Teaching Social Studies (Now) ≠ The Way We Were

It’s March and Spring is at least a possibility rather than just an abstract concept. I know there is more snow in our weather future, but I sure do like seeing the current piles shrink!

I have read several books and articles over the past couple of weeks that strongly confirmed my thinking about the NYS K-12 Social Studies Framework: this is not business as usual, nor just a rehash of how it was done before. The scholarship and research behind the Framework and its supporting documents, such as the C3 Framework, speak volumes about how we need to reevaluate everything about social studies what we teach, how we teach it and how we find out if they learned it. This reevaluation doesn’t mean we throw everything away, or that teachers have been doing things “wrong”. It means that thoughtful reflection is in order to decide what our students need to know and be able to do, confidently and independently, when they walk out of the classroom at the end of the year.

One piece I have been reading is Appendix E: Scholarly Rationale for the C3 Framework. (National Council for the Social Studies 2013) I know that doesn’t sound like a page-turner, but if, like me, you are in pursuit of thinking that supports improved student learning in social studies, this will become a best seller!

This article provides the research that supports the Inquiry Arc of the C3 Framework, which is the organizing principle of the NYS K-12 Social Studies Framework. You should take the time to read the whole article, but here are some excerpts that got the highlighter treatment in my copy:

Students are asked to be good consumers of other people’s knowledge and ideas, but they rarely get a chance to build their own deeper understandings, to learn to give up their naïve ideas, and to construct more powerful forms of knowledge. (83)

…students need opportunities to ask questions, pursue answers to those questions under the tutelage of expert teachers who can show them how to discipline their thinking processes, and take part in opportunities to communicate and act on their understandings. (83)

Children and adolescents are not empty vessels into which we pour our adult ideas and knowledge. (84)

Students need repeated opportunities to practice asking questions, investigating phenomena, and gathering the necessary evidence if they are to progress in building explanations and arguments that illustrate their knowledge and understandings. (91)

Now more than ever, students need the intellectual power to recognize societal problems; ask good questions and de­velop robust investigations into them; consider possible solutions and consequences; separate evidence-based claims from parochial opinions; and communicate and act upon what they learn. And most importantly, they must possess the capability and commitment to repeat that process as long as is necessary. Young people need strong tools for, and methods of, clear and disciplined thinking in order to traverse successfully the worlds of college, career, and civic life. (91)

Learning and deep understanding in any discipline has never been about learning more facts. It is about helping students make connections between what they know and new information, and supporting them as they apply that information in new situations. When we look at the Social Studies Framework, we must look at it with these ideas in mind. How will we respond to the changes in emphasis inherent in the Framework? What will students take away from our classrooms? What skills will they develop that will help them be productive and thoughtful citizens?

If we are to reflect on and reevaluate what we teach, how we teach it and how we find out if they learned it, then we must keep in mind that things cannot as they have always been and we are not the way we were.

National Council for the Social Studies. Social Studies for the Next Generation: Purposes, Practices, and Implications of the College, Career, and Civic Life for Social Studies State Standards. Silver Spring, MD: NCSS, 2013.

Fanelli_Jen_WEBJenny Fanelli

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