New York Global History Curriculum Revision

New York is currently accepting feedback on proposed revisions to its Global History curriculum.  More information is here.  Below is my submission:

How does your school or district currently organize the two-year Global History and Geography course?

Thematically

If your school uses a chronological framework, where do you end the first unit of study?

N/A

Which of the three options presented to the Board of Regents do you prefer? (Please understand that the new courses will be based on the new frameworks and the Common Core, and the specific content may differ from what is currently taught regardless of how the courses are organized and where the two year course is divided.)  

Thematic Approach

I have taught Global for a number of years at all grade levels in New York City.  I taught the conventional 9th-10th grade Global sequence.  The past four years, I taught one semester Global review courses for seniors still needing the exam.  One year, for a variety of complicated reasons, I taught the entire two-year sequence to 11th graders.  Regardless of those situation, one thing remained common: to satisfy the state curriculum and prepare my students for the Regents exam (where my students’ pass rates have, on average, exceeded the city average by 20 points, culminating with a 100% pass rate last year amongst my seniors who already failed the exam 4-6 times), my students learned a huge amount of shallow and superficial knowledge about way too many topics.  My challenge, then, was to arrange the curriculum in some way that allowed for my students to gain greater understandings about the world and how it works despite the massive pressure for coverage.  To do this, I arranged my curriculum thematically, as it was the only way to work in the higher level thinking skills necessary for college, career, and most importantly, citizenship.

For example, I typically started with a unit on Geography centered around the question, “Is Geography Destiny?”  This unit took us from the Neolithic Revolution to River Valley Civilizations to the Green Revolution, with stops to look at Terrace Farming in China and South America, the West African Gold-Salt Trade, the Irish Potato Famine, and the Columbian Exchange.  Students learned the content they needed, but more importantly, they practiced making connections and judgements which allowed them to apply the lessons learned to the increasing geographic challenges our world faces, and deeply engage with questions of geographic determinism.  As we learned the surface level information, students also read excerpts from Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel to better understand how geographical advantages thousands of years ago still affect lives today.  This unit anticipated the shifts demanded by the Common Core for students to engage with complex texts and rich academic vocabulary at rigorous levels of thought.

Many argue that a certain continuity is lost without a linear progression through history. While this argument carries significant weight in an American History course, which is a number of concurrent stories, the vast majority of Global History denies any such ordering.  The world was simply not particularly connected for most of Global History, with regional developments rarely extending to different parts of the world.  I see an argument for a chronological approach for the past two hundred years, but before that it only serves to confuse students trying to sort insanely large amounts of information.

To satisfy the demands of the Common Core, the Global Regents curriculum would best be arranged thematically.  With that said, it is exponentially more important that the curriculum be streamlined to emphasize more depth of knowledge, even at the expense of some content.  If students are to be reading complex informational texts at the 9-10 level, they will need time to learn how to do so, and this is truly impossible if one teaches everything currently in the state curriculum.  Rather than the state making what, in the end, would have to be largely arbitrary decisions about what to keep and what to eliminate, I would like to propose the curriculum be based on a menu of options within each theme.  Much as English teachers can choose from a range of outstanding, engaging, and enriching literature, schools should have the same freedom to do so with history. This would allow for teachers to privilege higher level thinking, reading rich informational texts, and to teach students the reading and research skills demanded by the Common Core.   The Regents Exam in Global History could easily allow for this by eliminating the multiple choice section, and adding a second Thematic Essay.

Do you currently or have you taught the Global History and Geography?

Yes

How many years have you taught Global History and Geography?

6-10 years

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Using Standards Based Grading in Social Studies (Portfolio #8)

The goal of the portfolio is threefold: to document some of the work I did this past year, to take the time to reflect and learn, and to share with the larger community I am lucky to have through this blog.  I will be posting a portfolio entry a day until it’s done.  There are eight entries, one for each year of my career thus far.  Questions, comments, and thoughts are always greatly appreciated, but are even more so for this.  Previous entries are here.

