Teaching Social Studies = Opportunity and Challenge

It always seems that just when I think I have it all figured out, I don’t! The social studies scene in New York State has shifted a bit since June and we are still figuring out what that might mean to schools and districts. If you are not aware, the New York State Board of Regents voted in June to revise the timeline for the new design and of the Global History and Geography Regents and the U.S. History Regents. The memo from SED on the changes can be found here. There will be a more extended period of transition from the current Regents design to the new format, with the new format being fully implemented in June of 2021. So what does this mean? In my opinion, we have to think of this as both an opportunity and a challenge.

For teachers in grades K-8, this is an opportunity to fully dive into the Social Studies Framework and have some extended conversations about the vertical alignment of both content and practices with colleagues. What does it mean to learn and think about social studies in the earliest grades? What shifts in focus take place in the upper elementary grades? How does elementary social studies instruction impact and support social studies in the middle school grades? I think this time can be both enlightening and productive as we think about social studies, not just as the territory of high school teachers, but a foundational way of thinking, reading and writing for students at every level that we can all participate in and take responsibility for. There is an opportunity now to have a go, to try things out, to implement and adapt the Toolkit Inquiries and other materials in the classroom in order to better prepare students for the kinds of reading, writing and historical thinking that the assessments (and college and career!) will require. In July, teachers in grades K-4 from around Central New York came together for four days to have these conversations and to explore the Frameworks and the Toolkit. They came away with a better understanding of how social studies fits in their classroom and an eagerness to put into practice what they learned.

Of course, there are also challenges inherent in these changes and one is maintaining the urgency of the changes in last couple of years. The fact that the new Regents assessment was imminent (eeek!) was definitely a motivator for people to take the time to review and rethink both what and how they were teaching. This was nerve-wracking, of course, we did not have a clear idea of what the assessments might look like, but we were all talking about it and looking for ways to move our teaching and our students forward. Now the timeline has moved out and some may feel that the pressure is off and we can relax and keep the status quo going for a while yet. That’s an understandable response, but I feel just the opposite. We know that the assessments will be different and we have some ideas about what they will look like. Now we all have time to work on aligning our teaching with what the Frameworks contain and what kinds of reading, writing and thinking the assessments will measure. It is no longer a headlong race, but we certainly still need to move forward to improve social studies instruction. In July, a dedicated group of high school teachers from around the region accepted this challenge and spent four days learning and working with their colleagues to review, rethink and revise what and how they teach. Resources and strategies were shared and plans were made to meet again through the year to continue the work. These teachers showed an incredible dedication to moving forward to improve their teaching and their students’ learning about history and social studies.

Now that I think about, the only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know anything for sure, so every day presents both opportunity and challenge – what matters is how we respond! I choose to respond with eagerness and enthusiasm for a great school year working and learning with terrific social studies teachers in Central New York!

Fanelli_Jen_WEBCheers,
Jenny
jfanelli@ocmboces.org

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