Katie, Caitlyn, and Caroline’s Classrooms
In the SEI program at Charlestown High, these three teachers work together to serve an incredibly diverse student population, with students learning English and recently arriving in the United States from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and China. Katie Li, Caitlyn Castillejo, and Caroline Smith teach Humanities to students in the ninth and tenth grades, and their classrooms include ELD 1, 2, and 3 students, all newcomers to BPS, learning and working together.
One section of the curriculum profiled here includes unit notes and assignments around oppression, resistance, and narrative structure. It includes detailed note-taking sheets and powerpoints on institutional, interpersonal, and internalized oppression, as well as guides for students to create their own narratives that show both oppression and resistance as experienced by an invented character. Students are invited to critically examine when certain forms of resistance might be appropriate, as well as to consider the layers of oppression in the stories of individuals both real and fictional. In addition, this unit provides students with opportunities to build their understanding of standard written English, including grammatical and vocabulary-building exercises, guided notes to practice active listening, and a substantial writing task. Caroline suggests that when writing their narratives of oppression and resistance, ELD 1 students might benefit from having cut-out slips of paper instead of writing everything out in English for their story. Moreover, Caitlyn notes that the curriculum works best when students are taught with concrete separate examples of levels of oppression first and also adds that the unit “helps students analyze systems of oppression and identify the impact that institutional oppression can have at an individual level. For ELLs who haven't grown up here seeing the impact of laws/policies and the legacy they can have is an important way for them to make sense of life in the US.”
Another unit is structured around the question “Why, in the United States, are some people poor and others rich?”. This question provides students with an opportunity to examine the many histories of racism and exclusion in the country, as well as policies of affirmative action. In addition, students practice conducting background research and engaging in a Socratic Seminar to deeply engage with ideas through conversation with classmates. According to Katie, the purpose of this unit is to foster critical thinking and enable students to better understand our society today.
Overall, the curriculum submitted by these three educators reflects how important it is that this work is done with others. Co-teaching, according to Katie, “speaks to what we want for schools [...] it can actually help you think about things more deeply.” Being able to critically examine what one teaches with others can strengthen curriculum, because you’re able to identify areas of growth for yourself and learn from the knowledge of others. Having space, time, and resources to co-plan is also invaluable; these three teachers meet weekly to plan for the week ahead and delegate responsibilities. Ultimately, they are able to communicate this value of collaboration and trust to students, who must also learn to work together, despite heterogeneous backgrounds, if they are to fight for a more just and fair world.