Students like to read the real stuff, Stephanie Bunton has found out, which sent her scrambling to find primary sources for her eighth-grade social studies classes that were involved in an intensive comparative assignment in an LDC module.
“They were begging to look at documents, images, and other artifacts” that would enable them to compare the lives of people living in the Massachusetts Bay colony with those living in the Chesapeake Bay colony, the task Bunton had set for her students. Through letters written as a new arrival to the colonies, the students described comparisons and contrasts based on data about density, income sources, origin of the colonists, and geography. “They did a lot of analysis,” she says, but by introducing the prompt and the rubric at the beginning of the module, students knew what they wanted to get out of their reading.
Bunton volunteered to write social studies modules after contacting the Center for Inspired Teaching and being coached by its teams. “Once I understood what LDC was all about, I was eager to start writing modules,” she says. In the last school year, she wrote and tried out two modules with other teachers, then wrote a third during the summer. A former education fellow for America’s Promise, she was a middle-grades intern providing extra help to students, then moved to a full-time position in the DC public schools five years ago, putting her undergraduate degrees in history and anthropology to work as a social studies teacher. She also has a master’s degree in teaching from Teachers College/Columbia University.
This school year Bunton moved her LDC experience to teaching United States government for twelfth-graders at the Columbia Heights Education Complex. While the Center for Inspired Teaching’s work with LDC does not extend past the ninth grade at present, Bunton has used instructional strategies she learned from LDC with her senior students, assigning them to write stump speeches for the two major presidential candidates. They did not get to choose their political preference, “and it has been difficult for some to write from the perspective of a person they don’t agree with,” she says.
The LDC strategies that she is using have kept them focused, she notes, and the students have done research on social and economic issues, analyzed the debates, studied the electoral college’s voting patterns, and found appropriate political cartoons and other primary sources. In years before, she says, the government unit required very little writing and hardly any analysis.
According to her LDC coach, Cosby Hunt, the success of the LDC strategy in the middle grades and ninth grade will influence the decision of DC public officials about expanding the strategy to all high school grades. For her part, Bunton is sure enough about the benefit for students that she is not waiting.