Strategic Thinking Level Literacy Integration into Criminal Justice Program

Posted on Categories Academic/Technical Skill Integration

At a Glance

Criminal Justice students at Technical College High School (Pickering Campus) participated in a research-based learning guide activity that uses current events to engage them in higher level thinking and “real world” learning.


During the 2014-15 school year, Criminal Justice instructor Jim Sharkey from Technical College High School (TCHS), Pickering Campus developed an extensive research activity for students to complete based upon events that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri in August, 2014. To complete the learning guide activity, titled “Grand Jury Function in the United States—The Ferguson Case/ Grand Jury Function/U.S. Court System,” Mr. Sharkey provided students with a program-specific case study of the Ferguson case, a related learning guide, a graphic organizer that highlights their position on a graph in comparison to other students, and additional leading questions.

Working independently as well as in small groups, students used online resources to review all related reports (including entire court transcripts), testimony and lab reports related to the Ferguson grand jury. The assignment included multiple Level 3 Strategic Thinking activities (Webb’s Depth of Knowledge). For example, once they completed the research, students had to develop, support, and critique their conclusion and present it to their classmates. First, the students presented their conclusions through a Share, Pair activity with a partner. Then, as a culminating experience, students were required to debate their conclusions prior to “final deliberations.” Final deliberations included opinions that were supported with researched facts.

Once the results of their findings were tallied, students were challenged to consider if racial or ethnic consideration weighed in on their decisions. This was completed during a final class discussion. The students spent approximately two days on the project.

Origin / Implementation

Criminal Justice students need to understand multiple complex concepts that are included in their Program of Study, and they need to engage in higher level academic tasks and occupationally purposeful tasks. Drawing upon events in Ferguson, Missouri, Criminal Justice Instructor Jim Sharkey developed this lesson to address these learning needs. The goal of the Ferguson Case Study project was to engage students, reinforce their learning, and provide them with a creative way in which to tackle a challenging research assignment while integrating contemporary issues into the program.

Specifically, Mr. Sharkey used the project as a means to help students understand the complex concept of grand jury deliberations as it relates to the court system section of the POS task list. The project also opened the door to examine and debate issues related to cultural diversity and the sensitive use of force. Furthermore, Mr. Sharkey used the lesson to to introduce students to other related occupational areas within the court system while providing a better understanding of, and appreciation for, the role of the grand jury system within the United States.   

Results / Impact

Although no direct correlation can be measured specific to this lesson because this was the first time it was delivered, NOCTI scores over the past several years have dramatically improved since embedding literacy and numeracy into daily expectations for students. A review of students’ writing samples from when they first entered the program to their present ability shows marked improvement. Observing engaged students read, critique, analyze, and draw conclusions about several thousand pages of grand jury transcripts would seem to indicate that literacy skill improvement is a net result of this type of instructional delivery.

In the future, Mr. Sharkey’s students will debate the penalty phase in a mock trial related to the Boston Marathon Bombing. Students will debate mitigating and aggravating factors presented by the prosecutor and the defense counsel.

Mr. Sharkey reports that current events provide substantial opportunity to review any number of issues in criminal justice. Crimes can be connected to Amendments, use of force issues, as well as issues related to various stages of the courtroom trial process.


Technical College High School – Pickering Campus
Jim Sharkey, Criminal Justice Instructor

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