In the library of an Oakland, California middle school four 8th grade American History teachers are gathered around a table. Also there is a doctoral student in U.S. History, the school librarian, and two staff members from the Oakland Unified Teaching American History Grant's professional development project. The teachers have come from three different schools to observe a lesson they have planned together.
The teachers had spent several after school hours, along with the graduate student and project staff, planning a lesson on the 4th amendment. They wanted students to understand the ideas, rights, and controversy embedded in the dry language of the Constitution. The lesson began in a dramatic fashion. The teacher who was teaching the lesson arranged for a campus security guard to walk into the classroom and search the backpacks of three students. The students had agreed before class to participate in the simulation. After the search, students in the class were asked to write a brief response explaining whether they thought was search was legal. A discussion of this question followed. Then the students read and tried to rewrite the 4th Amendment in their own words.
Reading and understanding the Amendment proved, as the teachers anticipated, a challenge to many of the students in this class, which included a number of second language students. At one point the teacher asked, "What do you think they mean by the term effects?" As the teachers had predicted the students had difficulty in explaining how the term was used in this context. No student responded. Either they were unwilling to venture a guess, or they were unable to explain.
After this introduction to the amendment, the teacher passed out an actual Supreme Court case, TLO v. New Jersey (1985), that asked what rights do students have against search and seizure if they are on school grounds. (The court ruled they don't have the same rights as individuals outside the authority of the school.) Finally, students were asked to revise what they had written at the beginning of the period, "was the search legal?" Did they want to change, add to, or refine their initial response?
Initially, the group of teachers clustered around the table was certain that the lesson was successful, students seemed to understand that there were limitations to their Fourth Amendment right to not be searched. Then, the student writing samples were passed out to each teacher. After reading what students wrote the mood at the table changed, for it became clear that the students had gained at best, only a limited understanding of the Fourth Amendment. ;
As this finding emerged, teachers began to reconsider the design of their lesson - what would they do differently next time? What will the teachers observing and analyzing the lesson do differently when they teach the same lesson in their classrooms? One certainty is that the lesson, when taught, will benefit from their close examination of instruction and student learning embodied in the collaborative process in which they have engaged.
This brief example of teacher collaboration illustrates one aspect of our current Teaching American History grant's professional development program. This collaborative process is known as "lesson study."1
A PROJECT CHALLENGE: CONNECTING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND CLASSROOM PRACTICE
In Oakland we are currently implementing the first year of our second Teaching American History grant "History Grows in Oakland: Teaching American History in an Urban School District (2004-2007)."2 The project's charge is to increase teacher content knowledge of American history; this year through our thematic focus on teaching American history through biography. Our partnership with University of California, Berkeley, HistorySocial Science project, and the UCB History Department, will provide participating teachers (grades 5, 8, 11) the opportunity to hear from historians about significant individuals in American history and the times in which they lived. …