Teaching

The New Jersey Initiative

Hank Bitten and Peter Porter, May 2015

New Jersey has reached a turning point in its approach to history instruction. The Standards and Model Curriculum recently adopted supports content standards by addressing the problem of passive lessons and giving school districts, especially high school teachers, the autonomy to develop content-specific and inquiry-based lessons within defined chronological periods. By providing meaningful resources to teachers, and using model assessments to diagnose the skills required by the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts Literacy for History/Social Studies (Grades 9–12) and the C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards, the New Jersey Initiative equips students to be informed citizens, college students, and productive workers.

The revisions, specifically the Model Curriculum, provide guidance for teaching critical-thinking skills through problem solving, research, and historical perspective. An example of a problem-solving lesson objective, one that uses historical perspectives on current debts and the new costs of the Louisiana Purchase and War of 1812, is: “Compare and contrast views about how to best promote economic development (including issues of national and state debt, the National Bank, trade, and taxation) advanced by Hamilton and Jefferson and Clay and Jackson.” In a world history course, students learning about World War I are required to research the views of statesmen or historians to “assess the extent to which reasoning and evidence in a text evaluating the Treaty of Versailles (e.g., war debt, reparations, war guilt, League of Nations) accurately reflect the perspectives of different nations (e.g., Germany, United States, Japan, France).”

New Jersey’s approach to a standards-based curriculum provides resources, suggested activities, and instructionally focused assessments based on analysis of historical documents, evaluation of historical perspectives, and demonstration of cause-and-effect and point-of-view writing. An interdisciplinary design integrates civics, geography, economics, and social culture into a historical framework and chronology.

How Do Standards Enhance Learning?

The New Jersey Model Curriculum identifies five Student Learning Objectives for the Renaissance, integrating economics, art, literature, technology, geography, and history. Each school district makes decisions on the core content, essential questions, resources, and assessments. Teachers develop lesson plans aligned to the core content and skills supporting thinking, research, and writing.

For example, the conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and Copernicus and Galileo might include a primary source from Joshua 10:13 (“So the sun stood still”). To convey the impact of the printing press, another unit might include a chart with the number of printing presses in Europe or the increasing number of reams of paper used by printers between 1500 and 1600.

The following three Student Learning Objectives from the unit on the Renaissance are examples of how New Jersey students are developing the skills in the C3 Framework by evaluating evidence from the interdisciplinary sources of art, literature, economics, and science.

  1. Examine how the exposure to Asian and Islamic civilizations and the spirit of inquiry (i.e., scholasticism/humanism) led to the Renaissance and the importance of the commercial revolution (i.e., trade and the rise of towns) on society.
  2. Analyze how the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon, Newton, and Kepler challenged traditional teachings and beliefs.
  3. Use technology to display information about the accomplishments of Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Shakespeare and relate them to the factors that led to the development of the Renaissance.

The Compelling and Supporting Questions required in the C3 Framework are left to the lesson plans of teachers. In New Jersey, lesson plans are modeled for teachers through professional development workshops, webinars, and model lessons. The New Jersey Council for History Education posted sample lessons on its website that include compelling questions related to the following Student Learning Objectives:

  • How did the Commercial Revolution foster the change from medieval values to a spirit of inquiry and change?
  • Why did the Church and many prominent Renaissance leaders challenge the discoveries and theories of science?
  • To what extent did the invention of the printing press impact everyone living in this time period?

The C3 Framework for College, Career, and Civic Life identifies five expectations for the use of historical evidence and sources:

  • Detect possible limitations in various kinds of historical evidence and differing secondary interpretations.
  • Critique the usefulness of historical sources for a specific historical inquiry based on their maker, date, place of origin, intended audience, and purpose.
  • Use information from different kinds of historical sources to generate research questions that lead to further inquiry.
  • Analyze the relationship between historical sources and the secondary interpretations made from them.
  • Critique the appropriateness of the historical sources used in a secondary interpretation.

The Model Curriculum suggests ways for students to research and analyze evidence through recommended primary source documents, historical interpretations, paintings and woodcuts, literature, trade records, the Bible, population reports, and medical information.

The Common Core includes a similar expectation for learning the skills of historians. These include:

  • RH.9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
  • RH.9-10.7 Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.
  • WHIST.9-10.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
  • WHIST.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • WHIST.9-10.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

The C3 Framework also identifies the following criteria for high school students to understand cause-and-effect relationships:

  • Analyze multiple, unexpected, and complex causes and effects of events in the past.
  • Integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources and interpretations into a reasoned argument about the past.
  • Critique the central arguments in secondary works of history on related topics in multiple media in terms of historical accuracy.

Examples of conflicting sources on the causes of the Reformation could engage students in comparing and contrasting a reading on scholasticism from Thomas Aquinas with Martin Luther’s statement that the Holy Bible is the only source of valid evidence, or consideration of the teaching of good works by the Roman Catholic Church (James 2:14) alongside the teaching of justification by faith (Romans 3:21). Treating works of art produced in accordance with the requirements of the Council of Trent as historical documents involves students in using multiple media in developing a reasoned argument about the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.

What Does the New Jersey Initiative Expect of Students?

Model assessments will provide a resource for teachers as they prepare students for the rigorous demands of state and national tests. The use of benchmarked assessments based on reading, understanding, interpreting, evaluating, and comparing information in multiple documents, as well as analyzing data in charts, graphs, and images, will determine the level of mastery of historical content and skills for New Jersey students. The model assessments being developed require students to explain multiple causes, evaluate differences in the quality of evidence, and demonstrate their understanding of a historical period with a short essay responding to a capstone question or prompt.

The assessments will follow a similar focus across 15 required curriculum units taught over three years in world and United States history to diagnose student proficiency, provide a pre-and post-test assessment, measure student growth, and determine the readiness of students before they take a district or state exam.

The utility of a standards-based curriculum has been challenged in many states on the grounds that it is overly prescriptive, devoid of content, and incapable of preparing students for a competitive global society. Standards-based curriculum and assessment models achieve legitimacy when they relate the Constitution to current issues, apply the lessons of history, promote inquiry and the evaluation of evidence, and require students to communicate a point of view in written and verbal language. The success of state standards depends on a continuing dialogue between history educators, curriculum developers, and test developers. New Jersey has provided this dialogue in their recent revision of state standards and alignment to the C3 Framework and the Common Core.

E-mail us with your comments and join the dialogue with history educators and historians.

The Model Curriculum for world and United States history for New Jersey schools can be found online at www.state.nj.us/education/modelcurriculum/ss/.

Hank Bitten has been on the Board of Directors for the New Jersey Council for History Education for the past 15 years. He is a retired history supervisor with the Ramapo Indian Hills District. Peter Porter has been the secretary for the NJCHE for ten year and currently teaches history at Montville Township High School and is an adjunct history professor at Seton Hall University. He served on the AHA executive Council for three years. Both have contributed to the development of various projects including the 2014 New Jersey Core Curriculum Standards, Teaching American History Grants, NJ350 Project and AP Curriculum Modules.


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