Spot Light


Karen Craig
Connelly School of the Holy Child
Potomac, MD

FOR SIXTEEN YEARS, KAREN CRAIG has challenged her Holy Child students to think beyond the classroom and acquire lifelong skills. While she has taught Latin, Religion, and Language Arts, her passion is Social Studies, and she enjoys designing assignments and assessments to strengthen her students' critical thinking, reading, and writing. Holy Child's commitment to innovative learning and teaching supports and encourages teachers like Karen Craig to break the traditional educational mold and concentrate on dynamic, creative, and original instruction that actively involves the student in every step of the process.

When building a unit, Ms. Craig applies a backwards approach believing that having a clear goal in sight better allows her to lead her students to the end. She begins with a big idea or question and finds or creates a culminating project that will answer this question. Straying from traditional, standardized tests and quizzes, Ms. Craig often utilizes authentic assessments in her courses, where students demonstrate their learning and understanding in genuine ways. Always asking the students the Big Question at the beginning of the unit, she typically informs the students of their end goal or project, so they know what to work towards, as well. For example, when teaching the French Revolution in the Sophomore Western Civilization course, she asked her class, "Why did the French Revolution occur?" The culminating activity was a Mock Trial, during which the class put King Louis XVI before a court of law. Building the unit from the big idea and end assessment, Ms. Craig designs class work, reading assignments, and smaller assessments, providing information and activities to help the students discern their answers to the big question.

During the year, she implements a variety of authentic assessments throughout course units, but the Mock Trial remains Ms. Craig's favorite. While her sophomores questioned King Louis in their mock trial, her Seventh Grade United States History students put Andrew Jackson on trial for the Trail of Tears. The two students serving as the prosecutor and defense attorney create trial questions for the rest of their classmates, who each play a historical character. With Ms. Craig as the judge, the trial lasts a full class period, involving planned questions and extemporaneous cross examinations and rebuttals. The jury, which consists of Administrative and Faculty Members, deliberates and presents the verdict, which usually is guilty. Following the trial, students write a reflective response to the project.

Ms. Craig loves the mock trials, and other authentic assessments, because the students enjoy it and remember it, but mostly because it teaches them a multitude of life lessons. Through the mock trial, students learn how to speak in public, to perform historical research, to ask questions, to listen, to apply historical and philosophical information, and to state and support an argument.
Essentially, the project teaches students how to think, not what to think, which remains Karen Craig's goal as a Social Studies teacher.

Looking forward to engaging and challenging future Holy Child students, Ms. Craig hopes to add more of these types of activities to every unit and course. In June of 2018, Ms. Craig participated in a Harkness Discussion Training, a professional development opportunity presented to Holy Child Faculty members, and she believes this approach will strengthen her Senior Government and Law course. A Harkness Discussion involves students reading material prior to class and discussing the material during class, with the teacher only interjecting if needed. The philosophy of the discussion focuses on students driving their learning and understanding, and Ms. Craig values the lessons these discussions instill in students, such as clearly stating an argument, supporting an argument, respecting various opinions, listening to others, challenging opposing viewpoints, and counterarguing or conceding to the opposition, all of which remain the foundation of the U.S. government and its laws.

Harkness Training represents Holy Child's commitment to what Ms. Craig calls "teaching the How, not the What." Inventive professional development experiences, our innovative furniture and classrooms, collaboration between faculty and administration, and dynamic and creative teachers like Ms. Craig demonstrate this commitment which elevates teaching and learning at Holy Child beyond the standard. Throughout our halls, classrooms, labs, stages, and fields, our students learn "the How," and Holy Child continues to invest in this philosophy. Ms. Craig's sixteen years of inventive and passionate devotion to her craft and students strengthen and advance Cornelia Connelly's vision and Holy Child's mission to instill a joy of learning in students while encouraging them to be women of action.

Written by former Writing Center Specialist and English Teacher Katie Dolan