Lighthouse Initiative for Texas Classrooms

Overview

The purpose of this Web site is to help Texas social studies teachers better understand how to approach curriculum, instruction, and assessment to assist their students in moving on to success in Advanced Placement Program* (AP*) courses and other advanced academic programs. Social studies teachers in grades 6 through 10-whether or not their courses are labeled "Pre-AP*"-face two enormous tasks: (1) teaching the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) to prepare their students for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS); and (2) cultivating the rigor and skills to put AP and other advanced programs within their students’ reach.

The good news is that these are not divergent tasks. Indeed, teaching the TEKS content at the cognitive level, and with the depth and complexity that the TEKS call for, necessitates the same kind of teaching strategies that define a successful Pre-AP course.

The key to understanding how these goals coincide is an appreciation of the link between curriculum, instruction, and assessment in the social studies classroom.

Curriculum: Curriculum in an AP course is defined by the College Board. In AP course description booklets, the College Board has specified content that needs to be taught and has given "general guidelines" as to the depth and complexity with which it should be taught. Pre-AP classes have state curriculum requirements that are more detailed but less customized. They are more detailed in that Pre-AP classes are built around the TEKS and not only the specific content and skill that is to be taught, but also the cognitive level at which it needs to be mastered. However, there is nothing in the TEKS that is specific to Pre-AP courses. The TEKS do not undertake to differentiate Pre-AP courses from others or to specify components that will enhance future student success in AP courses. To help fill this gap, the authors of this Web site have correlated some of the TEKS with content areas within each Pre-AP course and have offered lesson samples and suggestions to foster future success in AP courses.

Instruction: Instruction in the Pre-AP classroom must arise from the specified TEKS curriculum for those courses. At the same time, it should point to mastery of the skills that students will need in the more rigorous AP courses (e.g., analyzing essay prompts, writing complex and creative thesis statements, marshaling evidence in support of an argument, reading critically to discern point of view). Included on this site are instructional strategies aligned to TEKS standards that can also help create the kind of vibrant learning environment within which development of AP skills can occur.

Assessment: For both Pre-AP and AP students, assessment has become a culminating component of their coursework. Whether it is a benchmark test, TAKS, or an AP exam, students must have mastered skills and content to excel on the assessment. The state’s curriculum standards are by design aligned with assessment. Effective and thorough implementation of the TEKS will cultivate the knowledge and skills students must demonstrate on the TAKS. Because the TEKS are not specifically aligned with AP exams, however, a course taught with exclusive focus on the TEKS may not adequately prepare students for AP courses and their eventual assessments. Therefore, Pre-AP teachers also should have a thorough understanding of the social studies AP exams and the unique skills needed for success on them. Within their TEKS-based curricula they should emphasize those skills and should set expectations leading (on a multi-year path) to AP level proficiency. Simply teaching additional material or making tests harder may make additional work for teacher and student without bringing them nearer the goal. Such enhancements should instead purposefully target specific AP skills. This Web site is intended to provide those targets by highlighting connections between AP exams and the TEKS and by giving assessment samples for different grade levels that in their skills focus and level of expectations "spiral" toward the eventual AP exams in the upper grades.

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