by Matt Doran
The emphasis on historical thinking and critical textual analysis has been one of the most positive developments in the field of social studies education in recent years. Reading Like a Historian, Document-Based Questions, Common Core Literacy in History, the C3 Framework, and the new AP U.S. History all place these skills at the forefront of effective history/social science pedagogy. While these have been important skills within the discipline for some time, they are increasingly being recognized as interdisciplinary skills as well. Accordingly, the myth that social studies must be a “backburner” subject can be thoroughly debunked.
At the 2016 National Council for the Social Studies Conference, I was excited to see how the new SAT is assessing and reporting on students' abilities to critically analyze history and social science related texts on the Reading, Writing & Language, and Math tests. The texts are drawn from a category of “U.S. Founding Documents and Texts from the Great Global Conversation.” These include, “engaging, often historically and culturally important, works grappling with the issues at the heart of civic and political life.” Students need to be able to: read historical sources, cite evidence to support arguments, and interpret informational social science graphics. On the Math test, questions involving problem solving & data analysis can assess students’ understanding of how to draw a reliable conclusion to a social studies research question.
Six full-length practice tests for the SAT can be accessed online here: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/practice/full-length-practice-tests. To group the questions related to history/social studies, download the “Scoring Your SAT Practice Test” for each test and scroll to the section labeled “Get Cross-Test Scores” (green).
The inclusion of history/social studies textual analysis on the new SAT also demonstrates the increasing alignment of College Board initiatives. College Board recommends using the practice DBQs and Short-Answer Questions from the new AP U.S. History as SAT preparation tools. This is another positive step in the direction of developing the critically-minded students and citizens we need for the 21st century world.
by Matt Doran Updated infographic with new content literacy tools 2/2/19
Skills: What do we want students to be able to do? Critically analyze texts, research to deepen understanding, and construct evidence-based arguments.
Literacy across the curriculum goals can be summarized in three learning targets:
1. Read Closely for Textual Details
2. Research to Deepen Understanding
3. Construct Evidence-Based Arguments
Here are 13 web tools and apps that support one or more of these targets. All of these tools are free at some level; some also offer upgraded premium versions.
What are the big ideas, essential questions, and key thinking skills in your social studies classroom? How transferable are they?
"We don't learn in school just to stay in school for the rest of our lives. We have to be able to transfer what we learn in one setting and use it somewhere else. In order to transfer our knowledge we have to be able to learn things in a way that is flexible, that sees the connections between one use of the knowledge and another use of the knowledge.”
- Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University
“The challenge of education is always to ask: What is the least amount of material we can teach really well that will, in turn, make it possible for students to use that knowledge in the widest possible range of situations, not only situations that we can anticipate, but also situations that no one can anticipate. That is, abstractly, the problem of transfer: how can you learn less, and make much more of it?”
- Lee Shulman, President of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
Echoes and Reflections, a leader in Holocaust education, provided a free, full-day workshop for teachers (English and Social Studies) in our district this week. Our presenter was Alexis Storch, Director of Education at the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was joined by powerful testimony from John Koenigsberg, a Holocaust survivor. Here are some of the key takeaways for me.
The Humanity of All
Agency and Choice
Propaganda and Prejudice
Telling the Stories
By Matt Doran
Dispositions: 3) What do we want students (citizens) to value? A deep and broad understanding of the human experience—to become better citizens, and better human beings, who make the world a better place.
If 21st century learning is about inquiry, problem-solving and real-world application of academic content, then interdisciplinary teaching and learning are essential. Rarely are the significant issues in our world addressed through a single disciplinary lens. The field of social studies is inherently interdisciplinary—combining the lenses of history, geography, political science, sociology, economics, and the arts. Adding the richness of language, literature, and composition through English classes can further enhance the interdisciplinary humanities learning experience.
Traditionally, interdisciplinary social studies/English classes have utilized one of two approaches. The chronological approach largely follows the history curriculum and ties in literature from the historical period. This typically results in greater disruption for the English curriculum, as new readings are added, old ones subtracted, and others shifted to different times of the year. Alternatively, the thematic approach moves away from chronology and pulls together various literature selections and historical episodes organized around a set of themes. In this approach, both social studies and English curricula require an overhaul.
