Tag Archives: Social Studies

Driving for Daily Rigor in the Humanities

We’re back in the swing of blog posting now, and with our exciting new Q4 Humanities Priorities, I am feeling an increased urgency to drive towards rigorous outcomes for our students in the home stretch of the year.

In fact, our #1 Priority for this quarter is:

STUDENTS ARE engaged in the content because it is rigorous, compelling, aligned to a meaningful EOY assessment, and focused around essential questions that bring to light social justice issues BECAUSE TEACHERS ARE planning units and lessons that have strong visions of mastery, are aligned to a meaningful EOY summative, and that are propelled by essential questions and meaningful texts.

This is particularly critical at this juncture of the year, since we are seeing only minor shifts in our students’ Engagement with Rigorous Content since the beginning of the third quarter (want more info on how this is determined? Check out my State of the Humanities blog post):


In this blog post, you’ll find the following three “launching pads” for increasing rigor in your classroom. I want to stress that these are beginning points, as they may inspire more questions and may not present direct solutions, but hopefully will simultaneously move you to innovate and use new ideas!

  1. The Rigor/Relevance Framework
  2. Using Your Summative
  3. Professional Development Suggestions

Okay! Let’s have it.

1. The Rigor/Relevance Framework

As I was researching for my Q3 Session “What is Creativity?“, I came across this new frameworkk that the International Center for Leadership in Education rolled out in 2014. Check out the main graphic below:

What I love about this framework is it actually expands and refines our understanding of what rigor actually is. In some ways, it helps us grasp what Grant Wiggins (co-author of the ever-important Understanding by Design) means by his definition of rigor:

To me, rigor has (at least) 3 aspects … learners must face a novel(-seeming) question, do something with an atypically high degree of precision and skill, and both invent and double-check the approach and result … The novel (or novel-seeming) aspect to the challenge typically means that there is some new context, look and feel, changed constraint, or other superficial oddness than what happened in prior instruction.

In essence, we reach higher levels of rigor not JUST by asking for more content knowledge, but by asking for the content skills and understandings to be applied in unfamiliar contexts and situations. Consequently, we can reach high levels of application (and engagement!) even on the first day of a unit when we drive for students to apply their thinking in real-world or unexpected situations, rather than just expecting them to engage in the content in isolated ways. The following flowchart may help explain this better:


Want some examples of lesson plans and videos that drive towards these higher levels? Check ’em out below!

 2. Using Your Summative

Now that over 80% of us in the Humanities have at least a draft summative (check them out here!), we can really start using these meaningful End of Year measures of student academic progress to:

  1. Invest students in the idea that they will have an opportunity to show their growth on an End of Year assessment.
  2. Assessing the degree to which your students are prepared to meet this rigorous bar.
  3. Using those assessments and the Summative itself to plan rigorous, focused, and exciting lessons!

While more details on this are going to come with our “Working Towards an End” session (March 19th or March 31st), you can start thinking NOW about how exactly you can leverage the fact that you have a strong Summative to help your planning. Consider taking the following actions:

  • Start telling your students about what the Summative will cover, and why this will be an exciting testament to the progress they have made this year.
  • Start telling your students about how you planned your Sumnmative – what resources did you use? how does it align with your classroom vision?
  • Start breaking down the Summative: what knowledge, skills, and understandings about your content should your students have? Which of these do you feel you still need to teach? Which do you need to remediate? What do your students need to practice in order to be confident with the Summative?
  • Use your bell ringers and exit slips to familiarize your students with the structure and format and rigor of your Summative. Don’t feed them the questions directly off the Summative, but consider adapting the questions so they are relevant to the lessons you are teaching on the daily-level. Then, you can use the data you get from the exit slips (and weekly quizzes, if you like!) to consider further how you can support your students!
  • Start planning projects and performance tasks that help your students build confidence in thinking about the content in new contexts and with unpredictable outcomes. Doing so will help them feel like anything on the Summative – even if they haven’t seen it before – is approachable!

There is a LOT more you can do to support your students in this… Reach out to Jacob and/or your Content Leaders to start planning for higher rigor using your Summatives.

3. Professional Development Suggestions

Don’t be like the teacher above! Get your professional development around real priorities and by working with one another (albeit mostly by WebEx)… here are the PD offerings this quarter specifically aligned to our Priority 1 for Rigor.

Interested in one of these? Sign up here.

  • SOCIAL STUDIES: Writing Techniques for Students (03/17)
    • If you teach Social Studies, this session is EXCELLENT for collecting methods for keeping writing engaging and scaffolded for every student in your classroom.
  • Working Towards an End: Using Your Summative to Plan (03/19, 03/31)
    • This session, for all Humanities contents, is going to help you in using your Summative to create daily, rigorous plans starting the next day.
  • Culture and the Humanities: Planning for Rigor and Joy (03/23)
    • This session, planned in collaboration with our Culture of Achievement Specialist, will be an opportunity to consider how increasing rigor and culture in the classroom go hand-in-hand.

