Differentiating Instruction on the Deficit Panel: A Timeline and Graphics

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November 16, 2011

The New York Times has put together an interactive timeline of the significant events related to the federal budget talks preceding and succeeding the creation of the deficit panel.  This timeline gives a short summary of what happened on the day marked, a link to a complete article published on that day, and a chart or other visual representation of that particular day’s events or proposals.  This timeline lends itself to a number of lessons and in-class activities that will engage different types of learners.

Explaining the Timeline

The timeline begins at the bottom of the website on July 21 and then progresses to the deficit panel’s deadline: November 23.  Below is a short summary of the first and last point on the timeline. These summaries are provided in order to demonstrate how the timeline provides information:

On July 21, President Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner were working to complete a budget plan that would reduce the deficit by $3 trillion over ten years.  The graphic below the date details three alternative plans proposed to Congress: the McConnell-Reid Outline, the ‘Gang of 6’ Plan, and the Cut, Cap, and Balance Plan.  This chart provides a short summary and comparison of the three plans.

On November 23, the committee must present its plan to cut the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years.  If the committee does not agree on a plan, automatic cuts will begin. Below the short explanation is a visual representation of the automatic cuts by area of the budget (defense, non-defense discretionary, nonexempt mandatory, Medicare, and exempt entitlements).  Each of these areas of the budget is explained further under its respective image.

Bringing the Timeline into Your Classroom

This timeline could be incorporated into your classroom in a number of ways.  One way would be to provide students with both the image presented on the day of the timeline and the complete article linked to that day.  While both provide similar information, each caters to a different type of learner.

As an activity, students can create a physical timeline on the ground of the classroom. On each point, there will be both a short summary and a visual/graphic summary.  Students may be split up into groups and asked to work on one date of the timeline using the information provided for that date.  Once the students have completed their own parts, they can put the timeline on the ground in order and take turns walking through it, engaging the students physically as well as intellectually.  As they walk through the timeline, they should read each summary and observe the image or chart connected to that day.

For homework, students may be asked to consider the part of the timeline they worked on relative to the entire chart: why did the New York Times believe that the day on which you worked was so important for understanding the progression of the government’s dealings on the deficit?  Would you have presented the information in the same way? Why or why not?

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    This type of differentiated instruction which caters to various learning styles should be included in all teachers’ guides for all disciplines. I certainly would have appreciated and used them during my years in the classroom. Thank you for this thoughtful lesson plan.

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