Choices Teaching Fellows

"Choices is a great alternative

for incorporating a structure that allows a teacher to stress the importance of citizenship and the roles that individuals should take in a democracy."

Jeremy Landa

Cooperative Arts and Humanities Magnet High School
New Haven, CT

Cooperative Arts and Humanities Magnet High School, in New Haven, CT has a population of about 650 students, 70% whom come from New Haven. About 80% of the students fall below the poverty line. Many of them struggle to read at grade level.

What course do you currently teach where you use Choices material.

I teach a Facing History and Ourselves course. The goal of the class is to engage students in a meaningful way about the role of individuals, ethics, and morality in the creation of historical events such as the Holocaust and the American Eugenics Movement. The class is meant to be introspective and help students understand that small, individual actions that bystanders and upstanders take on a daily basis have an impact on the world. The goal of this course is to influence the individual decisions that students make to build a community of upstanders. Within this goal, we focus on writing and introspective analysis of ourselves and our community to better inform our decisions.

How do you use Choices unit(s) in the course?

In the class, with a focus on genocides, it is important that students understand the complexity of the word genocide and the United States foreign policy on genocide. For this reason, I utilize the Confronting Genocide unit in its entirety. The lessons "defining genocide" and "the role of the media in communicating about genocides" found in the unit are particularly important for students. The beauty of the unit is that my first Facing History and Ourselves class, a low reading group, thrived on the deliberative discussion part of the United States foreign policy. It was the best way for us as a group to grapple with multiple foreign policy options as well as clarify historical details when they made mistakes. Ultimately, this unit helps students ask a question like, "How should the United States government balance its competing interests as a "moral compass" of the world with the need to protect the American people?"

What do you like most about this unit?

I like the role plays, which are awesome. The amount of planning time for role plays is extremely high and Choices has an excellent pedagogy framework, which help students really understand the ease of thinking. The deliberations are always a rousing success. I also like the narratives because they are much more engaging than the textbooks.

What do your students say about Choices units?

They love hearing what their peers think. They don't want to hear what teachers think most of the time and the Choices units are well equipped for helping that happen.

Teachers are always pressed for time. How do you fit Choices into the course?

I think that the Choices units are built to incorporate a decent breadth of content while focusing on singular issues. For instance, the unit US Immigration Policy in an Unsettled World pairs content with a larger framework about citizenship. Since my first unit is around citizenship in civics, it actually saves me time because the reading is a supplement rather than another separate narrative from the class. Essentially, I find it to be a textbook that is easy to shape around my class rather than the opposite, which is true of many of the history textbooks.

How do you adapt/modify the unit to fit your needs?

I insert a film in the Confronting Genocide unit. This year we watched Sometimes in April, a film about the genocide in Rwanda from a former soldiers perspective. It was an excellent way to visually understand the complexity of a genocide. In the Beyond Manifest Destiny: America Enters the Age of Imperialism unit, I supplemented with some primary sources that displayed the differences in the ways our government approached the changing dynamics of the 20th century.

How do Choices units help you teach 21st century skills?

As a social studies teacher in an age where education stresses the test, Choices is a great alternative for incorporating a structure that allows a teacher to stress the importance of citizenship and the roles that individuals should take in a democracy. It has important conceptual frameworks that allow large amounts of content to be digested and analyzed in critical and important ways. One result I have found with these units is more eager questioning and a desire to dig deeper into the ideas of these units. It builds life-long learning, in my opinion.