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#nche2016: Elementary history instruction and why we should care

Second session here at #nche2016.

Taking Back Elementary Education: Advocating for History to Improve Reading Comprehension by David Klemm. Great topic. Something we need to be talking about. But remember folks that it’s still just 8:00 in the am.

Basic idea is that reading in context is huge. He started by sharing an excerpt about baseball as an example.

baseball reading example

If you don’t have a background in baseball, you can’t make sense of this. The point? Even if you know each individual word and have encountered them all before – you can decode the sounds and pieces of the word – you need to know the context.

Reading comprehension is more than just decoding. We need to train our kids in content knowledge and context. In the NCLB era, we eliminated the inclusion of content knowledge and replaced it with tons of decoding and ELA strategies. Lots of improvement at early grades but a decline at upper grades because we fail to include discipline specific skills and content knowledge. More social studies and history instruction means better readers.

Yes. I think we’re all in agreement on this. But our response should be . . . what? What are specific strategies that elementary teachers can use to support the learning of history and social studies? How can teachers advocate for more content knowledge and discipline specific skills?

He shared his end in mind by suggesting that elementary teachers need to be preparing kids for later activities in high school such as the SAT test. Is that really the point of history and social studies instruction? Shouldn’t we be preparing our kids for bigger things than better SAT scores?

Not every kid will be taking the SAT. Not every kid will be going to a traditional four year college. And maybe the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet but I think we need a broader view of what our jobs as history teachers should be. I think history and social studies education is more about effective citizenship than just doing well on standardized tests.

David comes back to the main topic and suggests that we can advocate for more history instruction by:

  • working with natural partners such as science, art, and music
  • recognizing common goals and good will of elementary decision makers
  • educating to turn “enemies” into new allies
  • helping people focus on long term gains rather than just short term gains made when schools worry about just ELA and math

Mmm . . . some good stuff and it raised some good questions about what our purpose is and how we can best focus on that purpose. Will need to wrap my head around some of his research.

But I’m curious. What do you think the purpose is of elementary history and social studies instruction?

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Amanda Jessee #

    I teach 5th grade in a large suburb south of KC. I LOVE social studies…but it was not always that way, and that saddens me when I think of all the great stories I missed until I came into contact with teachers who were passionate about their history curriculum. At the elementary level, it is a great time to introduce kids to the story of our nation and world–what elementary kid doesn’t love listening to a great read aloud? Getting kids hooked when they are young is easy; overcoming years of “boring” social studies classes is harder. History is just a centuries-long story, filled with people like us who had choices to make. Teaching kids that choices affect us for a long time is a lesson I hope these kids have early, so that when the hard(er) choices come later in life, they are able to thoughtfully consider the possible outcomes.

    April 22, 2016
    • glennw #


      Yes! The elementary years are SO important in the creation of effective citizens. I feel we’ve created a whole group of kids who went through 13 years of NCLB without enough social studies content and skills.

      That’s changing and it’s teachers like you who are making it happen! Thanks for caring about creating quality learning experiences. Keep doing it!


      (With you at Shawnee Mission, surely we’ve met? Your name sounds familiar!)

      April 22, 2016
      • glennw #

        Duh! You were the Teacher of Year back a few years. Sorry. Got up too early this morning! It’s all coming back to me.

        Thanks again for the comment!


        April 22, 2016
      • Amanda Jessee #

        I don’t know if we have met or not, honestly! I was the Gilder Lehman 2011 State Teacher of the Year, so maybe you recognize me from that 15 seconds of (nerd) fame?! 🙂

        April 22, 2016
      • glennw #

        It was WAY more than 15 seconds! That is where I recognized the name . . . but I know you’re still doing great stuff.


        April 22, 2016

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