The Curriculum Makeover Inside Our Community

The Curriculum Makeover Inside Our Community

“When am I ever going to use this?” We’ve probably all heard that from students. To engage today’s tech-savvy kids, many schools are reaching for the latest technologies. While potentially valuable, technology-based “innovation” overlooks something much more basic: the content of the curriculum Creating a “curriculum makeover” does not depend on gadgets or gimmicks. Rather, it is based on one powerful idea: that students’ lives and communities should serve as the basis for inquiry. I’m not talking about one-time service projects or feel-good lessons assessed by the size of the group hug. I’m talking about the rigorous, culturally relevant learning experiences that all students need and deserve. Let’s take a look at the elements of a possible unit. You’ll see that these basic ideas can be adapted for a variety of ages, and that opportunities for meeting standards are (in the words of one superintendent) “jumping off the page.” Consider these guiding questions to drive the inquiry: What social and ecological communities am I a part of? What makes a safe and healthy community? Who makes decisions in our community? Why factors shaped our community’s demographics? What I can do to ensure the story of my community’s future is positive??  These big ideas define content-rich learning outcomes: Cultural, linguistic and ecological diversity contribute to community resilience. Changes in a community can be driven by economic, cultural, and environmental changes. Zoning and land use policies have environmental and social justice implications. Here are just a few sample activities for different disciplines: Social studies: Mapping students’ origins and languages; researching historic settlement patterns in the community; engaging local leaders to shape...
Curriculum and the Power of Story: Empowering students to write a positive future

Curriculum and the Power of Story: Empowering students to write a positive future

This post builds on earlier articles about the curriculum I believe students need to thrive into the future. There is simply not enough room here to describe the stunning units teacher colleagues are designing, so please contact me if you’d like to learn more about this inspiring work and the achievement results. Or, check out our case studies.   To thrive in the 21st (and 22nd) Century, students will need to solve many “grand challenges” ranging from global climate change to local food security. Turning these complex topics into effective learning experiences is daunting at best. How can educators design units and courses that make content accessible and relevant–while also meeting standards? Creative Change has developed a method that uses the concept of story as a powerful metaphor for designing instruction. In this approach (which we call “Inquiry as Narrative”), learning unfolds as a story about real world issues. In the narrative, learners (and other stakeholders) are characters, communities are the setting, and interdisciplinary topics form multiple plot lines. Learners move through the story through a process of engagement, inquiry, decision-making, and action. Through this process, students discover what’s at stake and gain the skills to become “authors” of positive solutions. Here’s how an upper elementary unit on food and health might unfold: Stage 1: The story begins Opening lessons situate learners in the plot and setting. Sample lessons: Through interviews and journaling, students identify foods they eat, like, and have access to. (This opens up questions about food security and social justice.) Students assess the foods they eat based on health and nutritional value. Students use poetry and creative writing to express the food traditions important to their families and cultures. The writing, discussion,...
Beyond Celebrations: Culturally Responsive Teaching and Citizenship in a Multicultural Society

Beyond Celebrations: Culturally Responsive Teaching and Citizenship in a Multicultural Society

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is here and no doubt many schools will observe the day with instruction on diversity and Civil Rights. Perhaps it will be a speaker, a cultural heritage celebration, or posters prominently displayed in the hall. These activities can help students become more aware of race and other dimensions of diversity. But is “awareness” enough to create a more just society—the one envisioned by Dr. King? Realizing this vision requires culturally competent citizens. Renowned multicultural scholar James Banks conceptualizes a “citizen” as an agent of social change – an active, engaged, and caring individual able and willing to advance democratic goals (2001, 2007). To get our kids there, curriculum should help them acquire the knowledge, dispositions, and skills needed to: Participate in personal, social, and civic actions that will help make our nation more democratic and just. Interact positively with people from diverse groups, whether based on ethnicity, race, culture, class, sexual orientation, gender, or other social groups. Develop a commitment to act to make their communities, the nation, and the world moral, civic, and equitable.   How can we make this happen? Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) offers a framework to reach the above goals. CRT uses the cultural knowledge and experiences to make learning more appropriate and effective (Gay, 2010). Becoming a culturally responsive educator involves a range of skills impacting curriculum, pedagogy, and school climate. Here are a few: A culturally responsive educator can: Identify their own biases and recognize their impacts. Challenge the deficit thinking that assumes students of color are less capable and motivated. Identify how biases and deficit narratives manifest...
Democracy Leaves No Room for Colorblindness in the Classroom

Democracy Leaves No Room for Colorblindness in the Classroom

This post continues our #NewTeacherVoices series featuring pre-service teachers. Today’s guest blogger is Clamentia Hall Jr. He is a double major in elementary education and language arts in elementary education. Along with being an advocate for democratic education, Clamentia hopes to create more opportunities for students to experience the arts with his music education & academic support project called My Gift From Above.   Diversity is a fact of life and schools are not exempt. Race is not a negligible concept within the classroom. Teachers cannot afford to take a colorblind approach to teaching because race absolutely does have an impact on educational and economic opportunity. Educators that teach or promote colorblindness counteract the focus of democratic education and standby to the repetition of cultural misrepresentations and stereotypes. A democratic education is one that goes beyond just helping students to develop the skills necessary to be successful. A democratic education fosters self-worth and purpose within the student, teaches active communication skills, and encourages civic and community involvement. A democratic education should allow students to challenge and discuss topics; especially those that directly relate to the demographics of their own school and community. Community involvement gives students the opportunity to discover their possible calling while also developing a purpose for their lives. David Orr, author of Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect, states that “a calling has to do with one’s largest purpose, personhood, deepest values, and the gift one wants to give back to the world.” Educators should give students as many opportunities as possible to have these types of experiences and by practicing colorblindness in...
Teaching the Holidays, Religion, and Common Core: Three strategies to bring it all together

Teaching the Holidays, Religion, and Common Core: Three strategies to bring it all together

Cue singing children:             It’s that time of year . . Christmas is so near . . .   Wait! Can we say that in a public school?! It’s the holidays, a time of year when educators grapple with questions of culture and inclusion. With a diversifying student body, what is appropriate to celebrate? What decorations are allowed? Can the choir sing “Silent Night” in the Christmas—oops—holiday concert? It’s tricky territory. Some schools ban the mention of holidays or religions.  But we can’t learn about other beliefs by pretending they don’t exist. In a diversifying society, schools have an obligation to help students communicate and collaborate across cultures and religions. The holidays can be a great time for building these skills. And—surprise! You do this while meeting Common Core. Here are three strategies: Give students a voice: What do you know about the traditions and celebrations that are important to your students? Provide opportunities for students to speak and write about what matters to them. Student projects can incorporate personal narratives, interviews, oral histories, videos and more. Use these projects to support peer-to-peer teaching, with students sharing their work through exhibits or other venues. This provides multiple opportunities to meet Common Core standards for analyzing texts, presenting information in multiple forms, and speaking and listening. Go ahead—talk about religion. Holidays are a great opportunity to explore the values and beliefs of faiths. Students deepen their understanding of their own faith as they learn about others. Imagine a holiday concert that included Christian, Jewish and secular songs in the spirit of celebrating and learning about a range of traditions. Why...