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Posts from the ‘graphic organizer’ Category

You want kids to have skills. Read Inquire Write can help.

Last week, I got the chance to work with about 25 teachers and educators from around the state as we started the process of revising our state social studies standards. Long time readers will recall a similar process from seven years ago.

At the time, the Kansas state standards were very much the same as other state level standards documents. The focus was on the details of history – people and places and dates. Assessments tried to incorporate critical thinking but since the entire test was multiple choice, it was difficult to measure high levels of thinking and problem solving.

To be successful on this type of high stakes state assessment, teachers shifted to a drill and kill,  memorize specific pieces of content out of context instructional strategies. These strategies increased test scores but lowered student engagement, failed to create critical thinkers, and didn’t prepare kids to become informed citizens.

So we started from scratch.

The 2011 process resulted in a brand new set of standards that shifted instructional focus from memorizing details to one that encouraged analyzing evidence, solving problems, and sharing solutions. We created five big ideas that acted as our standards. We adapted reading, writing, and communication expectations and instruction best practices to guide local curriculum development. And we left the specific content up to each district.

Teachers appreciated the freedom to focus on the doing of social studies rather than asking kids to memorize minutiae. But this “new” style of teaching can be time consuming and difficult. The old standards had trained both our kids and our teachers that drill and kill was acceptable – now we were asking that instruction and assessment look different.

And teachers had questions. What does this sort of teaching look like? How do you assess the learning? How long should it take? If we don’t have to “cover”so much content, what content is important enough to focus on? What resources are available?

Back in 2013, as the revised document rolled out, there weren’t a ton of examples and resources out there that supported this kind of inquiry based teaching model. But around the country, others were having similar conversations:

Things got better.

And now, if you’re looking for examples, resources, lessons, student samples, and rubrics, things are looking even rosier. Read more

History is like a pig. A few valuable tools that can help catch it

Five years ago, the Kansas State Board of Education approved the adoption of a new set of state social studies standards. Next week, I get the chance to work with 30 social studies teachers as we start a process of revising them.

If you weren’t around the first time, here’s the Cliff Notes version. Previous to 2013, the standards focused almost entirely on discrete facts and the 60 question multiple choice state assessment encouraged teachers to focus on training students to memorize those facts.

Nothing wrong with memorizing facts . . . if you actually apply those facts while solving problems, becoming an engaged citizen, and working to make the world a better place. But that rarely happen in most classrooms. Schools across the state were re-arranging curriculum so that only the tested indicators were taught, often without context.

But in 2011, the winds shifted. The work of Sam Wineburg and others suggested that traditional social studies curriculum and instruction needed a do-over. So some thirty-plus educators came together and spent 18 months creating a standards document that encouraged process as well as content. Historical thinking skills along with facts. Contextual and authentic problem solving using evidence.

And now? Read more

Primary Source Speed Dating: Finding the document of your dreams

Kara Knight from Minnesota History Society and the Inquiry in the Upper Midwest has perhaps created one of the most intriguing conference session titles ever.

What’s not to like about Primary Source Speeding Dating? And her tagline is even better: Discover the Primary Source of your Dreams – Finding the Perfect Match.

Loving this!

I think we can all agree that finding and using primary sources as part of teaching and learning is a no-brainer. But the actual finding and using can be a pain in the butt. It takes time to find the right source and it takes time to figure out how best to use those sources. So during this #MCSS2018 session, we talked about ways to match classroom needs, brain research, and just the right primary source.

We ended the session with an activity Kara called Primary Source Speed Dating. It’s a bit like Read more

Best posts 2017: Jill Weber and historical thinking bootcamp

I’m sure most of you are doing the same thing I’m doing right now. Spending time with family and friends, watching football, catching up on that book you’ve been dying to read, eating too much Chex Mix, and enjoying the occasional nap.

But if you need a break from all of the holiday cheer, we’ve got you covered. Between now and the first week in January, you’ll get a chance to re-read seven of the most popular History Tech posts from 2017. Enjoy the reruns. See you in a couple of weeks!


Jill Weber gets it. She’s a middle school teacher honing her craft in Cheney, Kansas and she is rocking it.

Finding the balance between foundational content and process. Problems to solve. Evidence to analyze. No obvious answers. Academic discomfort. Groups to work in. Hands on. Physical movement. Obvious passion for the subject.

She’s one of those teachers that I would have wanted for my own kids to have when they were in middle school. And I’ve had the opportunity to work with her for almost six years.

She jumped in feet first to our second Teaching American History project back in 2010 and then transitioned into the ESSDACK social studies PLC. She was awarded the Kansas Council for the Social Studies 2016 secondary mini-grant and is the 2016 Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year. And she shares a ton of her stuff on A View of the Web.

One of her recent posts caught my eye and Read more

Best posts 2017: Where have you been all my life Structure Strips!?

I’m sure most of you are doing the same thing I’m doing right now. Spending time with family and friends, watching football, catching up on that book you’ve been dying to read, eating too much Chex Mix, and enjoying the occasional nap.

But if you need a break from all of the holiday cheer, we’ve got you covered. Between now and the first week in January, you’ll get a chance to re-read seven of the most popular History Tech posts from 2017. Enjoy the reruns. See you in a couple of weeks!


I’ve been spending some serious amounts of time this summer leading conversations around the country focused on the integration of social studies and literacy. And for the last few years, I’ve had the chance to work with the Kansas Department of Education and Kansas teachers as we rolled out our revised state standards and assessments – both of which concentrate on finding ways for kids to read, write, and communicate in the discipline.

So while I am not some super duper ELA expert, I did think that I knew a little something about literacy tools. But last Thursday was a great wakeup call that there is always something new to learn.

Structure strips, where have you been hiding?

I was doing some internet browsing for literacy activities and ran across references to something I had never heard of before. And it looks like an Read more

Graphic organizers are like power-ups for your English Learners (and just about everyone else!)

Graphic organizers aren’t new. I’m pretty sure that Ptolemy was using some sort of Venn diagram to explain longitude and latitude. And I’ve seen photos of cave drawings that looked a lot like cause and effect timelines.

They’ve been around a while.

But . . . I still think that we don’t use them enough. The visual and textual combination of a great graphic organizer is the perfect tool for connecting people, places, ideas, and events. We use them to make sense of new information, to show dynamic relationships, and to make connections to prior knowledge. All in a visual format that makes sense to our brains.

And as handy as they are for your mainstream students, think video game power-ups when you use graphic organizers with English Learners (EL) and multilingual students. A power-up gives a gamer extra strength, or a new weapon, more speed, and sometimes just the opposite – the game slows down while your character retains the same speed.

For your kids who are learning English or who might be reading / writing below grade level?

Graphic organizers = video game power-ups

When we integrate graphic organizers into our instructional designs, EL kids get extra power that can help them understand and grasp new ideas . Last week, I got the chance to learn with and from seven other teachers as we shared successful EL teaching strategies. And trust me, the information flow was pretty much one way – from the smart people in the room straight to me. But from that conversation, a few things became clear: Read more