Other than two angry reactionary pieces that got picked up by the press (why is that the case?), the most read piece I’ve written was Implementing Standards-Based Grading (SBG) in My Social Studies, Finally a year ago.  I’m updating that post here.  

Last year, I went 100% SBG in my senior Social Studies course, which combines government and economics.  All my courses at my new school will also using SBG.

Background

I wrote a whole series (scroll down to the bottom) on my plan to do a form of Standards Based Grading in my history class two years ago, and updated my plan last year.  Before this year, I had three major problems, two of which I knew going in, one which I realized very quickly:

  1. In a survey history course that ends in a high-stakes, content-based exam, it is necessary to track how students do with all content, and one is never going to be able to write standards for, let alone reassess, 200 different pieces of content.
  2. As I wrote two years ago, the history skill standards that I was aware of at the time are not written with performance in mind, and were very difficult to assess.
  3. The problem that emerged immediately was that I hadn’t planned my course with SBG in mind, so the standards I planned on using were not really useful for assessment.  They were also the wrong standards/enduring understandings for what I ended up teaching, because I never went back and made sure the Stage 1 stuff from UbD aligned with the Stage 3 stuff (see this post on that issue)

Changes Made for Last Year

I went in better prepared.  I had a clear list of historical skills standards from the brilliant Daisy Martin, who does the Reading Like a Historian work out of Stanford, which gave me a ton of clarity on what historical skill standards should look like so they can be used to assess student performance.  Two other teachers at Young Writers were also doing SBG, allowing me to plan using SBG from day 1.

For everyone in the pilot, there were three categories of standards: Unit Goals, Essential Skills, and Citizenship.  Somewhat arbitrarily, the units will made up 45% of the grade, Essential Skills were 45%, and Citizenship the remaining 10%. Here is one example of a standard for the year:

LG A: Argument – I can create effective written or oral arguments

SWBAT construct arguments that integrate and evaluate multiple perspectives, explanations, or causations, including counterclaims

SWBAT develop controlling ideas that clearly address prompts or fulfill assignments

SWBAT support their ideas using explanation of evidence

At the start of the year, I had 4-7 Unit Goals for each unit, 12 Essential Skills for the year, and 3 Citizenship Goals.

Unit Goals included skills or content, depending on the unit. For the most part, they were content heavy goals.  For example, the learning goals for my final unit on Financial Planning & Investing were: “Financial Planning: I can make a successful long term financial plan for myself” and “Economic Decision Making: I can analyze economic decisions in terms of risk/reward over short/long terms.”  However, my Project Citizen unit focused on research, with students working on a wide variety of content.  The goals for that unit were: “Governmental Decision Making: I can explain the short and long term effects of governmental decisions,” “Research: I can find reliable and useful information” and “Citing: I can cite information properly.”

The Citizenship Goals remained the same the entire year (Timeliness, Growth, Supportiveness).  I wrote the following last year, and stand by it even stronger now:

I know there are a lot of people using SBG who do not feel these aspects should be part of students’ grades, but I feel like most of these people teach in more privileged communities where most students know how to and are able to do these things.  It is very important for my students to get explicit feedback on these aspects of their performance so they can improve them.  With that said, no one will fail the course because they turn things in late.

I taught seniors last year, and 10% was an appropriate amount for this part of their grade.  In teaching 9th graders next year, I plan to increase it.

Certain large assignments were designated “Must Complete” assignments.  It didn’t matter what students have demonstrated from other assignments, they will not be eligible for credit without completing the large projects for the course.

It’s NYC policy that every student receives a number grade at the end of each semester.  Students received these grades using some form of a Bump & Space grading system.

