Today’s post is written by Cheney, Kansas middle and high social studies teacher Jill Weber. Jill is the 2016 Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year.
Gone are the days in which reading novels and writing essays belonged solely in an ELA classroom. All subjects are now expected to (and should) be integrating and supporting the reading and writing skills that students are taught in Language Arts class.
“But, but . . . I went to college to be a history teacher, not an English teacher. I don’t know HOW to teach ELA!”
That was me. Seriously. I was ready to fight teaching reading and writing skills as long as I could.
We want our students to grapple more with content, to think historically, and solve problems. One of the ways we can support this behavior is by asking our kids to think and write to support a claim using evidence.
Here in the great state of Kansas University basketball, our standards and assessment use the term “argumentative writing” to describe the process of supporting claims with evidence. That phrase can sound a little too much like some of last year’s presidential debates or this month’s childish Twitter wars but . . . asking kids to create an argument and to support that argument really is a good thing. We want them to be able to look at a problem, gather and organize evidence, and use that evidence to create a well-supported argument.
As many of us move from a content focused instructional model to one that instead asks students to use that content in authentic ways, it can sometimes be difficult knowing how to actually have them write argumentatively. But there are resources available to help with your lesson design.
I believe that a key aspect of “doing” social studies is to give kids the opportunity to not only connect prior knowledge to the content being studied, but also allow them the chance to reevaluate their opinion of historical figures using new knowledge that is presented. Teaching high school world history normally involves introducing students to a wide range of individuals, concepts and events. Trying to help students achieve some level of mastery of these concepts can seem daunting, especially if you are not able to tap into that reservoir of knowledge that the kids bring with them into the room. In teaching the French Revolution and its aftermath I attempt to achieve this by bringing in the single historical figure in which kids are the most familiar: George Washington. In the process I also give the students a chance to flex their non-text discipline specific literacy muscles by analyzing two pieces of art work that say an awful lot about the subjects of depicted in each.
Students + writing = frustration . . . sound like familiar?
The growing expectation of integrating writing in our Social Studies classroom makes us as anxious about the process as our students. Why does this happen? There are a variety of factors that contribute to this fear and frustration but the most common that I hear from other teachers is
I don’t have a solid system to assist my kids with writing.
Jill Weber, 2016 Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year, has joined the Doing Social Studies writing team and will be posting throughout the year. The following is a cross-post from her excellent site A View of the Web.
I used Interactive Notebooks in my social studies class for eight years. The majority of the students loved them. But I had a serious love/hate relationship with them. And after taking a long look at the pros and cons of the books and my current curriculum, I decided not to continue with the interactive notebooks last year.
While I found it a relief not having to keep up with the grading of 60+ notebooks, there was something missing from my class. I had a number of kids ask me why we weren’t doing them anymore, and others who were disappointed that the “hands on” cutting, pasting, and creativity was replaced with more writing assignments. I felt guilty that my answer was “because I just couldn’t keep up with all the grading.”
That got me thinking on ways that I could bring the interactive notebooks idea back without having all the copious grading that went with it. I talked with our language arts teacher, who uses her interactive notebooks as a tool to help organize materials and doesn’t grade it at all. I liked that idea.
But I wanted more. I wanted a way to hold kids accountable. I wanted them to take pride in the organization and appearance of the book. And, most of all, I wanted it to be used as something more than a storage device. I want it to be something they will reference throughout the year.
Then an idea started to take form. An idea to use the notebook more like a detective’s note book when trying to solve a crime.
So this year, we have: the Historian In TrainingNotebook or HIT books. (HIT is a cool name for a middle school activity, right? )
The HIT notebook will be designed as sort of a history detective notebook that we’ll use to identify historical thinking techniques, analyze primary sources, keep information over specific historical questions, and refer back to skills learned throughout the year.