by Matt Doran
Recent developments have raised questions about what kind of civic education we should have in the United States. Critics of the College Board's new AP US History Framework claimed the framework emphasized negative aspects of American History, and short-changed ideals like American exceptionalism. Others have decried the poor results on the NAEP Civics Test as a clear sign of civic illiteracy. On the other side, many educators viewed the events of Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement as opportunities to promote civic activism.
Should American History and civics classes emphasize civic activism or civic literacy? Most curricula and classrooms will include some of both, and the two emphases are not mutually exclusive. However, the model below helps us understand these two approaches, and evaluate which way the pendulum may be swinging at the national, state, local, and classroom level.
Consider the headlines below. What approach to civic education is emphasized?
by Matt Doran
Over the past several weeks, I have been crafting new assessment items around skills standards--credibility of sources, bias, stereotypes, claims, supporting evidence, etc. It strikes me that in the Internet and social media era, we need to update our thinking skills to address Internet legends, viral videos, and social media memes.
How do we wade through the multitude of spurious quotes, stories, and claims?
Remember the words of Lincoln...
by Matt Doran
Why Study Philosophy?
What course would you add to enrich the high school experience for the 21st century? Engineering? Computer Science? Coding? How about philosophy? Yes, philosophy. Learners in the 21st century need the sound reasoning and thinking skills offered by this classical discipline. Even if not offered as a separate course, the study of philosophy woven throughout and across disciplines offers great potential for deepening high school education.
The term philosophy means "love of wisdom." As a discipline in the humanities, philosophy offers similar benefits to the traditional subjects of English and history--to deepen and broaden our understanding of the human experience, and in turn, to make us better humans and better citizens. Indeed, many of the essential questions we use to frame English and history courses are philosophical in nature. These questions require us to draw logical deductions, solve ethical dilemmas, and make aesthetic judgments.
Philosophy introduces us to the various worldviews that shape human actions across the world. Political philosophy helps us understand the intellectual underpinnings of governments and ideology. These understandings allow us to better engage in meaningful civic dialogue and take informed action.
Of course, these are just the philosophical reasons for studying philosophy. Most of us will need practical justifications. (How does this help our students on the test?) Here we can turn to the sub-field of logic. In all disciplines, students are expected to evaluate and construct sound arguments using claims, evidence, and reasoning (warrants). Understanding how to construct logical syllogisms, and avoid logical fallacies, is particularly important in the use of reasoning. Reasoning uses rules of logic to show why the facts and data presented count as evidence. Consider the sampling of standards below drawn from the core academic disciplines to illustrate the importance of logic.
English Language Arts (Common Core State Standards)
History (National Center for History in the Schools)
Math (Common Core State Standards Mathematical Processes)
Science (Next Generation Science Standards, Understandings about the Nature of Science)
Resources for Getting Started with Philosophy
For Further Reading
Barry Beyer, "What Philosophy Offers to the Teaching of Thinking."
Michael Shammas, "For a Better Society, Teach Philosophy in High Schools."
By Matt Doran
Skills: What should students be able to do? Apply disciplinary thinking skills to text sets to show the relationship among social studies content, current events, and civic engagement.
The use of text sets supports infusion of the Common Core Literacy in History/Social Studies standards, and holds great potential for creating a 21st century social studies classroom. A text set is a collection of readings organized around a common theme or line of inquiry. The anchor text is the focus of a close reading. Supporting texts are connected meaningfully to the anchor text and to each other to deepen student understanding of the anchor text.
In social studies, close reading of content texts is not an end in itself, but rather a means to creating successful citizens. In this model, anchor texts can be pulled from rich collections of primary and secondary sources. Supporting texts from current events show the enduring relevance of the themes and questions raised in these readings from history, geography, and government and economics. Applying the tools of disciplinary thinking and common core literacy standards across the text sets prepares students to engage in meaningful civic discourse and take informed action.
Here is one example of an inquiry-based text set unit:
Course Overarching Essential Question
Unit Compelling Question
For a complete text lesson, with anticipation guide, adapted readings, and close reading questions, download the resources from this page on Share My Lesson (free account required).
by Matt Doran
Graphic and source file updated 2/2/19
Inquiry learning is central to history education. What does it mean to do historical inquiry? What types of questions can students investigate? The graphic below highlights six types of historical inquiries. Stay tuned for examples of each type in a folllow-up post.
