Spotlight on Schools

For the last two years, UCBHSSP academic coordinator Devin Hess and UCBHSSP Co-Director Phyllis Goldsmith have been leading a cross-district collaboration among the secondary social studies teachers in the San Jose Unified School District. During the initial phase, teachers were introduced to literacy strategies first through paper-based and then web-based platforms. Supporting the implementation of these new ideas was a group of teacher-leaders, who agreed to serve as early adopters, table facilitators at district-wide programming, and communicators about site-based needs. With this groundwork laid, Hess and Goldsmith, in conversation with district leadership and the teacher advisory team, placed the new History-Social Science Framework at the center of their work for the 2016-2017 year.

To help move this adoption forward, the San Jose USD created a “History Framework Advisory Committee, a subgroup of the teacher leaders.” The goal of the committee is to craft model units and lessons aligned to the new Framework and to support their peers in making the required transition. In June, this motivated and engaged group of teachers spent three days collaborating with their grade-level peers as they immersed themselves in exploring the Framework and revising curriculum. The first session encouraged teachers to reflect on course themes as they crafted course-long questions, the next session focused on integrating unit questions and content and they started working on aligned lesson plans in the final session

One teacher commented on the approach:

At first it seemed daunting, yet as we worked together it made more sense and was not as daunting. The scaffolding really did help...they were like a flashlight shone in a dark room. Rather than groping for what to include and how it fits, the scaffolding helped lay out a step by step process where each successive step built a sense of mastery and ownership.

Another teacher remarked on the increased sense of connection she began to see between the goals of the course, a unit, and a lesson as a result of the process:

Inquiry-based learning is focusing more on the important skills that students need and less on the minute details… By creating a course-level question and then constantly looking back to my unit and lesson questions to ensure they were aligned with the focus of the course, I was better able to keep myself focused on my overall goal and what I wanted students to come away with.

Though refining questions, de-emphasizing topics, and developing new lessons all require dedicated focus and planning time, the teachers came to understand that a new framework did not mean starting from scratch. Often the shift meant simply adding or changing a lesson or unit inquiry question -- ‘re-aligning’ and not ‘re-designing’ their course. Having worked with UC Berkeley for the last two years, several teachers explained how the framework shifted - but didn’t radically change - their approach to teaching:

In early August, members of the History Framework Advisory Committee shared their experience, learning, and initial model lessons with the entire district. They impressed upon their colleagues that this shift is a process, even sharing snapshots of their own progression and modeling a willingness to try and test new ideas. With a series of regular, full-day work sessions ahead, the San Jose Framework Advisory Committee aims to finish the academic year with a strong set of classroom-tested, Framework-aligned curricular materials that can support their colleagues across the district -- and the state.