How do others view you? If you created a box and the outside had words written about how most people perceive you and inside were words describing how you would view yourself, what would that look like?
These were the questions posed by Odle eighth grade social studies teacher, Chelsea Nave, to her students as they embarked on a new approach to social studies by learning different perspectives of historical figures and events.
“This exercise is recognizing that the outer you, the person you project or the person you perhaps show to people, or even how people perceive you, may not be the same as how you actually view yourself,” Nave said.
This new outlook is part of the revamped social studies curriculum being piloted at Odle, Tyee and Highland middle schools that aims for culturally responsive teaching (CRT).
Building the Foundation
The idea for the new curriculum spawned out of the need for students to see themselves in the curriculum. With Bellevue’s diversity, and a focus on euro-centric history books, not all students were able to relate to the curriculum.
To address this, BSD Social Studies Curriculum Developer Patty Shelton, with the support of the district’s Director of Equity Shomari Jones, began to recreate the eighth grade social studies curriculum to be culturally responsive.
“We’re following the same units that we’ve always followed,” said Shelton. “But we’re adding in the voices, we’re adding in the pedagogy that goes along with culturally responsive teaching.”
The intent was to begin the year with students talking about themselves and understanding why they have the perspectives about the United States that they hold true. Students look at themselves and what their beliefs are and then they analyze how history is different from what they’ve learned in the past by looking at multiple voices and perspectives, rather than just a single story.
“I see the goals of the curriculum as providing a new look at historical information and providing a new lens at examining the content,” said Matthew Perlman, Highland eighth grade social studies teacher.
Teachers are responding positively to the new take on the curriculum.
“I feel like it’s more inclusive and I think that’s kind of the keyword for everything we’re doing,” said Tyee eighth grade teacher Maria Pickering. “We’re trying to gain multiple perspectives of our history and at the same time get different voices from our own students, while answering the question what does history have to do with them?”
“A big piece of culturally responsive teaching is building relationships with the students and that probably has been one of the strongest outcomes of doing this work,” said Shelton. “The teachers get to know the students and the students get to know each other really well.”
During the American Revolution unit, Nave’s class studied the founding fathers and examined how Congress looks today. To connect the unit to their own lives, students identified themselves by race, gender, ethnicity etc. and then looked to see if members of Congress identified similarly. Students then self-reflected about the question ‘do people who don’t necessarily identify the same as you have the knowledge or permission to represent you in Congress?’
While students are thinking and learning outside of the standard textbooks, they are recognizing the unique approach to the class and the experience they are gaining from it.
“This class isn’t similar to other U.S. history classes because in our old ones we would just read out of textbooks and do worksheets,” said Maggie Ma, an eighth grader at Tyee said. “But in this class we read books and base our learnings off of books, films, documentaries and two textbooks. It gives you a whole new understanding of everything because in one book it says one thing, and then in another book it says something else.”
Evan Mallick an Odle eighth grader said, “My favorite part of this class is just the different outlook we have. In most social studies classes from the past we’ve kind of done exactly what the textbook says and we study and memorize it. Here we take a different outlook – we share our own opinions and have debates about them. It just gives us more diversity.”
Tyee eighth grader Jack Ketchum also sees value in approach.
“We learn a lot more than other classes because we go through multiple perspectives so if we had a debate within a normal class we would be able to have a lot more evidence and insight on it because we know a lot more details from different people,” he said.
Looking ahead, teachers will continue to revamp the curriculum based on what worked this year and what wasn’t as successful as they had hoped. It is an evolving course and they are adjusting accordingly to best meet the needs of each class.
“One thing that I’m looking forward to that we haven’t done yet, which is hopefully part of our future work is looking at assessments,” said Pickering. “I want to see how we can make those more culturally relevant to match our classroom so there is some student choice in getting out their student voice.”
Teachers recognize the importance of this work and its impact on students.
“If students don’t know their history, or different histories, they can’t be engaged citizens,” said Karla Rich, eighth grade teacher at Tyee. “Ultimately that’s what we’re trying to cultivate – that voice, so they can participate and be active members of society.”