Sunday, March 06, 2011


Changes are likely on the way.

After spending three years introducing and implementing curriculum and instructional changes to my middle school classes, it appears that things will change next year. Not for middle school, but for me.

I embrace the area of scope and sequence development, and as part of our Strategic Planning Committee, I am the new S & S coordinator to lead the revision of the school's entire scope and sequence. Exactly what I've always wanted to do. . . . I think.

In addition to this, a vacancy has appeared in our upper school history. With everything in place in our middle school history (and English), I requested to move into the upper school over the next three years. And it looks like this is going to happen.

With this move, I will be able to not only lead the history S&S revision, I will be able to implement the changes immediately. This should be good for the school as this plan will get us down the road toward our goal quicker than otherwise.

Next year, I will give up two English classes, retaining 8th grade English, keep all three middle school history classes, and teach upper school U. S. History and Ancient History. Over the course of subsequent years, I will turn over one middle school history at a time to someone else while picking up one upper school history. This gradual turnover should make preparation easier.

Some class combinations will occur this first year simply because certain students will have to have certain courses for graduation. The goal after next year will be to drop middle school history down one grade so that eighth grade can have one whole year of U.S. history before beginning Ancient History in ninth grade. After next year, we will add Medieval History in tenth grade, then the next year add Early Modern for eleventh and Late Modern for twelfth. Twelfth graders will also take a separate course in Government and Economics.

I already have my choice for the upper school text: Spielvogel's World History: The Human Odyssey, used over the course of four years and in combination with literature sequenced to the history. Since I always give heavy doses of geography and teach history in combination with geography (is there any other way?), the need for a separate geography class is

I do want students to be schooled in the Constitution and hope to incorporate it into the U. S. History class.

I've searched for a good U. S. history text and found one but am uncertain whether it is too difficult for eighth graders. At the same time, I've vacillated between using a big, bulky textbook (that's the only way they seem to come) and developing my own curriculum.

Deep down inside me I know that students won't and don't typically really read textbooks. Only a very few. Since the school's goal is for the student to learn the information first in order to understand and apply it later, I wonder if I should not go with this inclination: teach the basic facts and read primary source material instead of a textbook. This would allow for more time to read secondary sources which I personally think teach more than textbooks.

Whatever I implement will stay for several or more years, so I need to be wise in my choice. Considering our economic times and the cost of those mammoth and overpriced textbooks, I'm inclined from that standpoint to avoid them. What I do need to consider, though, is if I go with developing my own curriculum, how much time I will spend doing so. That's a heavy weight to bear. So, readers, if you have advice, now is the time to chime it!

Since I love books --I love the feel, the weight, the pages, the graphics (especially in history books)-- I will be hard pressed not to get a text. But what a time as this to go in a new direction.

Please speak!
"In the multitude of counselors, there is wisdom."


Sarah Sours said...

Exciting news for you, Janie! I wish you the best of luck in all your new ventures.

I tend to rely on textbooks only for classes in which I am not already very familiar with the material.

For classes where I am confident I can provide the unifying "story" to put all the pieces together, I definitely go with primary source readings. My lectures take the place of the textbook reading. (Because that's what mediocre lecturers do anyway--they cover the textbook.)

Sherry said...

I am teaching US history and literature to eighth-ninth graders now as a part of our homeschool co-op. We have used The Story of the U.S. by Joy Hakim this year for a framework. I have mixed feelings about this 10-volume text. It's quite readable, and most of my students are reading the text since that's their responsibility. (And I quiz them each week over the material covered in their reading.) Hakim sometimes injects her opinions and/or talks down to the students, but there's nothing there that can't be talked through or added to.

Sherry said...

The main problem I have with Hakim is that she spends a great deal of time on some things and skips over others that I think would be more important. She's great at bringing personalities alive--Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Lindbergh, Robert Goddard. (Those are some of the people we've read about in the past couple of weeks. She's not as good at helping the students understand the issues and the cultural changes in history. HOwever, we've read a lot of historical fiction--and primary documents-to get a better picture of how people thought and what kinds of things they were thinking about.

