In an ordinary middle school course on geography, students begin by learning about longitude and latitude. In many District of Columbia schools, however, students begin the geography course by learning how the police use GPS (global positioning system) devices to find truant students.
“Students have a lot of opinions about that,” says Cosby Hunt of the Center for Inspired Teaching. They really get interested in geography when they read that the mapping techniques used by the police to find and frisk students for guns are misleading—they do not match where guns actually are found and used.
This research by students is part of a social studies LDC module, one of several being piloted in a project run by the Center called Building Literacy in Social Studies (BLISS). Launched almost 10 years ago by a professor at American University, the Center fosters inquiry-based learning and relationship building in classrooms, and through a grant from the DC public schools is using LDC to align social studies instruction to the Common Core State Standards.
“We always are told that all teachers are literacy teachers, but a lot of us are never told how to be effective at it,” explains Hunt, who became Manager of Teaching & Learning for the Center after many years as a teacher in Georgia and at a high school in DC. “Teachers need a framework for literacy instruction, and LDC is a way to build that without sacrificing content.”
Hunt and his colleagues have designed a way to introduce LDC modules into many middle schools and ninth grades by using one expert teacher’s module as a pilot for other teachers at the same grade level. The Center staff work with the pilot module, tweaking it before helping others use it. For example, as a ninth-grade world history teacher developed a module on ancient Chinese philosophies, Hunt pointed out to her that the module had moved from being informational to argumentation.
Teachers who are piloting the modules are brought together to provide feedback on the progress of implementation. Hunt finds this one of the best features of the LDC strategy because “teachers love to get out of their silos and collaborate with each other. Because they are teaching the same thing, they have great conversations about the module.” In the feedback sessions, teachers also learn that others are as “surprised” as they are at the high quality of work students are producing.
Currently, at least one teacher in each of 25 schools is using LDC modules for social studies, and the goal is to have one module for each grade level and each quarter, complete with daily assignment suggestions and examples of student work. Hunt and colleagues Jenna Fournel and Dwayne Williams plan the BLISS sessions together, and Fournel incorporates LDC into the Inspired Teaching Institute, a year-long professional development program for renewing instructional skills and linking curriculum to the Common Core State Standards.