Literacy Instructional Coaches, Kristy Nadler (K-5) and Mark Stanford (6-12), and social studies teachers, Bernadette Carroll and Bill McAuliffe, along with Assistant Superintendent, Brian Culot, presented to the Tri-States visiting team of 21 members. This comprehensive overview included the district’s course of study in social studies and the status of our work related to New York State’s curriculum updates.
Essential questions to guide the thinking and focus of the visiting team:
1. How can we further integrate and promote the study of history and literature, to better understand the connections between past and present(current events)?
2. How can we cultivate critical thinking in students so that they can understand complex social, civic, and political issues, make ethical choices, and become critical-thinking global citizens?
3. How do we use community/classroom connections to enhance/enrich curriculum?
Some of the major highlights from the Tri-State Report and visit are as follows:
The South Orangetown Public Schools place a high priority on social studies K-12. Students have access to social studies instruction on a K-12 basis, and starting in grade three, social studies is taught, as a separate discipline, for a minimum of forty-five minutes per day – an unusual commitment of time and focus at the elementary school level. Students perform at high levels on state and district assessments. The district social studies program offers a broad array of rich experiences for students and includes projects, field trips, virtual field trips, opportunities to interact with community members, guest speakers Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Laureate, comes to mind, and opportunities to develop community advocacy skills. As one member of the district social studies team expressed, “We want to develop a new class of citizen leaders”. Students have access to in-class technology through the use of chrome books. Moreover, character education and social-emotional learning are areas of emphasis in social studies classes.
A comprehensive system of professional learning provides in-class training and support for teachers – and teachers and administrators also have the ability to attend district-sponsored courses outside of the school day. Consultants from Teachers College Readers and Writers Workshop and from Innovative Designs for Education (IDE) help teachers improve their skills in teaching literacy, designing lessons and units, problem-based learning and curriculum development. The two literacy coaches work closely with teachers, demonstrating model lessons, providing instructional coaching with individual teachers, designing professional development activities and writing curriculum. Literacy coaches are highly valued by both administrators and teachers.
Presently, K-12, there are numerous examples of students engaged in critical thinking – through Problem Based Learning (PBL) units, student presentations, debates, research projects, collaborative problem solving assignments requiring the use of technology, and social emotional learning activities. The World History curriculum, where students develop skills in “historical interpretation, historical argumentation, contextualization, comparison, causation and continuity and change” is one example. Through Senior Seminar (Participation in Government III) students have the opportunity to work with a member of the community as they develop projects to explore career possibilities. Similarly, students complete service projects in the Citizen Leadership: Character in Action course. The district reaches out to veterans in a number of ways, through interviewing local veterans, Valentines for Veterans, and The Vetiquette Program. There are a number of service activities and clubs that interact with community members and make substantial contributions to the local community and beyond. The Leo Club stands out as a very active service club and an important part of community outreach.
Some of the next steps for the district will be to identify the evidence most related to critical thinking and how to capture that evidence. We will also focus on further establishing partnerships with community-based organizations and will create and improve performance-based assessments and tasks that are more engaging for students. The Social Studies team will also focus on further developing a common language through the construction of rubrics with student-friendly descriptors that enable students to demonstrate their learning. We will also continue to work with our partners, such as Facing History and Ourselves, to have dialogue on all topics that help shape our society in the past, present, and future.
We would like to thank our teachers, Instructional Coaches, and staff, the Tri -State Consortium, as well as the visiting team for all of their support and encouragement to help our social studies curriculum and instruction continue to improve.