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You are not alone in your search to find excellent materials that will effectively prepare students to take the state assessments promoting higher-level thinking while using primary sources.
The "multiple perspectives" approach as discussed in the New York Times article is unique.
In every unit of the Exploring History series, students are engaged in an inner-outer circle discussion, magnetic debate, or lobbyist hearing, where students voice conflicting opinions from a historical period and debate and discuss the issues, basing their points-of-view on original research and primary source documents.
Exploring History was one of the first series of its kind to take on this type of intellectually challenging forum, as the new state level exams are focused primarily on document-based essays that emphasize multiple perspectives of thematic topics.
Embedded in every volume is the application of rubrics, which can be used with a supplemental guide, giving 100 sample rubrics for the teacher. It supports the new concept of negotiable contracting, where the teacher and students brainstorm together, creating a list of criteria for assessment. This criteria can be used in combination with authentic assessments at various levels, including accountable talk, discussions, peer assessment, and performance assessment. An article published in the Philadelphia Inquirer discusses the value of Dr. Stix's strategy of negotiable contracting. It indicates that this, with the use of rubrics found in the supplemental guide of the series, is on the cutting edge of today's education.
In the beginning of every unit, from the ancient civilizations to American history, there is a guide coordinating each lesson with the ten themes developed by the National Council of the Social Studies (NCSS). Not only is there an alignment grid, but an explanation follows of how and why each lesson was aligned and able to meet the particular national standard.
Flexogeneous Grouping Practices
This series is the first to implement flexogeneous grouping practices, which challenges the gifted and supports the struggling reader. First, students are given a choice of reading selections based on a thematic Social Studies topic. Students reading the same book form their own literature circle, and discuss an open-ended question. They become experts in answering questions through discussion, and are soon moved to a new literature circle with the make up of one representative from each group.
Once again, students discuss the answers to the original question posed, this time learning about the different perspectives from the other books. Hence, each student, regardless of the book read, is equally respected since there is only one representative for each book.
This method allows students to read comfortably at their own level and to discuss their flexogeneous grouping practices reading with their peers (homogeneous grouping), and then to share and learn about other perspectives in a mixed group (heterogeneous grouping).
The flexogeneous grouping practice allows students the freedom to choose books they want to read, and provides flexibility in instruction. This method was well received at the joint NCTE/NCSS Connecting Curriculum conference, Northeastern Regional Conference (NERC), NCSS Westchester division conference, and AGATE New York State conference.
Young Adult Literature
The series is also unique in its use of young adult literature, where students learn about history from a young adult's perspective. It is easier for them to relate to the leading character and the time period in greater depth, as historical fiction is more motivating than textbook reading. An article written by Dr. Stix and Dr. George was recently published in The Social Studies, advocating the use of young adult literature in the Social Studies classroom.
Literacy Across Disciplines
Lastly, the series emphasizes writing across the curriculum where literacy is paramount. Students engage in writing diaries, journals, speeches, persuasive essays, etc., which culminate periodically in a portfolio. This approach is supported by the National Middle School Association, as pointed out in Dr. Stix's article, "Bridging the Standards to Portfolios in Preparation for Tomorrow's Workplace," which appeared in the journal, In the Middle.
The series was one of the first to integrate differentiation, authentic assessment, high standards, young adult literature, multiple perspectives, primary source documents, and literacy in the context of the Social Studies. It is built on simulations where students act out history so that it comes alive. If students read, discuss, act out, and engage in reflective writing experiences, knowledge will move into students' long term memory and can guide them in making sound choices for solving problems they will have to face in the future.