Changes Made During the Year

I did not make any significant changes to the structure as the year went on, but I learned a very important lesson: you can only really teach to a small handful of skill based performance standards.  Yes, you can assess students for twelve different key skills during the year.  However, the main power of SBG is that it gives both teachers AND students clarity on how they are doing, which informs instruction and opportunities for practice within the class.  Here is the most important lesson I learned this year:

IF YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BE WILLING TO EXPLICITLY TEACH, ASSESS, RETEACH, AND REASSESS A SKILL MULTIPLE TIMES THROUGHOUT THE UNIT OR YEAR, IT SHOULDN’T BE A LEARNING GOAL FOR SBG.

For example, nearly every assignment students did involved creating an argument of some form.  Creating an argument was a foundation of my class, and therefore, it was a good standard. On the other hand, “Oral Communication” while important and something students were doing regularly, was not something I was frequently teaching students how to do, nor assessing, and therefore was not a good standard to have.  This does not mean I should not have had students work to improve their oral communication, it just meant it did not need to be part of the formal feedback I gave students through grades.

I started the year with twelve key skills I planned on assessing throughout the year.  I finished the year using only six (Argument, Using Evidence, Sourcing, Content, Written Organization & Clarity, Complexity, and Audience).

Similarly, my first unit had five learning goals.  All subsequent units had 2-3.

For Next Year

I am in the unique position of creating a school, and the school has certain structures that will enable SBG (we have yet to decide if SBG will be mandatory for all teachers, or just strongly encouraged).

To this end, the school has four Habits of Mind that will be explicitly assessed in every course in the school: Evidence, Connections, Perspective, & Voice.

Each department crafted a list of transfer goals.  For each semester, teachers will focus on 1-3 of these goals.  For the Social Studies department, are goals are:

  1. (a) Students will be able to develop questions that help them understand problems in the world, and (b) be able to find and evaluate sources of information that allow them to answer the question
  2. Students can critically evaluate events, claims, decisions, and issues in their moment based on their knowledge of the past and present
  3. Students will have the tools to participate actively and effectively as informed citizens of a representative democracy.

Therefor, there will be 5-7 Essential Skills for each semester (4 Habits + 1-3 Transfer Goals), which will be relatively uniform within each department.  Each course will then have 2-4 additional goals for each major unit, where appropriate.

Why This Can Work for Me, but Might Not for You

I wrote the following last year:

The most important reason this can work is because there is very limited specific content I worry about my students learning this year.  I am focusing on depth over breath.  While I think SBG could work in a survey history course, I’m not sure there’s  reason for it, given the need for 200-400 learning goals.  The same would be true for a traditional government or economics course.  I am probably doing half of the content that one normally would in these courses, but doing so in much more depth so that my students can really develop the skills they will need as citizens and in order to be successful in college.  I am willing to have my students not be able to explain the entire process for how a bill becomes a law in exchange for them knowing how to research a policy, and to take action based on that research.

I stand by that, and am lucky to create a school where we will not need to worry about it.  With that said, I think the value of SBG for students outweighs the challenges a survey course presents.  The next time I teach a survey course, I will add “Content Knowledge” to the categories of Essential Skills, Unit Goals, and Citizenship.  This category will use more traditional grading, and will count for 20-40% of a students’ grade.

What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

I read this every Fourth.  You should too.  Frederick Douglass captured so much of the essence of America in this speech from 160 years ago. May America still be young:

This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. I am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands. According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood. I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon. The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny?…

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Student Engagement Strategy: Make Learning Public

I’ve written a few times about the various social studies fairs I have held over the years (“National History Day: The Best Thing I Do” and “My Students Solve the World’s Problems”).  Over at Education Week, I write about the formula that makes these events successful:

I’ve led an annual social studies fair for six years now. These events bring out my students’ best efforts and showcase their authentic intellectual work. Here are my suggestions for ensuring that students get the most out of these public displays of learning.

• Give students maximum choice of topics.

Whenever possible, I let my students choose their own research topics—within limits. When I taught government this year, for example, students chose a public policy issue they wanted to learn about. And when I’ve coordinated with National History Day, students chose any topic connected to its annual theme, as long as we had previously studied the topic in class.

