School Curriculum Subcommittee looks to improve K-8 Social Studies


Graphic by Alejandro Gonzalez

The Brookline School Curriculum Subcommittee discussed lack of consistency across the district in the Social Studies Curriculum and the reimplementation of the Understanding Our Differences program.

The School Curriculum Subcommittee convened virtually via Zoom on March 15 at 4 p.m. to discuss improving the framework in the K-8 Social Studies curriculum and the future of the Understanding Our Differences (UOD) program, which brings speakers with disabilities to speak with students.

Greg Porter, PreK-8 Interim Social Studies Coordinator, said the current Social Studies curriculum is unclear and unbalanced across grade levels and the whole district, with the quality and quantity differing substantially.

“When examining the full landscape of the Social Studies curriculum it is largely incomplete. What exists can be disorganized and unclear, which leads to inequitable experiences across the district. In a grade one civics unit, there is a sequence of lessons that are referred to as ‘suggested’ activities with each activity having ‘possible’ guiding questions. In this case, it can lead to incredible inconsistencies and inequality across instructional practice,” Porter said.

Porter also said the current Social Studies pedagogy results in a cohort of highly motivated and capable Social Studies teachers who the district is unable to help train due to insufficient curriculums and materials.

“There are a number of factors affecting the quality of instruction here in Brookline. Inconsistent time on learning is a huge challenge between grades and classes. On top of that you have under-supported instructional practices, which are in large part due to the fact that these practices evolve over time,” Porter said. “If teachers are not supported by their curriculum and curricular materials as well as professional development, you are going to have teachers who struggle to teach as effectively as they would like to.”

Porter said a partial success in the ongoing Social Studies framework revision, involving a full review and update of learning expectations, is the introduction of a third grade textbook, ‘Massachusetts, Our Home,’ which intentionally focuses on the voices of people who are not historically depicted in textbooks.

“In third grade, teachers and students have had access to a core textbook entitled ‘Massachusetts, Our Home.’ It is the most recent edition of the book, in which publishers focused on the voices of those who have been underrepresented in the historical story connected to third grade,” Porter said.

Porter said a consistent lack of professional development (PD) time for Social Studies teachers makes the use of Massachusetts history textbooks that meet the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) curriculum framework standards a challenge.

“A lack of time and structure has made the use of the 3rd and 5th grade textbooks really challenging although they are a tool that can be useful in the classroom,” Porter said.

The subcommittee also discussed UOD, a program that had been removed from the budget due to the pandemic, and considered adding it to the budget for the 2022-23 school year.

Deputy Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Lesley Ryan Miller said the budgeting for the program was the easier of the decisions to make about UOD.

“It’s more about ensuring that we can run the program effectively. It’s one more thing that we’re fitting into the school day, and I think it could very well be worth it – but K-5 teachers have so much on their plate already, and so I think that getting feedback from teachers is a great place to start,” Miller said.

Curriculum Subcommittee Chair Jennifer Monopoli said she was concerned about the uniformity of the UOD Program. Monopoli said because of the difference in who was presenting to each class, not every student was getting the same experience across the school district. She also said the reactions of families were very diverse based on personal experience.

“There were certainly some kids and families who had a great experience with this, whose children experience special needs. There were other students who were unprepared,” Monopoli said.

Helen Charlupski, Curriculum Subcommittee member, said UOD had an overall positive impact on students.

“When we had UOD, I thought it was very helpful for kids, especially fourth graders,” Charlupski said. “Especially when kids are really exploring out there and figuring out what’s going on in the world and they’re still receptive to hearing new things.”