Diversifying Perspectives in 8th Grade U.S. History

Katharine Cortes & Mary Robillard
     Katharine Cortes and Mary Robillard

“With the reduced time to teach, being purposeful and selective is critical.”  This is how Katharine Cortes, Associate Director of the UC Davis History Project recently explained one of her goals for the 8th Grade Group that she will lead with Mary Robillard, a veteran 8th grade teacher from Rancho Medanos Junior High School in Pittsburgh.  Katharine and Mary will work with 8th-grade teachers to select, prioritize, and map essential content and skills that are especially important right now.  Three content areas - Slavery, Settler Colonialism, and Reconstruction – will be central to this Grade Group.  Primary sources and lesson plans that address each topic will underscore the significance of these topics for students and teachers.  As Katharine reflected: “With the focus on racial justice and anti-racist teaching right now, offering students the context for racism, land ownership, and our founding documents is critical.  It will allow students to better understand and engage with current events.”   

The 8th Grade Group’s emphasis on slavery, settler colonialism, and Reconstruction will be approached through a mix of scholar talks, teacher leader presentations, and collaborative discussions.  Primary source analysis tools to help students read, analyze, and interpret key documents from the past will also assist teachers as they’re working to engage their students in these important topics.  Katharine’s expertise in nineteenth century U.S. history make her well-prepared to discuss the importance of centering race in the middle school classroom.  “I am particularly interested in elevating the voices of those who are typically left out of history textbooks – Black American, Native Americans, Latinx Americans, Asian Americans, women, children, LGBTQ Americans, and persons with disabilities.  By including people in history lessons that represent the diversity of the nation, history suddenly becomes interesting and relevant,” said Katharine. 

The Grade Group series is specifically designed to provide teachers with the resources and support they will need to teach this fall.  The 8th Grade Group – like all other groups – will offer educators from across the state the opportunity to talk with each other, share new ideas, and think together about how best to teach their particular content  and address students’ social and emotional needs in this new and admittedly difficult context.  

The first 8th Grade Group meeting will be held on Monday, November 16 from 4:00 to 5:30 pm.  The other sessions will take place on December 7, January 11, February 1 and 22, and March 15. 

For more information about the Grade Groups series, click here.  Registration Fee:  $185. To register online via credit card, click here.  To register via check or purchase order, click here.

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