History and Social Science
X. Using the History and Social Science
Curriculum Framework in Schools
A curriculum framework is not a curriculum. It is a guide to the design of curricula for schools framed in terms of Core Knowledge in subject areas or disciplines, Learning Standards describing reasonable expectations for student learning in the grade spans, and intellectual skills students must acquire to become independent learners.
The design of curriculum and the selection of patterns of instruction and methods of teaching necessarily rest with schools and their teachers. By working together and with partners in higher education, they can design and implement programs of study for all their students that are coherent from grade to grade-free of useless repetition, but laced with provisions for progressively deeper and more sophisticated study of subject matter.
Teachers at different grade levels need to know what they may expect of one another, what their colleagues in different grades will try to accomplish with their students in terms of Core Knowledge and skills of reasoning and research. No school can succeed where teacher expectations of each other remain unclear.
By grades 3, 4, and 5, teachers should have the following expectations for students:
By the end of grade 3, students should listen with attention, speak out clearly, write in readable script, do basic arithmetic, read for understanding and memory, and put together simple timelines, charts, and maps.
By the end of grade 4, students should know the keyboards and basic functions of word processors; they should use common reference works such as dictionaries, encyclopedia, atlases, and almanacs; they should be starting to take notes on their reading in biographical and literary works significant to their studies.
By the end of grade 5, students should be competent in their use of the library and word processor, able to collect and organize information relevant to topics assigned in the classroom and to write coherent paragraphs and short essays on such topics. They should distinguish between, and know how to use, primary and secondary sources. They should consult manuals on English composition. They should be able to construct substantial timelines, charts, graphs, tables, and maps, and append explanations in their own words.
With such clear expectations, teachers can discern specific difficulties individual students are having and intervene early with extra instruction, so that the student's later schooling does not decline into repeated remediation and feelings of futility.
Obviously, students do not all mature and develop at the same pace-one of the reasons teachers need a strong repertoire of instructional methods-and few students can make good progress without instruction, guidance, and encouragement at home. Teachers and the parents of their students need to share clear and explicit mutual expectations for student homework and student conduct at school. Schools do not bring students to solid levels of accomplishment in a vacuum.
A. Designing PreK-12 Curriculum
Every curriculum inevitably omits much important subject matter. The challenge of curriculum design is not to cover everything worth studying. It is rather, first, to avoid spending any time on the inconsequential and trivial; and, second, to select material for inclusion that is directly relevant to the fundamental aims of study in history and social science. The following questions can serve as guideposts for teachers working together to design a coherent PreK-12 curriculum:
- does study of the topic contribute to any part of the goals expressed in the framework's Core Concept?
- does the choice of topics for a grade level strengthen reflective thinking and research skills?
- Is this choice consistent with the Core Knowledge and skills listed for the grade span?
- Is this choice central to one or more of the Strands?
- does it directly address one or more of the Learning Standards?
- does it present facts and explain concepts in a matrix of history and social science?
- Is it better than others might be in explaining insights of a given social science?
- does it build upon and deepen, but not needlessly repeat, prior learning?
- Can it reinforce, or be enriched by, concurrent study of the arts and literature, mathematics, languages, or science and technology?
- does it help students address continuing themes and questions across the grades?
B. Designing and Teaching Individual Courses
Teachers may find it helpful to ask the following questions as they work together on the structure and content of individual courses, grade by grade:
- Is the course syllabus entirely clear about subject matter content to be learned, skills to be acquired?
- does the syllabus enable the teacher to give students a succinct initial overview of the course? To describe straightforwardly what is expected of students?
- does the syllabus include worthwhile homework assignments? Does it enable in-class exercises and examinations that address both content and skills? Does it make provision for students to write second and third drafts of their papers?
- does the course take advantage of opportunities for alliance with courses and teachers in other subjects, such as English Language Arts?
- Is the promised course coverage likely to be achieved in the teaching hours and homework time available?
- Has the selection of what to teach been shaped in light of content in earlier courses and the likely content of courses to follow?