Click here to make a copy of this graphic in Google Drawings.
Nineteen years ago, I wrote my high school senior research paper on the conservatism of the American Revolution. I used primary sources to argue, quite cogently for an 18-year-old, that the "American Revolution was a conservative movement aimed at restoring traditional British rights to the American colonists." Apparently, I was relying heavily on Daniel Boorstin and had not read much of Gordon Wood or Bernard Bailyn in high school.
So, was the American Revolution radical or conservative?
The American Revolutionaries' fight for liberty began as a conservative argument for rights as British subjects. However, the more radical nature of the American Revolution is evident when we look beneath the surface at the new argument Americans used to defend their rights: the higher-law principles of consent of the governed and natural rights. This radicalism, however, was tempered by the failure of the American founders to extend political rights to all those who naturally deserved them.
For the British, sovereignty resided with the "King in Parliament." The British government was a hybrid system with medieval elements of a hereditary monarchy and House of Lords. But, it also included a House of Commons, and system of rotten burroughs in which representation was not proportional to population. Although radical Whigs in Britain began to assert the doctrine of consent, most Whigs and Tories had to agree not to address any such principles of higher law because it would require their entire system to be reworked. They agreed to ignore the problem of consent and pretend the Glorious Revolution was just a moment of inconvenience.
As Americans agitated for their rights, the British continued to defend their system only on the grounds of customs and traditions of British law. In the "Summary of the View of Rights of British Americans," Thomas Jefferson tried to force the British to deal with the higher-order issue of consent. He blamed the King for failing to act as a negative against Parliament. Jefferson argued that colonial legislatures had equal authority with Parliament and it was the responsibility of the King to use his negative to protect the American colonies. But, of course, there was no such tradition that would allow these kinds of checks. It was only on the basis of higher-law principles of consent that the King could act in such a manner, and the British would not concede a higher law.
Edmund Burke recognized the problems inherent in British taxation of the American colonies. He argued that the British government should stop taxing the Americans because it would continue to raise questions about higher-law principles and point out contradictions in the British system. Nonetheless, the British continued to assert the right, through the Declaratory Act, to do as they wished because Parliament was supreme.
The Declaration of Independence was the Americans' magnum opus on higher-law rights. The Declaration listed grievances against the King for violations of the rights of colonists, but only after asserting a radical idea for the origins of rights: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
While the ideals of the Declaration and American Revolution were radical, the political realities were far from matching the rhetoric. Although some states outlawed slavery during and immediately after the American Revolution, the Constitution left in place a system of slavery that denied the most basic natural rights to enslaved African Americans. Frederick Douglass pointed out these contradictions in his 1852 speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?": "Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! ...The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. ...This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. ..."
Abolitionists of the 19th century (along with later women's rights and civil rights leaders) understood that the higher-law principles of the Declaration were the true foundation of freedom and equality. Setting out the aims of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, William Garrison called liberty both an inalienable right and a God-given right. To deny another liberty, he reasoned, infringed upon both the “law of nature” and constituted a “presumptuous transgression of all the holy commandments.” He concluded the same manifesto by affirming the movement’s two foundational documents: The Declaration of Independence and the Bible. Garrison was critical of the Constitution for its concessions to slavery, especially the Three-Fifths compromise. He regarded this as a betrayal of both republicanism and Christianity.
The Declaration of Independence asserted the high and radical aims of the American Revolution: the Enlightenment principles of consent of the governed and natural rights. But forces of conservatism kept many from enjoying those rights until later generations of radicals led movements for political change.
Rather than recommending a specific bibliography of works worth reading, I find it easier to recommend historians and social studies educators whose works I have found useful. This is especially true in recent years, as "works" are often in the form of websites, lesson plans, MOOCs, blogs, and tweets, not just traditional books and articles.
I have been compiling names over the last three years, and I am now finally getting around to sharing it publicly, in no particular order. While the majority teach social studies education at the university level, others are university history professors, high school teachers, or education consultants. I should also add a disclaimer that the inclusion of a particular individual in this list does not mean I agree with or endorse every opinion they express. My list is by no means exhaustive or conclusive, and I am always open to suggestions. Who do you follow?
