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Sleeter in a High School History Context

HannahB's picture

 I enjoyed Sleeter’s “Students as Curriculum” chapter quite a bit. I hope to teach high school history next year and one of my primary goals is to teach history in a relevant and meaningful way for high school students. Too often, I think, history courses get bogged down in dates, names, and events. I’m much more interested in the broader narratives that connect these events to each other and to our lived experiences. But in order to teach history in this connected, thematic way, I need to first understand my students and the experiences, assumptions, beliefs, etc. that they bring into the classroom and, then, I need to use this information to create my lesson plans and unit plans, etc. Sleeter writes that it is the “teacher’s responsibility to find out, become familiar with, and respect knowledge students bring to school, and to organize curriculum and learning activities in such a way that students are able to activate and use that knowledge” (p. 106). I agree whole-heartedly with this statement. I want my students’ knowledge to be the foundation of our lessons in history, particularly because topics like historical perspective and power are so central to the discipline.

One of my personal frustrations with the readings this week, in both of my education classes, is that all of them focused on elementary schools. Class meetings, storytelling, and many of the other activities listed make sense in that context but not necessarily in a high school history class.  As a result, I’ve spent some time personally considering how I will use Sleeter’s overarching point in my high school setting. A couple of ideas came to mind right away 1) The value of creating a “get to know you” questionnaire or having individual meetings with students at the beginning of the year, so that there is a structured space for students to share themselves with me 2) Starting every unit (and many lesson plans) with questions specifically grounded in my students’ experiences. For example, at the job interview I was at on Thursday, I had to teach a twenty-minute lesson on totalitarianism. Rather than start with historical facts and figures, my opening question was “When is it okay to spy on your friends and neighbors?” Questions like this provide space for students to draw on their own experiences, while still also acting as an entry point into the subject matter, and 3) Creating assessments, whether paper, project, or something else, that are centered around bigger themes. I want to create assessments that ask students to show their understanding of the historical content while in the process of exploring a larger theme that connects the history to their personal lives. In other words, I always want provide space for students to make connections and to share their own lives, which could, in turn, inform future units, etc.