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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

Not using DocsTeach!? We need to talk.

Okay. I know some of you are using DocsTeach.

And why not?

Using primary sources from its collection, the crack National Archives education staff has been creating and sharing quality lessons for eight years. The idea at DocsTeach is simple – provide high-quality lessons and activities based on primary sources and focused on building historical and critical thinking skills.

You can borrow from an ever-expanding collection of document based activities built by National Archives specialists and teachers around the world. Use or modify ready-made activities. Craft, save, and share your own using online tools like these:

  • Analyzing Documents
  • Zoom/Crop
  • Compare and Contrast
  • White Out/Black Out
  • Making Connections
  • Mapping History
  • Seeing the Big Picture
  • Weighing the Evidence

Whether you use the pre-made activities or creating your own, DocsTeach is perfect for classroom demos, small group or whole class work, and individual in-class or homework assignments. Your kids can return their work via your DocsTeach account, Google Classroom, or the DocsTeach App for iPad.

Did we mention that it’s free?

So . . . seriously. If you’re not using DocsTeach, you and I need to chat. Cause it’s awesome and 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