Click on the names below for academic homepages or personal websites or follow the Twitter handles indicated.
By Matt Doran
I recently came across my old filmstrip collection, which I believe has now officially passed from audio-visual aid to historic artifact. Most of the filmstrips are accompanied by a cassette tape that beeps as a signal to move to the next slide. Others require human narration. For the record, I am not old enough to have actually taught using filmstrips. I am, however, old enough to have watched them as a student.
As I looked through my collection, a question came to mind: has pedagogy changed in thirty years, or are PowerPoint presentations just the new filmstrips? While filmstrips could provide a helpful visual supplement to a lecture, they were largely a passive experience for students. Students might be required to take notes or answer some questions, but the content was largely pre-determined unless the teacher ad-libbed.
By the turn of the 21st century, filmstrips, slide projectors, and overhead transparencies were being replaced by PowerPoint presentations. Today, PowerPoint is often viewed a symbol of stand-and-deliver direction instruction (lecturing), which has fallen out of favor for more constructivist pedagogy. As the Grant Wiggins recently noted, history teachers appear to be the most likely to spend a large percentage of time lecturing, at the expense of other student-centered approaches.
It is important to remember that PowerPoint is only software with a blank canvas (and some fancy themes). It is neither inherently good nor bad--it all depends on how it is used. A PowerPoint presentation need not be a canned lecture or scripted narration. When used effectively with interactive features, PowerPoint has far greater potential than a prefab film strip. Here are four suggestions for creating interactive PowerPoint presentations.
Vocabulary instruction is a critical component of students' academic success, and 55 percent of students' academic vocabulary comes from social studies disciplines. In Robert Marzano's Six-Step Process for Building Academic Vocabulary, step 6 requires involving students in games that enable them to play with terms. Games for vocabulary development should include student-to-student interaction. Tech savvy educators have created PowerPoint game templates that can be customized to meet specific course vocabulary. These include games like Password, Pyramid, and Taboo. For more PowerPoint game templates, see the links from FMI Teaching Resources and UNCW EdGames. Teachers can also create their own templates, using hyperlinks within the presentation. (See the directions in the Contingency and Decision-Making section below.)
Visual Discovery and Spiral Questions
Teachers' Curriculum Institute, publisher of the popular History Alive! materials, uses visual discovery to increase engagement. Students view and interpret a few powerful images on a historical topic. As slides are presented, teachers pose a series of spiral questions on three levels. Students can assume the role of detective as they answer the questions and record notes in a graphic organizer.
In Level 1 questions, student detectives gather evidence by identifying the people, places and things. (What do you see in the image?) In Level 2, student detectives begin to interpret the evidence and make inferences about time period, place, or people in the scene. Students should begin to defend their answers with “because” statements. Questions focus on what, when, where, and who. In Level 3, student detectives must use the evidence and their own critical thinking skills to make hypotheses about what is happening and why. Questions at this level emphasize why and how questions and require justifying, synthesizing, predicting, and evaluating.
Checking for Understanding - Clickers and Poll Everywhere
Student response systems (clickers) provide an easy and quick way for teachers to check for understanding. TurningPoint is an add-in to PowerPoint. Teachers can create new presentations in TurningPoint or use existing PowerPoint presentations and add in new slides. These new slides include multiple choice items in which students can respond to questions with remote response cards. Results are tallied and displayed in a chart in real-time within the PowerPoint presentation. Teachers can save the session to track individual and group progress over time. (Note: Plickers is a free alternative that allows teachers to collect real-time data through a web browser and teacher smart phone or tablet, without the need for student devices.)
Poll Everywhere is an app that allows teachers to ask multiple choice or open-ended questions. Teachers create questions using the online app. Once the poll is activated, it can be downloaded as a PowerPoint slide and inserted to another presentation. Students can respond to questions via the web, text message or Twitter. As the students respond, results appear instantly on the slide. Graphs change and move and open ended answers roll in for everyone to see. Poll Everywhere now includes a PollEv Presenter Add-in option for PowerPoint. Teachers can download the add-in to create new polls directly in PowerPoint, and navigate between poll slides. In addition to checking for understanding, Poll Everywhere questions work well as brainstorming warm-up questions, such as a K-W-L activity.
