What We Want

Our goal as teachers is to help students learn to make sense of our shared situations in our society via meaningful social studies instruction that focuses on powerful inquiry, deep consideration of crucial issues, skill and habit building, and authentic civic engagement.

Our current mission is to spark an effort to reconceive the laundry list approach to social studies standards provided by the current draft NYS Social Studies Framework and thereby to enable meaningful social studies in New York.

Our strategy is to mount a public campaign that gathers support to begin again on social studies standards in NY state – either via radical revision of the framework, the Regents rejecting the proposed framework, or through the construction of a parallel teacher-led Social Studies standards framework.

We seek three main qualities in any adopted curricular framework:

  1. The framework should emphasize inquiry and historical thinking, not prescribed answers.
  2. The framework should emphasize transformative depth to complement necessary breadth.
  3. The framework should provide the freedom for school communities to choose from a menu of paths and emphases to best serve the particular needs of their students.

3 thoughts on “What We Want

  1. In response to all of the recent debates over changing the Global History curriculum and possibly reducing the amount of time spent on ancient civilizations, I would like to respond:

    There is no reason why the study of ancient civilizations should be marginalized or diminished in any way. The birth of the early river valley civilizations and classical civilizations of Europe are some of the most interesting units to teach, as well as to learn from the student perspective. From my 5+ years experience of teaching Global History, including 4 years as a global unit 1 (9th grade) teacher, I can attest that many of my students were more fascinated and genuinely interested in the ancient civilizations, as opposed to the level of interest in certain topics during the unit 2 course of study. In addition, the ancient civilizations (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus Valley, China, Greece, Rome, Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire, African kingdoms, Japan, and Mesoamerica) serve as the basis of our modern civilizations today. Our laws, customs, languages, religions, cultural and political relationships have strong foundations in the ancient civilizations. I strongly believe that the scope and sequence of Global History is fine the way it is now. The problem is not with the curriculum. The problem, however, is two-fold:

    1) There are no genuine training programs for high school teachers of this subject. Teachers in Global history are often left on their own to figure it out, which is exactly the way my first years of teaching global were. The way that I became successful at teaching Global is by taking a painstaking look at the curriculum, and creating an air-tight, easy-to-understand chronological curriculum. Teachers are given “Regents books” to prepare for the exam, but often I have found that these Regents books only contain about 90% of the information on the actual exams. The curriculum is also extremely difficult for students with weak reading or writing skills, or for students who have difficulty with the English language. It is a very dense, difficult curriculum with multicultural vocabulary words, and unless the teachers are trained by master teachers in the subject on how to approach their scope, sequence and unit-planning skills, the probability of their frustration and abandonment of the teaching profession in its’ entirety are high.

    It is a sink-or-swim environment; some teachers adapt and survive, and some are pushed out by leadership pressures to produce instant results, difficult students who are years behind grade level in reading, writing and math skills, or frustration with unit and lesson planning. Teachers are told to do creative, student-driven projects and to develop students debating and speaking skills, but none of these things actually correlate to what students are asked to do on the Regents exam. As a result, teachers plan curriculums that they think the State authorities want them to produce (based on the continually changing standards and guidelines), only to get frustrated when their students continually fail the end-of-year Regents.

    Teachers need to be trained (before they enter the classroom) by experienced teachers in that subject who have achieved high pass rates for their students on recent past Regents exams. I know that if I had had such an experience, I would have mastered the curriculum and scope and sequence much sooner than I was able to as a teacher left alone in my classroom with a state test in one hand and a Regents Prep book in the other for the first few years of my teaching career. Teachers need to feel confident that the curriculum they are teaching will both) be engaging, interesting and thought-provoking for their students and 2) still achieve great results on the end-of-course Regents exam. Only teachers with great experience in doing this can properly train struggling new teachers who are left alone at figuring out how to do either of those things with the curriculum they are trying to develop.

    2) The actual Regents exam that is produced by the paid consultants is often vastly unfair, which is why the exam has such a high fail rate (in my opinion). From test-to-test, the questions can vary widely and often bizarrely. Some exams will have 7-8 questions related to China; some will have none. Some will have 4 questions on World War II; some will have none. Often times, questions focus on minute details of events or substitute difficult synonyms that are not commonly used for more widely known vocab words that teachers are told to teach their students. Basically, the test’s structure is designed to ensure that student with lower-functioning skills are doomed to constantly fail it.

    The test should ensure a question balance of all the important topics in Global and should not be heavily biased with minuscule information or weighted for or against different topics. The test also should not use uncommon synonyms and rarely taught phrases in its multiple-choice questions. Regarding the DBQs and essays, I have found that those are generally fairer, but sometimes they also use very difficult words in the texts that may have stopped being used in our modern language hundreds of years ago, which also leads to confusions and failures for the students. The essay topics are generally fair, but once again, difficult synonyms and phrasing remain a frustrating obstacle. An example of this is the last Regents, from January 2013. The thematic essay topic was “Change – Collapse of Governments.” This topic on past Regents has always been referred to as “Political Change (Revolutions) ” and this is how most teachers, including myself, have always taught this topic during their courses. In addition, the suggested topics were unfairly worded, such as the example in the suggestions for writing section: “collapse of the Nationalist government in China (Guomindang)” instead of simply, “the Chinese Revolution,” which is a more logical and well-known way to describe this event.

    The Board of Regents needs to determine a certain number of guidelines for the way they word questions and essays, as well as the amount and type of multiple-choice questions on all topics. It is simply not fair to create tests that seem inherently designed (if you ask many history teachers) to ensure student confusion, frustration, and all too often, repeated failure. In the NFL, if the playbook from game to game changes, the players will not know how to perform. The same goes for state tests and students.

    - Joshua Paterno (Global History Teacher, NYC)

  2. I agree with many of your points but the scope of the global regents is really the problem. 10th grade teachers have to race through their curriculum in order to leave a month or so to review the 9th grade material. We are not teaching so much as we are test prepping. That isn’t why I became an educator.

  3. I agree with the comment above. Teachers who have to teach to the Regents tests are not educating students effectively. Teaching to the test is simply asking our students to remember a large scope of information and results in the real lessons to be learned being left behind. We somehow need to hold both teachers and students accountable for the content being taught in a social studies classroom; however, we must also find a way to incorporate relevance and help students create a point of view. The whole purpose of social studies is to learn from the past and about the present and help students develop into informed, effective citizens, who can make a difference in our society. The Regents tests neglected these skills and I too did not become an educator to prep my students for a memorization test.

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