In the New Haven Public Schools, the study of social studies and history is vital for students because it provides a means of understanding ourselves and our society in relation to human conditions over time. Real historical understanding requires students to acquire historical thinking skills; to understand and deal with change; to ask questions and locate evidence to support answers; to go beyond the textbook to examine historical records; to compare multiple points of view and gain historical perspective. This study will guide students through decision-making situations and processes while providing a wide range of examples and models of human behavior and achievement.
The New Haven Social Studies curriculum was developed by teams of teachers from across the district working together to determine essential content and skills as well as ‘big ideas’ for historical study – essential questions that raise other important questions, have multiple responses, and serve as guidelines for the curriculum. The “curriculum” ensures that instruction is aligned with standards and assessments by incorporating an inquiry-based approach with research-based instructional strategies drawn from Robert Marzano’s Classroom Instruction that Works (2003). Grade specific teacher teams developed significant tasks aligned with an essential or ‘power’ standard for each teaching unit so that each student across the district would have an equal opportunity to learn.
In developing these tasks and the accompanying instructional strategies and assessments, the curriculum teams were mindful that the individual teacher is the most powerful influence on student learning. Flexibility remains within each unit so that teachers can continue to structure learning and differentiate instruction within a standards based framework. The idea of individual teacher influence on student learning of topic breath and depth is supported by only 65% of a teacher’s time being allotted to the teaching of “marking period” specific significant tasks. This leaves 35% of the teaching and learning time available for teacher-student interest and needs to expand upon and make connections with the scope of study. Teachers are engaged in workshops and scheduled discussion on the use of “interdisciplinary activities”. The social studies curriculum is a living document, designed to respond to the insight and appraisal of its practitioners. Our educational community will grow and our students will succeed if we plan, instruct, assess and reflect on the new curriculum and engage in its evolution together.