Standards. They appear to be here to stay. The History-Social Science Academic Content Standards for California Public Schools, Kindergarten through Grade 12 describe what it is California students need to know and be able to do in the field of history-social science in grades K-12. These expectations challenge us to examine how students learn, how teachers teach, and how schools operate making professional development essential to school reform in California and across the nation.
Educational researchers Linda Darling-Hammond (1996), James Stigler, James Hiebert (1999) and others find that although a number of factors affect student learning, the greatest contributing factor to academic achievement is the quality of instruction in the classroom. The knowledge, skills and passion that teachers bring to the classroom are the hallmarks of quality instruction. And like other professionals, teachers need access to ongoing professional development to keep pace with changing student needs, challenging expectations, and new scholarship.
For history-social science, the goal of professional development is to help teachers understand the depth and breadth of content and skills in the historysocial science standards and adopt pedagogy to make learning meaningful and accessible for all students. It also affords us the opportunity to conduct our own action research to determine, "what is effective professional development?" and "what do teachers need from the experience to increase student achievement?"
TEACHING AMERICAN HISTORY GRANTS
The Teaching American History Grant Program sponsored by the United States Department of Education has provided unique professional development opportunities for teachers across the nation. The goal of the program is to improve the teaching of American history and while many funded programs focus primarily on acquiring historical content knowledge, many programs also provide teachers with innovative pedagogy to develop effective instructional practices for classroom use.
The Teaching American History Program awarded to the Los Angeles County Office of Education in 2001 featured both aspects of professional development. It also provided data to conduct research about the impact of the standards-based backwards mapping design process on the instructional practices of teachers. It taught us a lot about adult learning, professional development, and the conditions that need to be present to effectuate change in the classroom (Herczog, 2003).
In the first year of the program teachers, grades 3-5 from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties came together for two weeks during the summer to learn early American history from noted university scholars. They traveled to Colonial Williamsburg and Philadelphia to visit historic sites and learn from trained docents and scholars. Every teacher marveled at the depth and breadth of content they acquired by immersing themselves in the places where history occurred. They brought back enthusiasm and passion for a subject that was unparalleled.
STANDARD-BASED PRACTICES TRAINING MODEL
Another important element of the program was the introduction of standards-based practices as realized by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe as the Understanding By Design approach to instruction (1998). Teachers were taken through a nine-month experience that allowed them to learn about the backwards mapping design process, develop an instructional unit, implement the unit in their classroom and reflect upon the process throughout the year. Teachers progressed through the following phases:
Phase 1: Training During the summer institute teachers were trained in the use of the following instructional practices:
1. Identify a specific history-social science content standard and determine the essential learning(s) as targets for instruction.
2. Create an assessment to provide all students an opportunity to demonstrate mastery. …