains a concern, as students were hesitant to connect with the film when they felt it was a distraction from their memorization exercises.

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