The following post is the second in a series about Kyle Jenkins’ project to create curriculum around the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project that can be used in the high school classroom.
I now find myself early on in the project, but quite far into the school year for Loyola. By the middle of the first semester (or end of the first quarter, if that makes more sense), I am still plowing through secondary sources and background information for this project. This isn’t to say I haven’t done other work as well. I just did too much other work. See, after spending three years creating lesson plans, writing history essays, and essentially living in the library during finals week, I thought I had this project in the bag, as it were. But as my last post noted, this subject is entirely new to me. So when I began looking at diaries of immigrants and objects from their journey, I felt completely lost. Who even is this? What were they talking about? Why were they talking about it? All questions I should have asked and answered in the beginning stages of my research. Thankfully, I have managed to get back on the right track, and I am diligently creating rough outlines for each facet of urban Catholic life to be covered in this project. Ambition drove me to take on this challenge, and by golly I won’t let it sink me.
This was a harsh lesson for me to learn, and oddly enough, one that students who engage with the material will probably have to learn as well. In this beautiful Age of Google, it is all too easy to forget to check if one’s source is reliable, or worth looking through, or even related to your topic at hand from reading a brief one-and-a-half blurb found beneath a hyperlink. The undercurrent of library research methods in these lesson plans will hopefully address that problem head on. It is better to get practice researching reliable sources now than the night before a massive essay is due (again, from personal experience, but that’s a story for another blog post).
I have also experienced a distinct change in my researching procedure. While taking notes, I now focus less on how certain facts or sections would fit into an essay, and more on what kind of lessons could help others best learn those facts. Early in my collegiate career it seemed easy. “Just let kids read the paper, and then discuss it! How hard can that be?” In a perfect world, yes, it would be just that easy. But when you need to account for different reading levels, worksheets to guide learning, relevance to tests (both school-wide, state-wide, and national), what standards it would fulfill, and even interest levels, it becomes a lot less easy. So what’s a history/education double major to do? Easy! Follow the framework.
The emergence of Common Core State Standards, no matter how controversial, represent a change in the basic process of planning for educators. Where before, they may have been required to devote X amount of time on Y subject, now they are held accountable for historical skills. They run the gamut of sophistication; they are as complex as proper primary/secondary source analysis, and as simple as knowing word definitions in context. And yes, U.S. History teachers are all probably going to teach Christopher Columbus, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, and World War II. But to what extent they cover each facet, or whether they place more emphasis on battles or homelife is up to the teacher. And rightfully so! It focuses more on knowledge of students in their classroom and less on adhering to uniform goals, when it’s known full-well that students aren’t uniform.
The Common Core doesn’t provide a framework of how to meet said standards. Everyone wants students to be able to churn out research papers and presentations like Facebook posts, but how to get from point A to point B can be quite confusing. Many methods exist, but the one I prefer, and will use for this project, is the C3 Framework. Developed in 2010 by a wide array of social studies teachers, professionals, and state leaders, it highlights the importance of College, Career, and Civic-minded education. It starts by forcing students to ask questions about the content and topics at hand, or tackling teacher-developed question. Wherever they come from, they represent the crux of the issue, and by answering it one can understand some of the complexities inherent with the subject matter. Much like Common Core standards, they can be as simple as “Was the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement a success?” or as complex as “Why are there rules?”
By then focusing on one or multiple subjects within the social sciences, namely economics, geography, civics, and/or history, teachers can plan units that slowly build up content knowledge and skills in a way that answers that question. Anyone can learn who George Washington was, but it takes careful planning to ask and answer whether or not his American Revolution was actually revolutionary. And by ending with a tangible product, either with a report that summarizes a student’s answer and own spin on the question, or a move to physically act and get involved in an ongoing version of the issue (say through a unit on immigration), the lesson reaches a full conclusion. The student’s experience isn’t one of rote memorization, but rather full involvement with the subject matter. These “inquiry arcs,” as the C3 Framework calls them, are exactly the kind of classroom I want to run as a teacher, and I feel are exactly the kind of framework that will best inspire students to learn more about this subject matter.
Moving forward I plan on building up the project in a number of different ways. First and foremost I will organize the sources with full citations and brief abstracts to be used by anyone looking for a killer resource in class. Next, for the teacher interested in specific topics related to nineteenth-century Catholic Chicago, I will be developing around 3-5 lessons around such lessons as “Processes of Immigration,” “School Debates,” “Urban Life,” and others. Finally, I will construct an inquiry arc from the various topic lessons. Students will have a goal in mind, a question to spark their interest, and the sources to get them there. Next on my list is to finish planning those topic lesson plans. See ya in a week!
Want to learn more?
If you want to read more from the educational planning materials in this blog post, there are a number of resources you can access. The Common Core State Standards for History can be found at this website, broken into 9th/10th grade standards and 11th/ 12th grade standards. Here you can find the skills that students are supposed to have at particular benchmarks, and the focus of teachers when planning lessons, units, and the like. The C3 Framework Method can be downloaded and viewed as a PDF here, which details one of a number of methods teachers use for structuring unit plans. And if you want a more in-depth look at pedagogy itself, I highly recommend Jack Zevin’s book Social Studies for the Twenty-First Century: Methods and Materials for Teaching in Middle and Secondary Schools (New York: Routledge, 2007). The first two chapters in particular deal with the struggles of defining social studies and the benefits of cross-disciplinary activities.