Is there an alternative approach? How can schools use an interdisciplinary approach without immediately revamping the entire English or social studies curricula and writing something from scratch? Are there themes that can be used to link the courses together, again without radically revamping either? What small steps can teachers take to make both courses more related, and ultimately more meaningful?
Following the principles of backward design can help teachers plan interdisciplinary English and social studies. In backward design, teacher-planners focus first on the macro-curriculum, then begin filling in the weekly details (micro-curriculum) from the big ideas, enduring understandings, and essential questions of the course.
10,000-Foot View: The Purpose of Humanities
To start macro-planning, begin with the most fundamental question of the disciplines. What is the purpose of this course? In Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, Sam Wineburg presents a succinct view of the purpose of the humanities: “What is history good for? Why even teach it in schools? My claim in a nutshell is that history holds the potential, only partly realized, of humanizing us in ways offered by few other areas in the school curriculum. … Each generation must ask itself anew why studying the past is important, and remind itself why history can bring us together rather than—as we have seen most recently—tear us apart.”
Wineburg’s quote reminds us why we teach social studies and English: to deepen and broaden students’ understanding of the human experience. We teach humanities to help students become better citizens, and better human beings, who make the world a better place. Students come to recognize the unity of humanity, but respect diversity and value different points-of-view. They learn to empathize with people, past and present, near and far. They learn critical analysis, reasoned judgment, argumentation and deliberation, and how to apply the lessons of the past to contemporary issues. The humanities disciplines remind us the STEM education is necessary, but not sufficient. Solving the world’s grand problems is not only a matter of engineering design or scientific discovery, but must also take into consideration aesthetics, culture, history, and ethics.
1,000-Foot View: Establishing Themes – Big Ideas, Enduring Understandings, Essential Questions
The major themes of the course (the big ideas) should flow from the purpose of the course. What themes will help deepen students’ understanding of the human experience? Look for themes that are broad enough to cut across multiple historical eras and wide array of literature. Some existing frameworks may be helpful guides for establishing course themes.
Colonial Williamsburg’s The Idea of America, frames American studies through the lens of four value tensions:
For more of a social justice approach, consider the four domains of the Teaching Tolerance anti-bias framework:
Another approach is to create themes that reflect the various disciplinary lenses of the course, such as:
The themes of the course will drive the enduring understandings and essential questions. Think of an enduring understanding as the “moral of the story.” These are statements that not only summarize the key ideas of the discipline, but are transferrable to other disciplines and to the real world—having long-term value beyond the classroom. For example, using the value tension of law vs. ethics, an enduring understanding might be framed as:
For the theme of identity, an enduring understanding could read:
An enduring understanding using the theme of power could be:
Essential questions are critical to creating an inquiry-based environment. Essential questions should be provocative, open ended and arguable. These should not be questions with a simple or straightforward correct answer. Rather, they are designed to provoke further inquiry, debate, and deliberation. Here are a few examples that follow from the enduring understandings above:
100-Foot View: Selecting Resources and Tracking the Themes
Once the course purpose, themes, enduring understandings and essential questions have been established, the micro-planning may begin. This is the phase that involves the selection and order of readings, projects, and assignments. With broad and meaningful course themes, teachers may find that many of the resources in their current portfolio simply need some tweaking or re-organization to work into the interdisciplinary macro-plan. It many cases, pairing course materials with course themes may be more a matter of the emphasis within particular resources, rather than the selection of all new ones.
It is important to keep in mind that course themes can be utilized in a chronological, thematic, or hybrid framework. It is not necessary to cover the themes individually as separate units, though this is one possible means of organization. If a chronological or hybrid approach is preferred, the course themes, enduring understandings, and essential questions can be introduced early on and reinforced throughout the year. Consider creating large posters on the classroom walls for each theme and adding to those posters throughout the course. Students could also track the themes in a journal or develop a set of theme-based notecards throughout the course.
Interdisciplinary writing tasks can also be an effective tool for linking both English and social studies courses to the broader course themes. Here are some prompt possibilities:
Interdisciplinary teaching is not an easy task, but it is an achievable task that can be greatly enhanced by a focus on backward design and macro-planning. Here is another piece of good news. The National Humanities Center has already created an excellent set of lessons and primary source collections using this approach, all of which are available for free online at: http://americainclass.org/primary-sources/ and http://americainclass.org/lessons/.
Finally, here are some thoughts gathered from my Facebook friends, all veteran humanities teachers of social studies and English.