Column: Curriculum

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Although 43 states are employing strategies that encourage elementary teachers to teach higher-order thinking skills, few have developed comprehensive policies for reforming the curriculum to include such skills in the early grades, a study by a federally sponsored research center shows.

Based on a 50-state survey, the study by Michigan State University's Center for the Learning and Teaching of Elementary Subjects found that 35 states had created inservice programs to train teachers to teach problem-solving and conceptual understanding. But changes in testing, a common method of curriculum reform in the 1970's, were used relatively rarely; only 10 states reported using testing to introduce higher-order skills.

In addition, the study found that only 12 states combined three or more strategies. Of these 12, California represents "the state of the art," according to the report. It has revised curriculum frameworks, curriculum guides for teachers, statewide tests, instructional-materials adoptions, and inservice-training programs to stress thinking skills.

Copies of "State Guidelines for Reshaping Academic Curricula in Elementary Schools: A 50-State Survey" are available by writing: Editor, Institute for Research on Teaching, 252 Erickson Hall, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich. 48824-1034.

As part of an effort to curb a 42 percent dropout rate, teachers and principals at junior high schools in the nation's Capital are developing a model African-American-studies curriculum.

Funded by a $150,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the project is aimed at encouraging middle-grade students to stay in school by linking classroom activities to their cultural heritage. Some 92 percent of the junior-high student body in Washington are black, and 98 percent of those who dropped out of school in 1988 were black.

"Numerous studies have shown that the level of student achievement and attendance improves when teachers pay special attention to students' background and culture," said the project's director, DeBorah Johnson.

The project will be based in 15 junior high schools and three high schools. Teams of 32 teachers and 18 principals will develop the curriculum in conjunction with local cultural institutions, including Trinity College, the Smithsonian Institution, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the National Science Foundation.

Participants will also develop a three-credit, graduate-level course for teachers of history, the arts, language, and literature; ongoing symposia for teachers throughout the school year; and special training for teachers to train other teachers in the new instructional methods.

The Kumon mathematics program, a system developed in Japan that has gained widespread attention in this country since it was introduced in 1988 into an Alabama elementary school, has begun to attract some skeptical second looks.

Teachers and administrators at the Sumiton Elementary School have praised the program, which allows students to work at their own pace to master computational problems. (See Education Week, May 17, 1989.)

But Superintendent of Education Wayne Teague of Alabama, in a letter to local superintendents, warned that Kumon "is not a total math program, and does not meet Alabama's requirements."

A study by a University of Alabama researcher also concluded that the program had not resulted in significant improvements in students' academic performance.

In response, Sumiton officials said the study did not reflect the full effects of the program, since it analyzed tests taken only six months after the program had been introduced.

The National Archives has published a guide to help teachers use historical documents.

The 225-page guide contains essays explaining documents from the Archives' holdings and suggestions for using them in different classroom settings. The 52 documents include Delaware's ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the 1835 Cherokee census, German propaganda leaflets from World War I, an Alabama voters' literacy test, and President Nixon's resignation letter.

Copies of "Teaching With Documents" are available for $15 each, plus $3 for shipping and handling, from the National Archives Trust Fund, P.O. Box 100793, Atlanta, Ga. 30384.

In a related effort, an Oklahoma State University political scientist has created a computerized "bulletin board" to exchange information on The Federalist Papers.

Launched with a grant from the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Bulletin Board System is available toll-free to teachers and students with access to any type of computer and a modem. In addition to leaving messages with other teachers and scholars, users can also read essays and classroom materials about constitutional issues.

The system is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Teachers and students can gain access to the system by calling (800) 232-6303. For further information, write: Danny M. Adkison, 519 Mathematical Sciences, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Okla. 74078, or call (405) 744-5569.--rr

Vol. 09, Issue 18

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