Choose Your Own Adventure - Contingency and Decision-Making
PowerPoint presentations, like textbooks, often present history as a linear narrative of what happened in the past, without much consideration to contingency and decision-making. In their article, What Does it Mean to Think Historically?, Thomas Andrews and Flannery Burke write, "To argue that history is contingent is to claim that every historical outcome depends upon a number of prior conditions; that each of these prior conditions depends, in turn, upon still other conditions; and so on. . . Contingency demands that students think deeply about past, present, and future. It offers a powerful corrective to teleology, the fallacy that events pursue a straight-arrow course to a pre-determined outcome, since people in the past had no way of anticipating our present world. Contingency also reminds us that individuals shape the course of human events. . ."
PowerPoint presentations do not have to flow in sequential order. Instead, slides can be hyperlinked in a such a way that students choose from a set of decision-points and view possible consequences of their choices, allowing students to better understand the underlying and immediate causes of historical events. The Smart Art graphics in PowerPoint provide a variety of options to generate list, process, hierarchy, or relationship graphic organizers. To hyperlink an element of the organizer, click on the element and select Hyperlink from the Insert tab. Next, click on Place in This Document and link to another slide.
Above all, simply avoid death by PowerPoint by using the tool to promote interactive and engaging strategies, instead of rote lectures.
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
I had been planning to post this article this week when I learned of the unexpected passing of Grant Wiggins on May 26, 2015. Wiggins was the co-author of Understanding by Design. His work on backward design and inquiry learning has been a powerful influence on my curriculum and professional development work over the years. The article below is written in his memory. For Wiggins' take on UbD and C3, see the blog article, Questions about Questions: NCSS and UbD.
Why Use Inquiry Learning in Social Studies?
Inquiry involves the pursuit of knowledge and understanding by means of questioning. Inquiry learning is inextricably tied to the disciplines of history and social sciences. The term “history” is derived from the Greek ἱστορία, historia, meaning “inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation.” History is not a closed narrative recitation of facts, but rather an open investigation that is continually researched, discussed, and debated. Historians seek not only to answer questions about “who, what, and when,” but also “why and how.” They also search for patterns and connections and draw conclusions about historical significance. While historians focus on questions from the past, social scientists use scientific inquiry and research data to draw conclusions about the relationships among individuals in society. Geographers, sociologists, economists, and political scientists use inquiry to help us understand the world and solve the problems we encounter.
How Should Teachers Develop Questions for Inquiry Learning?
Inquiry learning starts by posing questions or problems. Good inquiry learning, therefore, relies on the use of good questions. The Understanding by Design framework (UbD) provides one approach for helping teachers frame effective questions. UbD emphasizes beginning with the end goals in mind. The UbD process consists of three planning stages: 1) identifying desired results; 2) determining acceptable evidence; and 3) planning learning experiences and instruction.
Developing Overarching Essential Questions
UbD stage 1 starts with big ideas and enduring understandings. Big ideas are transferrable concepts that anchor the course and focus the curriculum. Big ideas in social studies may focus on abstract concepts such as:
They may also be framed as issues or conflicts:
The five themes of geography can also function as the big ideas:
Enduring understandings are derived from the big ideas and serve as the “moral of the story.” For example, the big ideas of common good and individual liberties could be expressed as: “Democratic governments must balance the common good with individual liberties.” In geography, an enduring understanding about human-environment interaction could read: “Physical environments influence human activities and human activities alter the physical environment.”
Flowing from the big Ideas and enduring understandings, overarching essential questions are broad questions that help shape the direction of units of study throughout an entire course. According to UbD, overarching essential questions:
Table 1A. Sample Overarching Essential Questions in Social Studies
Graphic Organizer 1A. Planning Overarching Essential Questions
Developing Compelling Questions
The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework, developed by the National Council for the Social Studies, helps guide the development of unit-specific compelling and supporting questions. C3 uses an Inquiry Arc based on four dimensions of social studies inquiry: 1) Developing questions and planning inquiries; 2) Applying disciplinary concepts and tools; 3) Evaluating sources and using evidence; and 4) Communicating conclusions and taking informed action.
Dimension 1 guides the planning of inquiry-based units. The C3 framework states:
In the video below, Kathy Swan, lead writer of the C3 framework, explains two important criteria for compelling questions. Compelling questions must be intellectually meaty and student-friendly.
