Reflections upon Teaching and Learning in the Social Studies Classroom

Transcript of “Teaching and Learning in the Social Studies Classroom”:

Over the past few decades the world has undergone immense changes as our society becomes more interconnected and globalized. The nature and purpose of education both in the United States and around the world, has changed in tandem with global trends. For social studies educators, our role in educating and shaping future citizens could not be more important. In their mission statement, the National Council for the Social Studies, the largest organization in the United States that promotes social studies education, defines the purpose of social studies as helping “young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse democratic society in an interdependent world.” But what does this mean? And how do we, as educators, do this within our classrooms?

First, social studies is perhaps the most vital subject which prepares students to make decisions as citizens. The founding fathers of the United States believed that the success of the republic relied upon an informed and critical populace. The 2016 presidential election, and the prominent role which fake news played in the election, made clear to us the need for social studies education. During my field study, in my own classroom, I had the opportunity to introduce my students to historical inquiry by teaching them the SCIM-C routine, which helped them critically think about historical primary sources. The routine challenges students to dissect a primary source for meaning, but it also asks them to contextualize the document within a time and place and to think deeper about the perspective of the document’s author and to consider any motives or audiences the document may have. In one activity I used historical sources written by a handful of early 20th century muckrakers. Using SCIM-C my students were quick to notice the authors’ motives, intents, and possible truths or exaggerations in those sources. At the end of the activity one student raised their hand and asked if they could ask these same kinds of questions for modern newspaper articles or on facebook posts. I answered that they, of course, could and should ask these same questions of any news they might read or hear.

The end result is that, regardless of whether we are liberals, moderates, or conservatives, all of us should be worried about the power of fake news. Equipping our students with the knowledge and skills that can be taught within social studies classrooms can and must be an important step to creating a stronger, critical, and more informed citizenry.

Finally, social studies must also be engaging and meaningful. According to Peter and Rhys Davies, secondary classrooms lack variety and lack the types of small-group sessions which are typical within higher education and in real world contexts. The solution, they argue, lies in making teaching and learning sessions interesting, interactive, imaginative, and challenging. Therefore, it is our duty as social studies educators, to foster interaction, understanding, and learning in all of our students. One way to do this is to use a multiplicity of researched based strategies within the classroom that can vary the types of classroom tasks student complete. These strategies involve group work, discussion between students, and working in inquiry-based ways with historical topics.

Other than allowing students to work with primary sources, one of my favorite ways to engage students and make learning meaningful was to include visual and audio sources within my lesson. For example, during one class session I talked about FDR’s first fireside chat on the banking crisis. Instead of telling my students why FDR’s first fireside chat was significant, I asked them to use SCIM-C to analyze his chat and letters from two regular American people who responded to his broadcast. However, instead of asking them just to read the broadcast, I played parts of the actual broadcast to the class so they could hear FDR deliver it while they followed along on their own copy.

From the reaction of the students I could tell that including the audio worked to make the primary source real in a way which could not be replicated by simply reading the document. The impact of listening to FDR’s broadcast was apparent during a perspective taking activity in which I asked students to pretend they were an American in 1933 who had just listened to FDR’s chat. They had to then write a short letter to the president telling him about their thoughts on his broadcast. Instead of just focusing on the details of FDR’s broadcast, the students also included their emotional reactions to hearing his assuring tone. These are the types of emotional responses and reactions which would have been lost in the activity without playing the historical recording.

The take away from all of this is that my future role as a social studies teacher is more important than I previously thought. As social studies educators we play a vital role in shaping students into engaged and informed citizens, helping to ensure that our republic and our world remains strong and improves. But as social studies educators we are also challenged to move beyond content in order to find engaging and meaningful ways for our students to interact with history and their peers. In the end, it is not acceptable for students just to learn historical facts, we must also help our students learn the necessary skills and dispositions which will equip them for success in life.

Reflection Upon my Personal Teaching Metaphor

My personal teaching metaphor from the beginning of the semester:

“As a sports fan I like to imagine my classroom as a home football field, my students are my team, and I am the quarterback. The stands are packed with fans cheering us on. Familiar faces are in the stands: other students, friends of students, fellow teachers, parents and family, administrators, and local community members. In the president’s or owner’s box are state politicians, national politicians, and standards creators. They are there to see their home team. All of these fans are there to cheer on my students, encouraging them, and hoping for their success.

As quarterback, I’m a leader for my team, a crucial keystone for the success of us all. But, I am not the only one contributing. My students are my offensive line and my receivers. We work together to craft strategy, to execute plays, and to advance down the field to our ultimate objective, the goal line. We advance down the field when all of us work together with our different talents. As quarterback I rely on my offensive line, as teachers rely on students, but that also means that I need to be a good leader and motivate my students and take my job and my responsibility seriously. Keys to success are the prior knowledge of my students, my content knowledge, expertise, teaching strategies, engagement, and motivation. All of these combine to get us across the goal posts and win games.”

Looking back at my metaphor at the end of the semester I am pleased with how I envisioned my role as a teacher. As quarterback I am the leader of the team on the field, but I am also part of the team that includes my students and administrators. Imagining parents and community members as fans of our football team also fits, as I’ve seen this in action with particular parents of students throughout my field study. With the help of parents we were able work together to motivate students who were struggling and I knew that every parent was rooting for the success of all of our students.

After my field experience there are a few things I would add to my metaphor. First, I would add that lesson and unit plans are like game plans. Quarterbacks work on game plans and play calls in coordination with coaches and coordinators. Within the classroom teachers create lesson and unit plans on their own and in coordination with colleagues, departments, and administrative officials. Quarterbacks also can change calls before the ball is snapped, like this teachers can change lessons in the middle of delivering them in order to make them more effective based upon student response.

Second, from reading the First Day of School, I would add something about the first drive being one of the most important parts of the game. In football, the first drive is crucial to establishing momentum. Teams which fail to execute on the first drive and end up with a three-and-out on the first possession of the game usually face an uphill battle during the entire football game. In the classroom, the most crucial part of the year occurs at the beginning of the semester. During the first day of school teachers establish a routine, expectations of students, and start a report with students. During other school days the first few minutes of class are the most crucial minutes of the class. During the first minutes of class teachers must get students into the lesson through some kind of warm-up or attention grabbing activity to establish a formula for a successful day. As the quarterback, teachers must work to ensure that the team executes during the first drive of school and of the day to win the game.

Dak Prescott, quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, talking to his teammates in the huddle.

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