From Dec 2007, for my Best Practices for Social Studies Instruction course.
Social studies include necessary skills for the classroom and life. Skillful instructors will succeed in managing their classrooms in a way that will emphasize respect, justice and honesty (Harty, 2001). Lessons should be structured in ways that will emphasize diversity of origin and opinion while helping the student understand why the United States has developed to assume the character it has, and while encouraging the student to take an active part in the country’s future.
Social Studies Rationale
Social studies covers a wide range of subjects, including history, geography, economics, political science, sociology, psychology, and anthropology (NCSS, 2007). Social studies should help the student make informed and fair decisions and actively work towards improving his life and community. Social studies instruction should be meaningful, integrative, value-based, challenging, and active (NCSS, 2002).
Meaningful indicates that the lessons learned in the class will be useful to the students and easily relatable to their lives. The class should help the students understand relationships between individuals, groups, and nations. Learning should focus on past failures as well as successes, but with the perpetual goal of finding solutions to challenges. Students should be exposed to multicultural elements, and given the chance to interact with members of groups with different characteristics than theirs.1
Integrated means a broad range of current knowledge should be used in the curriculum. The curriculum should work with both broader issues and issues of immediate and local concern to the student. Students should be taught how to gather and analyze data, and should be infused with an interest in learning throughout their lives.
Value-based thinking should have a strong priority in the social studies curriculum. Students should develop a strong sense of justice and fairness while learning respect for differing points of view. Students should be given opportunities to evaluate public policy decisions in the light of social justice.
Social studies curriculums should be challenging. Multiple viewpoints on controversial topics should be heard, giving the students several dimensions (e.g. legal, social or historical, ethical) with which to consider issues. Students should be given chances to respond in class discussions and in written responses. The teacher should find appropriate ways of measuring the success of the curriculum and continually improving it for optimal learning.
Finally the curriculum should be active. Students must be given multiple ways to participate in the learning process, in various settings. Students should learn to function both individually and as part of the class or smaller learning groups. The curriculum should give the student experience in predicting effects from causes, and in creating hypothesis.
A teaching curriculum that successfully integrates these elements will show the student how people in large and small communities have acted in the past, and act today. Students will deepen their understanding of people from a variety of backgrounds, and how to relate to them. Students will have a more solid conception of who people are and what we have done, and may potentially do.
From a democratic standpoint, students will be more informed about issues of importance to them, and ways they can positively impact the political processes of the local community and the United States. They will have become accustomed to being active participants, and will be more likely to work for self-determinism instead of accepting others’ views of what is appropriate for them.
Social studies instruction should be delivered in a manner that is sensitive to the backgrounds and influences on the students. Curriculum should be designed so that students will gain increased understanding of their own culture, but also gain skills that will assist them in interaction with the diverse population of our country (NSSC, 1991). Students should be helped to see how the multiple origins, traditions, beliefs and viewpoints in the United States can be national resources if there is respectful interaction between individuals and groups.
A skillful social studies instructor will actively research the backgrounds of her students as much as possible, so she is better able to deliver instruction that will be most useful to those students. Teachers should be prepared to modify their curriculum as appropriate if investigation shows students who are not fluent in English, for example, or who have primarily used non-standard English (ECWC, 2005). Teachers may consider using materials in other languages, requesting an interpreter, or using their own non-English skills if necessary to clearly instruct the students. Teachers should also be aware of differing culture norms when interacting with students (such as some Latino students having been trained to look down while addressing authority figures), and modify their approach accordingly.
I would like to teach a course called Reality 101. The course would be designed to give the students goals to look towards, and knowledge of the tools needed to attain those goals. It would also give them greater cultural awareness of groups they may not have previously had interaction (or had unwelcome interaction: most doctor visits are when the patient is sick or injured).
Each week, a different "field" would be on topic. Students would research doctors, for instance. They could bring in some notes about a particular type of doctor (pediatrician, for example) and what it took to be come one, or just some general information about doctors. They could include factual information about incomes and schooling, or even just their guesses. A school trip or in-class visit per week would be planned to visit a work location, or have an individual speak to the class. The speaker would describe their job, the path they took to assume the position, and give general salary information.
Once a week, a "What I Learned About..." one to two page paper would be due. Students who were more comfortable with a more structured format could choose to instead fill out a computer form with four questions (What was most surprising to you about x? Would you want to have this job? Why or why not?; If you were x, what would you do differently than Mrs. Smith?; How many years of school and training would it take you to become x?). These questions are designed to make the student become engaged in the learning process, personalizing information in useful ways instead of reciting rote answers.
At least two of the visits or trips would involve those in the criminal justice system, hopefully at a youth and at an adult level. At least two of the visits or trips would involve individuals in some of the most lucrative professions. Other visits during the year would include educational institutions, and a variety of living accommodations. The purpose of the visits to correctional facilities (or visits to the class by those who were in or had spent time in correctional facilities) would be to gain a deeper understanding of the ways people could find themselves in deep legal trouble. Those considering illegal actions, or who might consider such actions in the future, would hopefully decide to make better choices, while any student who had little exposure to those facing negative legal action would hopefully be more sympathetic to the ways people may find themselves trapped in bad circumstances.
The final project for the year would be "What I Will Become", which would be a visual presentation on a board, in a book, in PowerPoint or as a movie. I believe this curriculum could help give students greater cultural awareness, and make obvious to them ways they could choose to advance themselves, and also help their community. It would force them to be involved in the learning process, and give them subject material that was relevant and useful.
Social studies encompasses a wide range of material, and should be presented in ways that are culturally aware and respectful of the many ways humans can peacefully interact. Good social studies teachers will instruct in a way that will enrich their students’ knowledge, be relevant to students’ lives, and will give students the ability to positively change themselves and their environment. Truly great instructors will also motivate their students to take an active role in this change.
American Anthropological Association. (1998). American Anthropological Association Statement on “Race”. Retrieved 10 December 2007 from
Edgewood College Writing Center. (2005). Dealing with a Student who Writes Nonstandard English. Retrieved 11 December 2007 from
Harty, M. (2001). Reinforcing the Ethical Core of Conflict Resolution. The 4th R.
Mukhopadhyay, C. & Henze, R.C. (2003). How Real is Race? Using Anthropology to Make Sense of Human Diversity. Phi Deta Kappan, 84, 9, 669-678.
National Council for the Social Studies. (2002). Curriculum Guidelines. Retrieved 10 December 2007 from http://www.socialstudies.org/positions/curriculum/
National Council for the Social Studies. (1991). Curriculum Guidelines for Multicultural Education. Retrieved 11 December 2007 from http://www.socialstudies.org/positions/multicultural/