Lisa Hutton: History Repeats Itself – For Good
Lisa Hutton is working to keep history from repeating itself in underserved elementary and high school classrooms in the Lynwood Unified School District. Through the federally-funded California History-Social Science Project (CHSSP), she is helping to train teachers to better present history lessons, while imparting literacy skills that will encourage their students to attend – and stay in – college.
“It is recognized that there is an inequality in our school system,” says the assistant professor of teacher education. “Working with the teachers of low-performing students is where we can make a big difference. We are giving the teachers better content knowledge and strategies for writing and using the vocabulary in the history discipline. When you emphasize the arguments, evidence, and rhetorical writing that go along with the history curriculum, you focus on the higher level thinking skills that prepare kids to do well in college.
“Our emphasis is not only having them know more about history, but how to present it to students while make it more interesting, and ratcheting up their reading and writing skills. Traditionally, elementary and high school teachers don’t see themselves as teachers of literacy, but that’s something that we’ve had to incorporate.”
On June 6, the U.S. Department of Education announced that CHSSP sites at UC Berkeley, CSU Long Beach, CSU Dominguez Hills, and UC Davis were awarded the 2006 Teaching American History (TAH) grants for their partnerships with four California school districts, providing approximately $2.5 million in federal funds to support professional development programs for American history teachers in the Mt. Diablo, Lynwood, Folsom Cordova and Center Joint Unified school districts over the next three years. Hutton serves as the program's site director at CSU Dominguez Hills and CSU Long Beach. The CSUDH grant under Hutton's leadership will support training for 5th, 8th, and 11th grade teachers in Lynwood in content knowledge, discipline-specific reading and writing skills, and serving as expert teacher leaders to sustain the professional development effort after the grant period ends.
When Hutton was a fourth grade teacher, she participated in training through the Center for History-Social Science Education that was established on the CSU Dominguez Hills campus 15 years ago by Priscilla Porter, emeritus professor of history and teacher education, and co-directed by Linda Pomerantz-Zhang, emeritus professor of history. Porter is a former elementary school teacher, a former Orange County Teacher of the Year, and the senior author of Reflections, the new K-6 social studies program written for California standards and published by Harcourt Brace. Her efforts in education won her the Hilda Taba Award by the California Council for the Social Studies.
Porter also donated the Reflections program to the Joe and Marcia Weiss Urban Literacy Center in the CSUDH College of Education (COE). Porter continued to direct CHSSP following her retirement from Dominguez Hills, until five years ago, when Hutton took over the program with Porter’s blessing.
“I had a get-together for emeriti faculty, and she drove four hours to be here for an hour, to help me, as a new dean, get a perspective on the college,” says COE Dean Lynne Cook. “She is a marvelous person who has all the faith in the world in Lisa. Without Priscilla’s confidence in her, we wouldn’t have been able to continue with what we were doing with the project.”
Cook emphasizes the program’s connection between COE’s pedagogical orientation and the disciplinary focus of faculty in other colleges.
“We all know that reading, literacy, and math are really critical, and integrating literacy into that seems like a no-brainer,” she says. “Everybody has a specialization, but they all overlap. We know we’re going nowhere with the students we serve if we can’t get their literacy and math skills up. With CHSSP, we can continue to do it with a more interdisciplinary focus.”
Hutton echoes the mission, saying that, “Two things that most impact reading comprehension are cultural knowledge and vocabulary, so it’s important that kids have a well-rounded curriculum. Otherwise, it ends up hurting them down the road, when they don’t have enough background to know what they’re reading about.”
Cook believes that CHSSP’s mission of diversity will build a better understanding of all the cultures that make up the people of the United States.
“Learning more about your own culture [in the context of American history] helps the kids to develop a stronger self-identity, and builds their confidence in terms of what their people contributed to American history and leadership,” she says. “It raises their aspirations and raises an interest in the literacy skills and the reading.”
Hutton agrees, emphasizing the value of making history relevant to the large Latino and African American student population of the districts that CHSSP serves.
“There’s a move toward realizing that American history has to be placed in the context of world history, and that with all the global implications, we aren’t isolated from the rest of the world.”
To read more about the CHSSP’s partnerships with local school districts through the TAH program, go to http://csmp.ucop.edu/chssp.
- Joanie Harmon