Have questions or comments? Contact Jacob or fire off in the comments section below!


Writing in Social Studies

EdWeek Student Writing Exemplars – Check out these exemplars of students writing towards the Common Core!

Writing Across the Curriculum – A variety of strategies for getting students to write, compiled by Michigan State!

Writing Across the Discipline – A compendium of strategies for planning, grading, and setting standards for student writing in Social Studies (specifically 8th grade)

200 Prompts for Argumentative Writing – A collection of great prompts that can get your kids thinking and making opinions!

Document Based Questions (DBQ) Resources

Social Studies Links

Perspectives for a Diverse America – Teaching Tolerance has created this incredible website where you get to choose your Essential Questions, the Culturally Responsive Teaching outcomes you want for your students, and a topic. Then, it helps you find resources, lesson plans, and primary sources that are aligned to it!

Zinn Education Project – This is an incredible website full of resources and ideas for teaching socially just, primary-source focused lesson plans around the history of the United States, from the people’s point of view. Share a different perspective with your students!

Flocabulary – A website with videos that have raps about all different kinds of topics, accompanied by worksheets, quizzes, and more! (username: setrimm@aol.com // pw: candy8)

Facing History and Ourselves – For a FREE login, you can get awesome Unit Plans and lesson plans based on Primary Sources!

Civil Rights Teaching – An awesome website with tons of lesson plans, resources, and unit plans based on primary sources and best teaching practices.

MDAH – Mississippi Department of Archives and history has TONS of digital primary sources, unit plans, lesson plans, and more!

The British Museum Teacher Resources: Free resources (all based on Primary and Secondary Sources!) from the British Museum.

Cartoon Movement is an awesome database of political cartoons for you and your students to analyze!

Stratalogica: Check out our Stratalogica account (valid for one year only!), where you can access and download maps with different topographical and political information! Just log in using the info below, and then click on “Atlases”… Explore the rest on your own!

Teaching With Documents (National Archives) Lesson Plans – incredible set of resources with primary documents pre-selected for your learning activities. (US History focus)

The New York Times’ collection of Black History Month Teaching Resources is a valuable collection of ideas, documents, and lesson plans year round!

Annenberg Classroom List of Civics Websites for Teachers

The Stanford History Education Group

Google Historical Voyages and Events

EconEdLink – A website full of Economics and Personal Finance related resources!

iCivics – Interactive games, videos, and lesson plans!

Historical Thinking Matters – Excellent resource for text-based Inquiry lesson planning!

Social Studies Vision for Content

“A primary object…should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing…than…communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country.”
–George Washington

From the Outset:

In 2009, Leon Wieselter, editor of The New Republic (an admittedly opinionated website) responded to a New York Times article that claimed “In Tough Times, The Humanities Must Justify their Worth” as follows:

In tough times, of all times, the worth of the humanities needs no justifying. The reason is that it will take many kinds of sustenance to help people through these troubles. Many people will now have to fall back more on inner resources than on outer ones. They are in need of loans, but they are also in need of meanings…. We are in need of fiscal policy and spiritual policy. And spiritually speaking, literature is a bailout, and so is art, and philosophy, and history, and the rest.  … Regression analysis will not get us through the long night. We need to know more about the human heart than the study of consumer behavior can teach.

The words of Wieselter are remarkable because, rather than defend the worth of the Humanities when these are being questioned, he ultimately questions the purpose of studying everything else. What is its value if it does not impart meaning and spiritual growth? It is through the study of identity and history that we gather meaning and the reasoning abilities to move forward in times of crisis.

Developing Key Skills:

Research shows a positive correlation between an education in Social Studies and cross-disciplinary as well as life-long skills. Students who do not have the opportunity to engage in Social Studies education are often found to be at a disadvantage in the following pillars of learning (for more, see The Ohio Department of Education and Reading Quest):

  • Reading and Writing Readiness
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Classifying, Interpreting, Analyzing, and Evaluating Information
  • Decision-Making
  • Metacognition
  • Social and Political Participation
  • Social Development

Pathways to Opportunity:

While this logically follows from the development of key learning skills, it’s impressive to look more closely at how Social Studies affects future success. Life-long opportunities are at stake for our students.