Table 1B. Sample Compelling Questions
Graphic Organizer 1B. Planning Compelling and Supporting Questions
Adapted from the Inquiry Design (IDM) Blueprint: http://www.c3teachers.org/idem/
How Should Teachers Implement Essential and Compelling Questions?
Essential questions and compelling questions drive student inquiry. Overarching essential questions should be introduced at the beginning of the course, and revisited throughout the year. Compelling questions should be introduced at the beginning of the unit and lesson and guide student assignments and activities throughout the unit.
Strategies for Implementing Overarching Essential Questions
Overarching essential questions can be placed on large poster-size paper and posted on the classroom walls. These posters serve as reference points for the teacher and students. Allow space on the posters for the class to record thoughts about the essential questions. At the beginning of the course, conduct a class brainstorm on the board and write some of the key ideas on the posters. Repeat the activity quarterly or with each unit and add the new information using a different color marker each time. This will allow students to see their growth in understanding throughout the course.
Students can also keep an essential questions journal to record their reflections on these questions at various points throughout the course. Journal entries also allow for creative responses. Students may draw a cartoon, write a poem or song, or create a visual metaphor to demonstrate their understanding of the questions.
Discussion strategies provide opportunities for collaborative reflection on the essential questions. As the questions are revisited, students should be asked to connect the essential questions with the specific content of each unit, with compelling questions serving as further discussion points.
While essential questions do not have a single correct answer, they can shape essays in pre- and post-assessments to measure students’ growth in historical thinking and writing. Teachers can assess students’ responses using an evidence-based essay rubric that measures how well students supported their claims with evidence and reasoning.
Strategies for Implementing Compelling Questions
Compelling questions are unit-specific and should be introduced at the beginning of each unit or lesson. The C3 framework recommends that students take an active role in the development of compelling questions. Teachers may want to develop one or two compelling questions and have students come up with a third question for a particular unit. Keep in mind that compelling questions are only the beginning of the inquiry. Supporting questions should also be crafted to guide students’ inquiry. The strategies contained in the document provide tools for students to research, discuss, and debate these questions, and guidance on performance-based assessment development.
Many compelling and supporting questions work well with a detective model approach to history. Like detectives, historians define a specific problem to solve, ask meaningful questions, evaluate the evidence, and draw tentative conclusions. The evidence comes in the form of primary and secondary sources, but is always incomplete. Detectives and historians must try to separate fact from opinion and remain open to a variety of ways the evidence may be interpreted.
To begin the detective model, ask students ask students to give examples of detective or investigative television shows or movies they have seen. Ask students to brainstorm a list of skills that a good detective or investigator needs to have. Explain that throughout this course, students will learn that history is not a giant list of facts and figures to memorize. Rather it is an investigation into the past. Ask: Which of these skills are necessary to study history effectively? View a short video clip of a detective show and discuss how the detectives gather and use evidence. Classic examples from the television detective show Dragnet are available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/50sDragnet.
Graphic Organizer 1C. Investigating History
What Resources Are Available for Inquiry Learning?
Wiggins, Grant P., and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. Expanded 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005
McTighe, Jay, and Grant P. Wiggins. Understanding by Design: Professional Development Workbook. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2004.
National Council for the Social Studies. College, Career, and Civic Life Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History. Silver Spring, MD: NCSS, 2013. http://www.socialstudies.org/system/files/c3/C3-Framework-for-Social-Studies.pdf
Swan, Kathy and John Lee, ed. Teaching the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework: A Guide to Inquiry-Based Instruction in Social Studies. Silver Spring, MD, NCSS, 2014
Lesh, Bruce A. "Why Won't You Just Tell Us the Answer?": Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse Publishers, 2011.
Wineburg, Sam, Daisy Martin and Chauncey Monte-Sano. Reading Like a Historian: Teaching Literacy in Middle and High School History Classrooms. Columbia: Teachers College Press, 2012.
Stanford History Education Group. Reading Like a Historian. https://sheg.stanford.edu/rlh
University of Maryland Baltimore County. History Labs: A Guided Approach to Historical Inquiry in the K-12 Classroom. http://www.umbc.edu/che/historylabs/
National Council for the Social Studies. C3 Teachers: College, Career & Civic Life. http://www.c3teachers.org/