I always tell my students that selecting a topic is the most important decision they make for a major project. Students who find topics they are genuinely interested in have transformative experiences; others wind up doing just another class project. We spend a full day in class brainstorming subjects and exploring possibilities. Once students decide on a topic, they must prove to me in writing that they care about it….

Click here to read the whole piece. 

How We Can Teach Social Studies More Effectively

I was humbled and honored when Larry Ferlazzo sent me an email a couple of months ago to answer one of the questions for the wonderful teacher advice column he does at Education Week.  I’m even more humbled to be featured in a column with Bill Bigelow, curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools magazine, and co-director of the Zinn Education Project, whose work I have long admired.  The question for this week is, “What’s the best advice you can give to Social Studies teachers who want to be more effective?”  An excerpt from my response:

The best advice I can give Social Studies teachers who want to be more effective is to remember that we teach students, not content.

While standards may dictate that students be able to explain the Green Revolution, the human beings in our classes demand that the information we help them learn also help them develop as people. Students may enter our rooms asking, “when am I ever going to need use this information?” We need to help them leave wondering, “what lessons can I learn from the past to help myself and our society make better decisions in the future?” A study of the Green Revolution, then, becomes a lesson in how a seemingly wonderful solution to problem (hunger) can have unintended consequences that are potentially far more catastrophic (overpopulation, increased reliance on polluting fossil fuels). By focusing on transferable goals, students will not only be more engaged, but will better remember and understand the content.

The rest is here.  Part two and three to come, and they’re still looking for answers, so please contribute your suggestions!

How NY is Screwing Up the Common Core

Previously, I’ve explained why I like what the Common Core does for Social Studies learning and teaching.  My latest piece for the New York Times’ Schoolbook takes on the implementation of the new standards:

Teachers who focus on content and test-prep are sadly doing all that is necessary to prepare students for the exam. A recent study by Gabriel Reich of Virginia Commonwealth University found that the Global Regents Exam does not call for any historical thinking skills, but rather knowledge of history content, basic literacy and “test-wiseness.”

The history Regents exams do not ask students to do anything that meets the overwhelming majority of the new Common Core standards.

It is particularly troubling then to find that the state does not seem to have a concrete plan in place to change the history regents exams.

Please read the whole piece, and add your comments here or there.

 

What the Common Core Means for History Learning & Teaching

I’m part of a roundtable on teachinghistory.org on the question, “What do the Common Core State Standards mean for history teaching and learning?”  My take:

I am pretty sure I am supposed to be against the Common Core Standards…[but they] offer us an opportunity to broaden the conception of our discipline from one that focuses on helping students acquire an established body of knowledge to one that emphasizes the historical thinking skills that are central to constructing this knowledge. What the standards do in a simple and elegant fashion is clearly articulate the disciplinary skills necessary not only for reaching the relatively low bar of “college and career readiness,” but also for the much greater calling of creating an informed and critical citizenry.

Read the rest of mine here, and the whole series of insightful posts here.

3 Ways to Honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Have Your Students Participate in the Manning Marable “Along the Color Line” Speech Contest
While there is more to the contest than just writing about King, one of the suggested lessons focuses on King’s legacy, and Dr. Marable’s view of it.  The King lesson is here, and full contest information and suggested lesson plans are here.

Remember King’s Reality
Last Martin Luther King Day, I wrote about four lessons students, and their teachers, can learn about Dr. King that challenge common misconceptions about his life and work:

  • Sometimes, history happens by accident
  • King dreamed of a whole lot more than white and black boys and girls joining hands
  • King fought against terrorists
  • King was a human being, with flaws
Learn about the People Who Made King’s Work Possible, and Lessons we Can Learn From Them
My most recent article on Education Week Teacher tells the story of the Septima Clark and Bernice Robinson, whose work became the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement.

