Teaching Social Studies = Using Two Lenses

In December, I held my final class as an instructor of AED 310 Writing in Social Studies at SUNY Cortland. I have been teaching this class for preservice teachers (and anyone else who needed a writing intensive class) for 3 years, but it was time to hang up my PowerPoint slides and concentrate on the other two jobs that I have in retirement! It was a great learning experience for me and, I hope, for the students!

Every semester, I used the idea of looking at the strategies and processes that we used during class with two lenses. Since some my students were not in the teaching program, I needed a way to make the materials as relevant as I could for everyone. How could students majoring in Athletic Training, Exercise Science and Biology see the content as applicable to them? Even if they would not be teaching others in a classroom setting, they were currently students and might find some of the ideas and strategies for writing useful in their college classes. So, I used the idea of two lenses, a student lens and a teacher lens, to frame the students’ thinking at the beginning of every class. Until this final semester, I didn’t think of it as a big deal – just another part of starting the class along with the agenda and the learning objectives. This semester, though, my students zeroed in on that idea as a central part of their learning. Here is what some of them said about the two lenses:

The Two Lenses strategy helped me learn not only as a student, but hopefully one day as a teacher as well. … Breaking us off into groups, discussing what worked for us and what didn’t, made us think of ourselves as students, and then discussing how we would implement it in a classroom setting made us think like teachers! Two lenses, or rather … how I thought of it, two birds and one stone! … By far this will be one of the best things to carry with me while I continue taking education classes. ~ Thaddeus S.One major thing I learned from taking this class is that you must approach everything we do in a class from two different lenses. One must be from a teacher’s point of view and the other must be as a student. …By approaching class in this two lenses perspective we … are able to create lessons that will be understandable for the average student. ~ Mars L.

By thinking about what I learn means not just to me, but what it means to my students has been a groundbreaking experience. ~ TJ E.

The students made a shift in thinking about the two lenses. My idea was to have them think about how they could use the ideas as students themselves. They were thinking about putting themselves in the role of the students they will be teaching one day. They used the student lens to evaluate the writing strategies and processes we were learning about in class to decide how they might implement and modify them in their own future classrooms. Cool! (Maybe that’s what I meant all along! J)

Then I started thinking about the idea of lenses in the social studies classroom. Don’t we want students to view the content of social studies with different lenses, from different perspectives? Primary sources present issues and events from differing points of view that students must analyze and compare. Diverse individuals, groups, cultures, and nations can view and interpret events in vastly different ways. Just think about the shift that is happening around the observance of Columbus Day. Some groups see the day as one of discovery and the beginning of great growth, while other groups see it as an incursion and the ending of everything that came before. Our students need to understand both perspectives and everything in between. We want students to use not just two lenses but multiple lenses, and make and understand multiple interpretations. Students need to understand deeply that all of history and social studies involves interpretation. No single source, textbook, or article can give our students an awareness and appreciation of these various interpretations. To become critical thinkers and citizens, they must explore all perspectives using multiple lenses.

So, break out the Ray Bans, the bifocals, and the 3D glasses and let me know how you encourage your students to use multiple lenses!




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