Sherry said...

I also really like the Critical Thinking in United States History series from Critical Thinking Press for the teacher to pull ideas and source documents, even though I haven't been able to use it much this year.

I'd be happy to send you a copy of my syllabus if it would be helpful at all. I think if I were you I'd use some textbooks myself to make sure I was covering the entire scope, but make up the syllabus myself and eschew textbooks, unless you want to use something more popular and accessible like the Hakim books

Anonymous said...

Personally, I still like the idea of a history spine, coupled with source readings. In fact, one of my favorite professors in college always taught his classes this way, and I learned quite a bit.

One recommendation for the U.S. history spine would be "American: The Last Best Hope" by William Bennett. The only drawback is that it is larger, in hardback (unless a recent paperback has come out) and is in two volumes--although the latter isn't necessarily a negative. Although he is conservative, Bennett really tries to be quite even-handed, I believe. I've read most of Volume I, and have used it in conjunction with some of the papers I've had to write for my American Lit. classes. Bennett did have this 2-vol. series peer-reviewed, and I believe there were ancillary texts as well. I would check his website on the latter, but I remember writing him with questions and receiving some good answers from one of his assistants.

I was just looking through the VP catalog at the Omnibus III offerings; they recommend The Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist Papers. Both good choices for primary texts, but also fairly dense reading. Maybe de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" would be more accessible? Also, although they might be more intended for middle school, the Albert Marrin books are still very good. Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" and the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin would be appropriate for the Colonial period.

Just a few thoughts from my end.


Anonymous said...

What about Omnibus, supplemented with your history lectures and/or Speilvogel?

Please share your thoughts as you come to conclusions -- those of us homeschooling will want to see what you end up with!


Jean in Wisconsin said...

Hi, Janie. Some thoughts...

Although I like your idea, I think that, for the teachers and the students, it is good to find a book that does a quick overview of history as a spine which complements the readings. I don't have my jr high spine anymore and I don't recall the title--here are a couple of links (I've not read them so I can't recommend them, but they will give you an idea of what I'm referring to):

A book with a basic outline from which you teach and the kids can read pulls the lessons together for both of you, but is not a purchase of a big textbook. It is more of an outline or brief--and is under 200 pages and usually costs under $20. It would not add a full textbook's worth of reading to your year, but would give a skeleton from which to add your other readings.

And I know, finding the right book would be...interesting. But it would be the chapter you read on Monday followed by a couple of weeks of other readings.

It just seems that this would give a teacher who comes after you a physical book from which to draw ideas and lessons. It would give the students who learn best from reading a chance to put the basics into his head more efficiently, and it would free you up to assign those great supplements that you'd rather they be reading.

JMHO, though. Best wishes.

Jean in Wisconsin said...

LOL! When I went to check to see if the links worked, I discovered a couple of these were full texts. Sigh. Not what I was trying to find. I'd have to do some digging to find what I am suggesting...but they usually are "An Outline of U.S. History" or "American History in Brief" or some such title. They often are written for the public or homeschoolers--interesting short book with the spine of history in them. Hope that makes sense. :) Jean

Jean in Wisconsin said...

Me again.

Found this. I've heard people talk about it, but I can't find reviews to see if the liked it. Sigh.

Short Lessons in U.S. History by Walch (I've like Walch pubs in the past...don't know what they are doing today, though).

You can buy it for $9 at Amazon.

I'm gone. (I think.) LOL!

Anonymous said...

As I read about your possibilities, I was reminded of what I considered to be my most successful high school history class (taken at NorthCross, as it happens). We had a textbook and may have been assigned to read from it, but as you noted, none of us ever read it. ;o) And I was one of the "good" students! What we did do, however, was take lecture notes. Mon-Thurs of every week our teacher lectured, and we took notes. I'm not sure about my fellow students, but it didn't take me long to realize that our teacher was working from a very solid outline of his own -- and because he was doing that, it made it very easy for me to take good notes throughout. ... It's, um, entirely possible that he was working from his own outline drawn directly from our "big, bulky textbook". I wouldn't know, having never read it. ;o)

But I learned a lot that year. Yes, I learned a lot of history. Writing everything down as he went helped me remember it and it meant I was very well prepared to study for tests an quizes (a quiz every Friday covered the material from the previous week -- every third Friday was a test that covered the previous three weeks)...