Teaching World-Changers: Lessons From the Civil Rights Movement

Seven years ago I fell in love with two wonderful woman named Bernice Robinson and Septima Clark, who founded the Citizenship Education Program, the little known backbone of the Civil Rights Movement.  Without these two, I am certain we would not be celebrating Martin Luther King Day this Monday.  We in education have much to learn from them:

The primary goal of the Citizenship Education Program was to teach and develop first-class citizens. And every aspect of the program was grounded in this goal—from teacher training sessions to day-to-day practices to the rhetoric of staff correspondence. Dozens of adult literacy programs had targeted African-Americans in the South—but none were as successful as the CEP, because too many narrowly focused on the skill of literacy, rather than its application in citizenship.

In my opinion, we have made a similar mistake with skill-based competency testing under No Child Left Behind. A curriculum and testing regimen that only focuses on skill development outside of meaningful and relevant application cannot prepare students and communities for 21st-century success. I hope that with the implementation of the Common Core standards, we will not make the same mistake again. As teachers, we need to develop a clear sense of our own purpose—and make every effort to ensure that how we teach each day aligns with that purpose.

Read the rest at Education Week Teacher. It’s an honor to share part of their story.

World History for All of Us

Last year, I found myself teaching a Global History course for the fourth time in my career.  Like many history teachers in the US, most of my historical training had focused on American history, and it was my passion for it that led me to become a Social Studies teacher in the first place.  The first time in my life that I was in a classroom learning about Ancient Greece and Rome was when I was teaching it as a student teacher, in East Greenwich, RI. There, the course was still “Western Civilization”. I later taught “World History 1” in Virginia (Beginning of Time -> Renaissance), and “Global History 3/4” in New York (Renaissance -> Now).  What was evident to me in all courses was that a dominant narrative of the progress of western civilization was the backbone of the course: River Valley -> Ancient Greece & Rome -> Middle/Dark Ages -> Renaissance/Exploration/Scientific Revolution -> Enlightenment/Atlantic Revolutions -> Modernity.  The Rhode Island curriculum basically took that as the story, while Virginia and New York used that to organize chronological periods, then adding in units about other portions of the world, often leading to illogical breaks in the stories of other regions, particularly China.  I realized there was something problematic about this conception of World History, but did not have the vocabulary or knowledge to articulate anything more than “this seems Eurocentric.”

Thanks to a recommendation in the October issue of Social Education, however, I now have that language.  Ross Dunn’s article, “The Two World Histories” is the most important piece I’ve read about teaching World History, and needs to be required reading for anyone who teaches the subject.  It clearly articulates two camps on World History:

  • World History A: This is the home of most current scholarship on World History, where the focus is on major trends, patterns, and changes on a global scale.
  • World History B: This is the home of both conservative Wester Civilization preservationists and those, like my least-thoughtful self, who want to see more attention paid to all cultures, particularly those that are the heritage of the students I teach.  This is history as the history of civilizations, cultures, nations.

Nearly all political argument around history, and therefore the development of all state standards, occurs in domain B.  The New York Global curriculum and its Regents exam are no exception.  Of the 85 terms that are assessed most frequently in the Multiple Choice portion of the exam, 75 represent people, places, periods, achievements, or events that take place within specific regional or national histories.

Dunn argues that what is needed instead is:

to study the history of humankind writ large, recognizing that the Earth is a “place” whose inhabitants have a shared history. To be sure, important developments have taken place within the confines of continents, regions, societies, and nations, but those ver-changing human aggregates remains parts of the globe in all its roundness.

He recommends the AP World History and World History For Us All curriculums as good models of World History A, as well as the National Standards for History.  It’s also clear though, for those like myself without a strong background in World History, that further reading and professional development is needed.  Though I didn’t fully realize until now why I found it so insightful, I would recommend World History Connected as a good place to start reading.

I hope you will take the time to read the article in its entirety and let me know what you think about it in the comments.