The KCSS Excellence in Teaching Award is named in honor of Judy Cromwell, a social studies teacher in the Topeka area for over 38 years. Intended to reward and encourage high quality instruction in the social studies for educators who are currently teaching social studies at least half-time and have three years teaching experience, KCSS selects one winner in each at the elementary and secondary levels.
David Cordell is this year’s secondary winner. He currently works at Leawood Middle School as an 8th grade social studies teacher. David loves to tell his students, “that social studies is the best subject to study because it is constantly changing,” and hopes that his “passion for teaching social studies will inspire students to become active citizens in our society.” His principal describes Mr. Cordell as “an effective and efficient teacher that challenges students academically while supporting their needs as individual learners. His classroom is a positive learning environment where he has developed rapport with students while still having high expectations.” David has also been a presenter at the National Council for the Social Studies conference the past two years and serves as a member of the state social studies standards and assessment committee.
David shares how he uses historical argument in his classes:
I have always been a big believer in having my eighth grade students write historical arguments in social studies. I have always told my students that regardless of the field that they choose to go into, that they will still need to be able to read and interpret evidence, and to be able to think and write critically. By learning to write a historical argument, students can begin to learn these critical skills that they can use throughout their lifetime.
I have my students begin the school year by learning to select a claim about a given historical era. I have them back that claim with historical evidence that accurately backs up what they are trying to say. I personally select the historical evidence for them for these assignments, since I do not want my students doing a simple google search for historical evidence. As you can imagine, those results could be terrifying! I prefer to use historical evidence from the Stanford History Education Group (https://sheg.stanford.edu/), Gilder Lehrman (https://www.gilderlehrman.org/), or the Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/collections/).
During the second quarter, my students learn to write from the opposing side, or a counterclaim. My students must also use historical evidence that I provide to support their counterclaim. It is important to provide at least two possible outcomes of a historical argument, so that students can simply choose the other option when they write their counterclaim. For middle school students, this becomes a bit more difficult. My students tend to want to argue from one side of the argument!
During the third quarter, my students begin to analyze their historical argument. In their conclusions, I make them explain to their readers why their claim is more important than their counterclaim. This allows students to see the reasoning behind the entire argument.
Finally, I use the final quarter of the school year to see if students can put a historical era into context. For example, can students truly understand why the United States went to war with Spain? Or can my students see why the Spanish did not believe that the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine was an act of sabotage?
Teachers must also be able to try new concepts when introducing historical argumentation in a social studies class. Starting this week, my students will be using Flipgrid to provide feedback to their classmates. The students are broken into discussion groups. Each student will have to comment on other students’ work via Flipgrid. Each student will receive video feedback using a rubric that I have created. In turn, those students will revise their original historical argument, and resubmit an improved version of their writing to me. This will be the first time I’m using Flipgrid in my classroom, so I am very excited to see how my students engage with this in their discussions!
If you have any questions on how to get started on how to get your students to write a historical argument in your class, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I’m happy to provide you with copies of my rubric, or possible areas to use primary and secondary sources on the internet. Thank you for reading!
You can also find Mr. Cordell on Twitter at @D_Cordell_KU