Skip to content

Tip of the Week: Questions, tasks, and resources. Oh, my! Covering content using the C3 IDM

Our current state standards have been around since 2013. Centered on five Big Ideas and a balance between content and process, the document is unlike previous standards documents. And after five years, most Kansas teachers are at least aware that we’re asking them and students to approach teaching and learning differently.

That we want students to have both foundational knowledge and historical / critical thinking skills. That social studies classrooms need to be more than drill and kill, lecture, worksheet, quiz on Friday. And that creating engaged, informed, and knowledgable citizens requires more than rote memorization and low level thinking.

While our standards look and feel differently than most other state level documents, teachers across the country – like their colleagues here in Kansas – are also being asked to concentrate on training kids to do social studies. Sam Wineburg is a household name. The teaching of historical thinking skills such as Sourcing, Contextualizing, and Corroborating is becoming commonplace. Bruce Lesh and his History Labs are being duplicated by teachers in all sorts of classrooms. The National Council for the Social Studies has also been a huge part of this pendulum shift with its College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) standards.

Good things are happening.

But . . .

Yup. There’s always a but.

During every standards training I do, every historical thinking conversation I have with teachers, there’s always a but. 

I’m not against these new standards. I like the idea of teaching historical skills. Kids seem engaged when we give them authentic problems to solve. And I see how training kids to use evidence and develop fact-based arguments creates active citizens.

Wait for it.

But . . . teaching like this takes too much time. How can I cover all of the material I need to cover?

And there it is.

The dreaded “this takes too long, I’ve got too much to cover” argument. I get it. Taking time to model and teach historical thinking skills does take time. And it can seem as if content knowledge is being sacrificed when we’re working with kids on process.

My first response?

There is always something that we can cut from our coverage of content. I sat with a teacher not long ago who asked his kids to memorize the color of hair of each US president and how many children they had. I kid you not. Not that presidential hair color isn’t a fascinating topic but I think we can create engaged and active American citizens without them needing to prove they know how may red-headed presidents we’ve had.

We need to be much more intentional about deciding what foundational knowledge is actually foundational. When my phone can find and relay almost any historical fact in under ten seconds, much of what we once thought was essential as part of instruction no longer is as vital.

My early obsession with the War of 1812 and the proper rigging on the USS Constitution is a perfect example. So have some departmental conversations and be willing to eliminate some lessons and units. Trust me. Your kids will be okay without knowing the difference between a Main Topgallant and Mizzen Staysail.

My second response?

It’s okay to be concerned about coverage. But . . . it’s not okay to be concerned about coverage if it just means that you want to lecture more, to use the same tired instructional strategies that we know don’t work.

So what does work to both cover content while focusing on the critical thinking process? Wineburg’s Stanford History Education Group has been, and should continue to be, an awesome resource for teaching tools that balance content and process.

But you need to branch out a bit and explore something called the Inquiry Design Model developed by educators in New York and highlighted on the C3 Teachers site. C3 Teachers is a collaborative effort made up of teachers and teacher educators focused on using inquiry to enhance social studies teaching and learning. Their IDM strategy uses three pieces to support the Inquiry Arc in the NCSS’s C3 Standards:

  • Question
  • Task
  • Resources

If you’ve been using SHEG’s Reading Like a Historian resources, these three elements look familiar. Give kids a problem, provide evidence, and ask them to complete a task. You can get an idea of what IDMs can look like, download and use entire IDM lessons, and download IDM templates at the C3 Teachers site.

More teachers are using IDMs (and SHEG lessons) in their classrooms but . . . the pressure of time can make it difficult to implement these full-scale and lengthy lessons. So in the May / June issue of Social Education, the lead writers of the C3 Framework address the “but” and suggest the use of smaller inquiries with fewer supporting questions, sources, and performance tasks.

Called a Focused IDM, they provide a structure that you can use as part of your everyday instruction. C3 Teacher Ryan New knows how important this can be:

Since IDM, I have made questions, tasks, and sources the soul of my instructional practice. I have found that if you only visit inquiry now and again, then students will never develop proficiency with the skills the inquiry process teaches—that is, to become discerning and engaged citizens. If students experience inquiry every day, they develop the habits of mind that makes these larger, nobler civic goals possible.

The authors use a drawing by Pablo Picasso as an analogy for their Focused Inquiry idea. In his piece titled Bull, Picasso draws eleven different versions of a bull. Each one becoming more and more abstract until he whittles down the original complex image of a bull to just a few lines that still retain the core elements of the original. A Focused Inquiry does the same thing – reducing the size of a full-blown IDM while retaining the essential components.

In the Social Education article, the authors share an example of a Focused Inquiry into the effects on the United States of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

A Focused IDM works the same way as Picasso’s Bull. Question, task, resources. But reduced to something that can be completed in one or two days and that provides a way for you to cover content while focusing on process.

In a Focused Inquiry, you get:

  • compelling and supporting questions that frame and organize the inquiry
  • formative and summative performance tasks that provide opportunities for students to demonstrate and apply their understandings
  • the disciplinary sources that allow students access to the relevant content as they practice disciplinary thinking and reasoning

You can have it all. Content and process. With no buts.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: