Our Modern World History and US History courses are taught by collaborative teams. Four years ago we shifted from an autonomous teaching model where everyone did his or her own thing based on common content centered around a textbook to a team approach where everyone worked together to craft the curriculum. Team meetings became important planning times. We even shifted to a single Moodle page for all teachers as a way to streamline things. We shared ideas and resources but more importantly we crafted common plans we all agreed to implement. The goal was to provide students in the same course with the same experience. Every student would have the same background and skill work entering the next grade, no matter the teacher. As department chair, I spent a fair amount of energy getting and keeping everyone on the same page, despite the fact that everyone was committed to it. In many ways, it was collaboration at its best – working together with everyone’s ideas to craft a single product, the curriculum. Google Drive has helped us share and plan together anytime.
A funny thing is happening now that we are shifting to more modern content and a more thematic structure in both courses. We are moving past collaboration to a situation where we are more responsive to the students in the classroom. For example, in US history, we are in the Economics and Social Class unit. All four teachers are using the same set of readings from one of our e-books. We are all proceeding in the same direction. But each class is taking a slightly different path. Even my two sections have looked at a few different issues because I was responding to the interests of the class, based on the current events articles they chose to discuss. Both of my classes watched a video on the Homestead Strike, but in the portion of the class that focused on current issues, one class did an online game seeing if they could survive on minimum wage while the other explored the work of Warren Buffett and the Gates to create a club of billionaires committed to giving at least half of their wealth to charity. At our last team meeting, we spent a little time just catching up to see where everyone was and share what had been going on in our classrooms. It turns out we are still heading in the same direction, but on different paths that do cross quite often.
As we have committed to more student voice and choice in our classes, we are recalibrating the balance. We still have Google Drive to share our activities, ideas, lessons, assessments. We still meet once a week to talk about what we are doing and what we need to do, especially in terms of skill building and assessment. We informally meet in our classrooms, offices and at lunch sharing the anecdotal version of our classes and bouncing ideas off of one another. But we are trying to listen to our students, to follow their interests in wading through the vast content they could be learning. By tying their interests to essential questions and context, we are helping students construct their understanding of history, rather than memorizing our understanding. We are moving from a situation where the goal was for every student to have a common experience toward a situation where the goal is for every student to have a meaningful experience.
This move to a less collaborative curriculum is not a swing back to the earlier, more autonomous classroom. We are including our students in the choices we make on a daily basis, along with our colleagues, and our own experience. The end result should be a broader and richer collaborative network.