  • Social and Political Participation: Studies have shown that children may learn to accept and embrace biases – such as racism – as early as 3 years of age. However, the same studies argue that there is hope: if the child can be introduced to environments in which new ways of thinking are fostered, these biases can be re-considered and dismantled. In addition, “a developed sense of justice and law” is a pre-requisite to being an activepatricipant in a democracy (for more, see Social Studies.org) and classrooms in which students must actively think and communicate about each other’s reasoning facilitate this type of growth.
  • College Applications: Should our students want to apply for any top-tier college or university, they will be expected to have a minimum (keeping in mind that applications are looked on more favorably when they exceed the minimum requirements) of 2-3 years of Social Studies classes. Whether or not our students decide to go to college, we must ensure they have access to these opportunities. Harvard, MIT, NYU, and Pomona all require at least two years in the Social Studies classroom.
  • Job Opportunities: The College Board has researched the job listings that their  Social Studies courses and tests make more accessible to students. They list over 130 career paths ranging from Acting to Legislators to Health Educators to News Analysts. Whether or not a student takes these specific courses of study, a Social Studies education will make these careers more available and real. Our students deserve to have these pathways available.

A National Problem

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), in 2010 only 24% of all graduating seniors were proficient or above in Civics. Breaking these numbers down by race, 30% of White students were proficient or above, and only 8% of Black students were proficient or above. These trends remain consistent across U.S. History, Geography, and Economics. Considering the extent to which this course is directly correlated with engagement in society, these statistics are at a massive detriment to our nation, and to minorities in particular. Most evidence points towards the fact that these are not required or prioritized contents: the Thomas Fordham Institute found that, between 1987 and 2003, the amount of instructional time dedicated to Social Studies in public schools decreased by 18 hours a year. This takes into account only the first year of No Child Left Behind, under which student assessments focused mainly on English/Language Arts and Math – the result being that schools struggling to make needed gains on the test often axed Social Studies instruction in favor of test-prep. And the effects are being felt: despite the election of 2008 being the highest voter turnout in years, only 58% of eligible voters showed, and the number of people who are writing letters to newspapers or to their Congressional representatives have declined by 15%.

Despite all this, there are some slight glimmers of hope. The NAEP also found that there has been a score increase since 2006 for Black and Hispanic eighth-graders on their Civic assessments. And, while there are some legitimate concerns towards the adoption of the Common Core curriculum, the requirements emphasize the importance of non-fiction even within the English/Language Arts classroom.

Social Studies in Mississippi

A recent study conducted by Paul Theobald and Kathy Wood, and featured in Rural Education for the Twenty-First Century, revealed that “rural students and adults alike seem to have learned that to be rural is to be sub-par, that the condition of living in a rural locale creates deficiencies of various kinds – an educational deficiency in particular” even if they are being offered an excellent education (18). The Thomas Fordham institute studied Mississippi’s state standards in social studies and rated them at a 1/7 for rigorous content, and a 1/3 for clarity and specificity. This is an obstacle to our teachers, students, and active participation in democracy. The effects of these mindsets – caused by genuine educational deficiencies – are manifest in the numbers: only 6.8% of adults in Mississippi hold a graduate degree, only 12.6% hold BAs, and only 37% of eligible voters showed up for the presidential elections (Measure of America, 2012). If our students are to succeed and become life-long learners, advocates for their own cause, we need to enact a cultural shift that places value on rural culture and cultural identity.

Given these studies as well as our own regional experiences…

We believe that a strong Social Studies Education is instrumental to overcoming educational inequality for our students in Mississippi. We know that our students deserve equal opportunities in education so that they may have equal opportunities in their futures. Social Studies set students up for those critical opportunities, and yet they are too often ignored, denying their civic power and future pathways. Our students deserve confidence in their cultural identity, and pride in their voice as world citizens and thinkers. They have the right to the long-term benefits of a strong Social Studies education.  They deserve to see Social Studies as providing them with viable pathways to opportunity, with a civic voice, and a knowledge-base of history with which to form their own opinions about the world today. 

It is no mystery that Mississippi is rich in culture, history, politics, and a need for civic engagement. From the birth of the Civil Rights movement to the recent ratification of the 13th amendment, Mississippi is brimming with beautiful and difficult history, as well as a long and challenging pathway forward. We need our students to be prepared and willing – or perhaps ready and compelled – to engage with it.

However, the fertile  grounds of Mississippi are seldom if ever exposed to our students. Comparing our students’ rural experiences to their urban counterparts, it is only logical that they have less access to museums, information, and civic venues where they can see history play out. The locations where Mississippi history is commemorated, celebrated, and criticized are few and far between for our most rural students. Even if they do get a solid Social Studies foundation, they have limited options in terms of real experiences or opportunities to compete on a national level. It is therefore instrumental that we begin such exposure in the classroom and draw upon the communities we work within to enact a paradigm-shift for Social Studies in Mississippi.