Rigorous Teaching, Engaged Students: Facing History and the Common Core in Los Angeles
How do you teach students to become better writers, readers, and critical thinkers? How can teachers meet the Common Core State Standards while still encouraging thoughtful and rigorous classroom discussion and student work? Facing History and Ourselves works with teachers, administrators, and school districts across the country to meet the Common Core English/Language Arts standards and Literacy in History/Social Studies standards while encouraging meaningful discussions and exploring questions that will prepare students to participate in building a more peaceful, tolerant tomorrow.
Sasha Guzman is a high school social studies teacher at the Student Empowerment Academy in Los Angeles, California. “I come from a school of thinking about teaching that didn’t believe in teaching to the test. I realize now that there needs to be a balance in the classroom, and that’s where Facing History helps me,” she said. Guzman is one of many educators across America that is working with Facing History to bring rigorous primary source readings, critical investigations of history and literature, and meaningful writing assignments into their classrooms in order to meet the Common Core State Standards.
“A lot of what we do in the classroom at Student Empowerment Academy is already in line with what the standards are asking,” said Guzman, who first worked with Facing History in her first semester of teaching 10 years ago. “Facing History helped me find that balance between what I feel I have to teach students as an educator committed to social justice and various interpretations of history, and what I know I need to teach students in order to meet the standards. Facing History provides me with examples and perspectives that aren’t in mainstream textbooks.”
In the fall, Guzman and her Facing History Program Associate, Mary Hendra, organized a training for Student Empowerment Academy educators from all disciplines. Hendra led a three-hour workshop at the school on Facing History’s Common Core teaching strategies and resources. “My goal has always been to get the math and science and elective teachers exposed to Facing History,” Guzman said. “That’s why we felt that the common core was a good opportunity to expose educators across disciplines and bring our group together to discuss meaningful ways to meet these standards.”
In her own classroom, Guzman uses the critical questions and primary source documents from Facing History resources such as Fundamental Freedoms: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to meet the tasks of the standards. “I love using the Eleanor Roosevelt publication because it really sets a foundation for civil rights about 20 to 30 years before the movement really took hold in the United States,” Guzman said. “And the questions posed, the documents that are in there – they all cover critical thinking skills.”
“Teachers around the country have an increasing number of mandates with a decreasing number of resources,” Guzman continued. “Everyone is so overwhelmed. That is where Facing History came in. When I heard that they had these resources available, I knew that it was going to be a good use of my time. I knew it would be valuable and relevant to what I could use in the classroom.”
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Facing History’s Julia Rappaport wrote this article. For questions or tips on what Facing History is doing in your community, email her at Julia_Rappaport@facing.org.