- does the course schedule allow for needed review of critical ideas, events, and institutions introduced in earlier courses?
- Are course topics chosen and shaped so that breadth of coverage permits treatment of selected topics in real depth?
- Do the topics touch upon continuing themes and questions to be carried across grades?
- Has it been decided which topics are worth extended treatment and which may be touched upon more briefly? Which lend themselves to student inquiry, to use of primary sources, and which to other pedagogical approaches?
A Note on Textbooks. It is now commonplace that teaching exclusively from a textbook is not enough; other materials are indispensable. But it is equally clear, though not yet commonplace, that a well-written, balanced, and inclusive textbook gives students a frame within which to locate particular questions, topics, personalities, and episodes that teachers choose to stress. A textbook can serve as a time and story line students can carry with them and can be a useful reference. When used in conjunction with other sources, textbooks can help students to gain perspective, acquire knowledge, and refine their intellectual powers.
Choosing Pedagogical Approaches. Teachers should have the authority to choose and vary their methods of instruction and pedagogical approaches. To choose wisely-in light of the students at hand and of the content knowledge and skills to be acquired or refined, rather than because of idiosyncratic teacher preferences-teachers need to have genuine command of artistry in teaching.
In practice, one teacher may be particularly skillful at leading discussion, another at lecture, a third at coaching, a fourth at providing critical but encouraging commentary on student work; one may be particularly deft in teaching reading, another inspiring because of passionate love of the subject, a third splendid in teaching debate because especially skillful in logic and argumentation; one may be most at home in a science laboratory, still another especially deft in helping students learn to memorize and dramatize. But it is not enough for teachers to be skillful in only one or two approaches.
In the arts of teaching, as elsewhere, teachers need to learn from one another. Released time should be provided for teachers to attend classes of other teachers who are distinguished by their accomplishments, to learn from them how to command and apply different pedagogical approaches effectively. Obviously, teachers must also have attained the Core Knowledge and skills of reasoning, reflection, and research they expect their students to learn.
Once a teacher has acquired a rich pedagogical repertoire, he or she can make appropriate changes of pace and method, thereby avoiding stultifying overuse of any particular method and reducing the risk of student boredom and distraction. Combining a pedagogical repertoire with Core Knowledge and reasoning skills, a teacher can move adeptly among the subject areas and Study Strands, demonstrating interconnectedness and inviting thoughtful initiatives by students. In the work of such teachers with students and colleagues, more than in any state-developed curriculum framework, a curriculum and the courses in it come to life.
Curriculum and course planning and implementation, as well as teaching, aim above all at high-quality educational opportunity and expectations and solid student achievement. Teachers tell how well students are learning by daily observation; review of assigned classroom work and homework, including writing and rewriting, quizzes, examinations; and by portfolios that disclose change and progress over time-and sometimes inspire ongoing or renewed effort. Every good teacher knows that although all student work can be graded, some assessment can be quantified, and some is qualitative. Misspellings, grammatical mistakes, logical errors, and mistakes of simple fact can be counted.
But beyond counting, it requires good literary judgment and taste to appreciate the difference between a student essay that is free of such errors and a student essay that is well organized, adds depth and complexity, and that reaches to the eloquent turn of phrase and the insightful choice of vocabulary. Leading students to the highest levels of achievement depends on a teacher's refined sense of quality as well as a clear sense of the relevance of the quantifiable.
The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System examinations for grades 4, 8, and 10 are to be based on the Core Knowledge, Learning Standards, and skills of the curriculum frameworks in the subject areas. Designing curricula and courses, and teaching students, with a focus on the Core Knowledge, Learning Standards, and skills of the frameworks-some of them quantifiable and some not-should therefore both contribute to student progress and prepare students for the state assessments. If curricula across grades and grade spans, course syllabi, and teaching are informed by the frameworks, the state assessments should complement teaching and learning and provide valuable information to teachers, parents, schools, and citizens of the Commonwealth.