The credential program at California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) has developed a tradition of prioritizing social justice. While TT materials have long been a staple of the program’s teacher education courses, in recent years faculty have been experimenting with using TT resources to build constructive bridges between the theory and practice of culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogy.
In her course Principles of Teaching in a Diverse K–8 Classroom, Maggie Beddow and her colleagues at CSUS included TT resources. They focused particularly on the program’s tool for building learning plans and the Social Justice Standards to incorporate anti-bias education into their curriculum while also teaching lesson planning. Beddow, whose own teaching credential is from CSUS, believes strongly that teacher education should begin from a social justice perspective. “It’s not going to be an add-in; it needs to be integrated into everything we teach,” she explained. “So our lessons should be created around those topics.”
Like other foundations classes, Principles of Teaching in a Diverse K–8 Classroom serves to orient new educators to the profession, delivering fundamental lessons in pedagogy and instructional approaches. The students in Principles of Teaching are undergraduate pre-service educators seeking their bachelor’s degrees through the state-approved credentialing program.
It is worth noting that in her case study, Beddow refers to Perspectives for a Diverse America, a TT resource which is no longer available in its original form. Last year, TT revised its website and incorporated the different components of Perspectives (which had been a stand-alone site) into tolerance.org. Key elements of Perspectives—the Social Justice Standards, the custom Learning Plan Builder and the collections of texts, strategies and tasks—are now housed on tolerance.org. The new iteration of Perspectives actually expands on the original as users can now browse Learning Plans built by other educators.
In 2015, Beddow and her colleague Steven Daley watched several students respond to Perspectives and other TT resources at a professional development workshop at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. As a result, they decided to embed TT resources into their foundations class. They crafted a social justice component for their course and required students to use Perspectives to build and share learning plans. In 2016, nearly 100 of their students attended the Museum of Tolerance training, where they learned to use the tool. Beddow and her colleagues incorporated lessons from the training into class lectures and discussions, finding that TT resources allowed them to easily teach lesson planning while incorporating key concepts in anti-bias education.
Beddow explained that even students who missed the Museum of Tolerance workshop quickly figured out how to create lessons. “What the students really liked about the program,” she said, “was the ease of use. They liked using templates and that you could do pretty much everything online. You can just click on different areas and fill in what you are doing. This made it easy to select the topic, the central text, the essential questions—basically all of the parts of their lesson.”
At CSUS, diversity education is essential to the student learning experience, and student teachers are primarily placed in under-serviced schools with high percentages of English language learners. According to Beddow, new teachers sometimes struggle to integrate social and emotional learning skills with the academic language they must convey to their students. TT resources solved a problem that Beddow and her colleagues had struggled with: how to move from the theory of culturally responsive pedagogy to its practice. “This was always the biggest challenge for the students,” said Beddow. “That was really the selling point for us. We really felt like Teaching Tolerance gave us something tangible so that we could teach about the theory and they could put it into practice.”
In particular, Beddow and her colleagues were interested in lessons that engender empathy. “Bullying is a big problem in our schools,” Beddow explained. “Our students often report that there is bullying going on in their classroom.” While their course already featured a lecture on social-emotional learning, both Beddow and Daley felt that it could be improved with more practical aspects. Beddow noted that, like many TT resources, the Social Justice Standards prioritize empathy. She and Daley decided to have students create a practical task using TT materials for social and emotional learning instruction. The resulting assignment requires students to use TT materials to create a learning plan designed to teach empathy.
The CSUS model shows that faculty do not have to choose between incorporating diverse perspectives and teaching rigorous lesson planning. The TT tools used here allowed faculty to bridge the gap for the benefit of the new pre-service teachers that they serve.
Perspectives for a Diverse America was an online tool designed to guide educators through the development of a custom learning plan that makes use of TT’s library of texts, teaching strategies and student tasks. Although Perspectives no longer exists as a stand-alone website, it has been integrated into tolerance.org and is now known as TT’s Learning Plan Builder. The Learning Plan Builder serves the same purpose and utilizes the same curricular components as Perspectives.
Teaching Tolerance’s site includes a large, searchable library of short texts. This multi-genre, multi-media collection aligns with the Common Core’s recommendations for text complexity as well as with the Social Justice Standards. Users select from informational and literary nonfiction texts, literature, photographs, political cartoons, interviews, infographics and more. Each text is leveled and includes discussion questions.
TT offers an array of strategies to build literacy and social emotional skills while exploring meaningful texts. Unlike conventional or scripted lesson plans, these strategies allow users to select and combine vocabulary, reading, and speaking and listening activities, customizing a pathway that supports the user’s instructional goals. Most strategies are Common Core–aligned and include special notes about connections to anti-bias education and adaptations for English language learners.
TT encourages users to assess students using performance tasks and rubrics that measure writing, civic engagement and critical literacy skills. Tasks are divided into two groups. “Write to the Source” tasks allow students to demonstrate their argumentative, explanatory and narrative writing skills by responding to customizable prompts. “Do Something” tasks empower students to take action in their school and community.