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Storytime in US history

Teacher uses children's book as a hook for new curriculum

Anastasia Lagner, Copy Editor

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Emily Pacini-Carlin/Special to Bear Witness

It’s storytime in World and US History teacher Courtney Kelly’s U.S. history class.

When Kelly taught Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address earlier this year, she subverted expectations of lectures and

worksheets with pillows and children’s books. The alternate teaching strategy, uncommon on Branham’s campus, is inspired by a similar experience from her time in school.

“I had a Spanish teacher in high school,” Kelly said, “and the storytimes were so much fun.”

Her unusual tactic is not born just from inspiration, but also as an innovative attempt to adapt to California’s new social science curriculum. Fellow Branham teachers are experiencing the same struggles as her, and the new material is requiring some creative thinking.

In all non-AP history classes, learning now revolves around inquiry-based teaching, answering one overarching, thematic question relevant to modern issues and connecting past events and patterns with current ones.

Underneath that single question, unit and lesson questions are built in to supplement ideas in answering the big question, and aim to incorporate a retention of the year’s material into an all-encompassing, end-of-year assignment.

The changes have also introduced new material, such as the push for LGBTQ+ inclusion in California’s history textbooks.

“[The new curriculum] calls for short lectures to provide information rather than solely textbook work,” Kelly says. “I also have researched online sources to provide … in-depth teaching as opposed to breadth.”

For her lesson on Lincoln, she bought a picture book based on online research and built a group activity around it. She then prefaced the activity with a themed game of Kahoot. The game generated a spirit of competition, since the students who did the best were able to use the pillows during the storytime.

Junior Ephraim Qalo remembers the storytime lesson.

“I like the way it gave us a motive to work harder,” Qalo says. “It went more in-depth on Lincoln’s speech, gave [insight] of the background and what events took place.”

While students such as Qalo were excited for the change, Kelly says that most of her students were evenly split between enthusiasm and confusion.

With her storytimes, Kelly hopes to generate enthusiasm and interest in adjusting to the new curriculum.

“Children’s books are really good for helping to teach history,” she says.

While she has held only one storytime so far for her U.S. history classes, Kelly plans to hold more in the upcoming months.

Since it was the first time her storytime lesson was implemented, Kelly said that she understands the skepticism on an approach that is elementary in nature. Over time, she hopes her students will grow more keen on her unorthodox approach.

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Storytime in US history