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10 elements to consider when planning in the social studies classroom

When planning for a Social Studies lesson, consider taking up the various curricular mandates in the Alberta Social Studies program as well as various principles of good planning:

1.         Connect history to issues in the present: Rather than studying history for its own sake as if that is going to help students in some way, as mandated in the Alberta program we want to engage history through helping students see how the past is connected to issues in the present.  

2.         Engage students in inquiry: In contrast to an approach to education where we tell students what we want them to know and expect them to passively take notes while we talk, we want to engage students in an inquiry process whereby we problematize the content by posing an inquiry question for them to consider that requires students to take a position and support it with evidence gained from their inquiry.

3.         Build in ‘enabling’ constraints structures: In posing well-crafted questions that require students to take a position on an issue, we provide students with ‘enabling constraints’ that allow them to focus their inquiry in a way that is manageable and purposeful. Further, we help students in their learning by adopting ‘enabling structures’ creating graphic organizers that will help them to focus their responses highlighting the areas that we need them to specifically consider in order to thoughtfully respond to the inquiry question.

4.         Provide rich resources and materials that will enable students to thoughtfully and meaningfully respond to the inquiry question: Adding a layer to the inquiry process, we want to incorporate rich resources like video and primary source documents that will help students to provide viable and thoughtful responses to the central inquiry question.

5.         Engage students in small group and larger class dialogue and deliberation: By opening up a space for dialogue and discussion where students share their thoughts and ideas with their peers, and in larger classroom group discussions, we give students an opportunity to make meaning of core concepts, propose tentative responses, and (ideally) mutually inform one another. Preparing students for democratic living must involve engaging them in current issues where they have the opportunity to deliberate and respectively discuss their thoughts within both small and larger group settings. 

6.         Adopt an seminar, deliberation, and perhaps action format: Once we pose an inquiry question for students, we can not simply stop there. We need to expose them to a range of resources, materials, and content that will help them more deeply respond to the central inquiry question.

7.         Connecting ideas to the world and teaching for understanding: It is not enough to give students the definition of key ideas and concepts like imperialism, they must be given opportunities to connect these concepts to how they currently live in their world. We can accomplish this by creating an inquiry question that asks them to determine if the concept under study is present in the world today. 

8.         Begin with the end in mind: Often we engage students in inquiry along with dialogue but then fail to build in an assessment plan that will help the teacher better appreciate the extent to which students understood key notions and ideas we are trying to engage them with. Consequently, we need to build in an assessment plan that is communicated to students right at the beginning so they are clear how they will be evaluated in this inquiry process. This kind of thinking draws on Wiggins and McTighe’s insights regarding thinking with the end in mind by having students show their understanding through one of six types of understanding: explain, interpret, apply, have perspective, empathize, have self-knowledge. For example, rather than having students simply defining imperialism, after studying primary sources we ask students if the original relationship among Aboriginal peoples and Europeans reflects an imperial relationship. In doing this they must apply what they know within a new situation, thus demonstrating knowledge of the concept. 

9.         Forefront the criteria for assessment and strategies to successfully respond to the assessment task: Here again, even when we have a clear assessment plan sometimes we as teachers fail to explain to students the criteria they will be assessed on. Further, we also often fail to provide guided instruction that includes various strategies that would help them create work that reflects these criteria. If we don't teach students how to successfully achieve particular tasks and what strong and poor work looks like, we aid the already strong and disadvantage those that may not have supports at home. 

10.       Engage students with Aboriginal perspectives: To do this we can take up Dwayne Donald’s central insight that we need to pay attention to the relationship between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginal peoples, and in particular the original relationship that existed before, as he states ‘things went wrong’ starting in the mid 1800’s with the annihilation of the Buffalo and the beginning of mass European settlement on the prairies.   

This is a lot to take in and may seem, for some, distanced from the lived world of the social studies classroom. However, all of these insights are extremely practical for creating meaningful social studies lessons and units. In what follows I have created a string of lessons that reflect how these various elements might live within a grade seven social studies class in Alberta. You can find this lesson here:

This post first appeared on I Can't Believe A Kid Did That: Powerful Examples Of Student Inquiry Work, please read the originial post: here

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10 elements to consider when planning in the social studies classroom


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