It also meant I learned to take good notes. Quickly. And that was a skill I used forever after. More so than the history (which, of course, I used), the ability to sit and take good lecture notes and transform them into study notes was extremely useful.

Anyway, as I thought of that experience, it made me wonder if some similar set-up might not work well in your case. If you used one of those "big, bulky" expensive textbooks (or several of them) to help you create lecture outlines, those lectures could take the place of your history spine. The students would find the textbook inescapable in that format (and, we hope, more engaging as well!), and their outside-of-class hours could be spent reading more interesting and engaging primary source materials (and perhaps a few pieces of historical fiction and literature, as appropriate).


You know my own students are only currently in middle and elementary school, and teaching them at home is quite different than teaching a class full...


Under the Sky said...

I have been using Hakim's History of US. It is a good series with a few caveats. It is certainly secular in framing of all history though she is generally fair towards faith thus far. This does lend itself to differing viewpoints at times when things were clearly faith-based or motivated. I have used the American Vision materials to get a faith-based perspective we well as Sonlight 100 (though I have used this less than the American Vision). This is the link for the AV:

I am not a principal approach nor a reconstructionist (things I might have expected from this source) but these books have pretty fairly covered history from a Christian perspective. I use both Hakim and AV and have been pretty pleased overall and they children do read these outside of class. They are both well-written and interesting.

I also use Omnibus III with my oldest but we use it mainly for literature and writing with a history focus. The book choices are *so* good and all American history based. I pull things together and have used Drive-Thru History as well as the History Channel’s America The Story of US ( to flesh out the story and we just finished watching the John Adams series – wonderful!! We also read historical fiction. Oh yes, we have also used some of the resources from Homeschool in the Woods – Colonial Time Travelers and Revolutionary War Time Travelers. She does a great job of incorporating a lot of hands-on materials as well as just plain old interesting things – job titles, strange diseases, etc. They were an inexpensive way to add a bit of fun to it.

I did just discover that Notgrass does an American History series that might be more classroom friendly (but I don’t know since I only saw it online).

Do tell us what you decide! I have really enjoyed teaching this course this year. Anything that makes history come alive makes me happy. :D


Under the Sky said...

Oh yes, I did forget to add (well, I did add it to my first post that got eaten by the internet) :D Speigelvogel is suggested for use in the Omnibus series, but we have not done so. I thought you might be interested in that.

JSD said...

Grrr. I just posted a loooonnngg reply to your wonderful notes, only to lose it when publishing.

I'll have to come back later and do this over.

For now, thank you more than you will know for your time and thoughts.

I'm a textbook person to keep me focused and moving forward. Recently, I've become infatuated with Kennedy's The American Pageant The writing is elegant. But it's a huge book!

Since many texts have been simplified, this *might* be doable in 8th grade since we have raised our standards. Several of my colleagues are currently reviewing a chapter for just this purpose. Of course, if they find it too advanced, then it's doubtful I would push to use it.

As you think of additional comments and suggestions, please post!

And thank you again!


Anonymous said...

As others have suggested, Omnibus III is a good guide to reading primary sources. It recommends Spielvogel as a resource.

I can't wait to hear what you decide and how it all turns out. You're an inspiration! :-)

Carol in Oregon said...

I don't have much else to contribute, but I've enjoyed reading all the comments.

We used Hakim earlier and Omnibus later. I bought Spielvogel but can honestly say I've only read about 30 pages of it.

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

I had to smile when I read this, I remember when you were just going BACK to teaching and now you are fully immersed!

I had mixed feelings about Hakim but the few times we used one of her books for homeschooling, it was very interesting.

We loved the Genevieve Foster books for middle school, wonderful because it shows what is happening all over the world at the same time in history. But I don't know if it can be used in the modern classroom.

I know in my state, the teachers in public schools are often having to teach for the tests (meaning more dates than stories).