SFUSD moves beyond textbooks

For a while now, I’ve been writing about some of the big changes we are making in what students are learning and how we teach them. Some of our classrooms are looking and feeling different from what you may be used to, and one difference is how we’re using textbooks.

A little background

The new Common Core State Standards and the San Francisco Unified School District’s teacher-led core curriculum are redefining how we teach both math and English Language Arts. We are not rushing students through an ever-lengthening list of topics, pushing them to memorize and move on. Instead, we are asking students to analyze what they are reading or calculating — and really show that they understand them — before moving to the next level.

And, as we do this, we are changing how we use textbooks. Instead of using them as a single source of information for students, they are now being used as one resource among many, and all are materials carefully researched and curated by our expert educators to meet the new state standards.

For example, take math

For math, we assembled hundreds of teachers from all over the district to study the new math standards and author a new curriculum. This team created math tasks and lessons from the very best curricular materials available.

We then field tested the materials. After gathering results and closely analyzing student work to see if they were learning the concepts, we made revisions where necessary. This cycle of research and revision will be done on a regular basis as new materials are offered and teachers continue to develop the curriculum.

Meanwhile, all teachers have a variety of vetted materials to implement the core curriculum.

What’s happening now

With the start of this school year, all of the Math Core Curriculum materials are available to teachers in digital form through School Loop, a secure online system we adopted years ago. Hard copies of these materials are also being sent to schools.

Eventually, we plan to transition to a purely digital world in which teachers and students access and interact with the materials on computers or tablets. The first move in this direction is in our middle schools, where students and teachers are using iPads in class.

How about homework?

Students can still get hard copies of math homework to take home.  For English Language Arts, they may still take home textbooks to study. Teachers can also post homework online through the School Loop website.

Moving forward

I’m confident that this is the right way to approach the idea of textbooks as we teach in the 21st century, but don’t just take my word for it. Let’s hear from Lauren, one of our teachers who worked on our math team:

“Working with a team of teachers to write math curricula has taught me so very much and opened my eyes to the potential and true intent of the Common Core … It’s about our developing deep understanding, respectfully challenging ourselves and one another, and not being afraid to tackle difficult and seemingly impossible problems, with innovative approaches. These are also the skills our children need learn to be resilient and responsibly interdependent in this ever more complex world.”

Richard A. Carranza is the superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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