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exclamation point in the middle of question markWhat do you remember about your K-12 social studies experience? Did you experience a classroom centered around exploring compelling questions? Did you analyze a variety of text, both primary and secondary sources? Primary sources are original sources from the time period and secondary sources are interpretations of those original sources. Did you have the opportunity to develop disciplinary arguments based off those texts? In other words, did you get the opportunity to think like a historian or geographer? Did you have the opportunity to identify issues in your community, state, nation, or world and think about how to address those issues? These are best practices in social studies that Iowa’s new social studies standards emphasize in order to prepare students for college, career, and civic life.

New standards often call for discussion and reflection on the instructional changes that will be necessary to best implement those standards. Iowa’s social studies standards focus on four instructional shifts that are needed in order to implement the standards with fidelity. They are as follows:

Craft questions that spark and sustain an inquiry.

Social studies is really about questions, not answers. Of course, answers are important, but it is the ability to wrestle with compelling and supporting questions and develop arguments around those questions that define good disciplinary practice in a social studies classroom. This shift asks teachers to purposefully develop compelling and supporting questions that can sustain inquiry throughout a unit of instruction.

Compelling questions are those that focus on the “big idea” of a unit of instruction. These questions are intellectually challenging, generally have no one “right” answer and compel students to argue with evidence in order to answer the question. Generally, there is one compelling question used throughout a unit. Supporting questions scaffold students’ investigations into the ideas and issues behind a compelling question. In other words, they are a way to unpack the compelling question. Generally, these questions get into the content knowledge students would need in order to effectively make an argument about the compelling question. An example:

Compelling Question: What would compel people to move to a new place?

Supporting Questions:

  • Why do people move or choose to immigrate?
  • What did immigrants experience when they arrived in America?
  • How does one’s culture influence where they choose to live?

Integrate content and skills purposefully.

Content is vitally important in a social studies classroom. But the application of the disciplinary skills of social studies is equally important. The shift asks for a balance between content and skills. In the above example about compelling and supporting questions, for example, you can see that the questions require students to access a lot of content in order to make an effective argument. However, students will need to have several social studies skills in order to be able to make an effective argument such as being able to analyze primary and secondary sources, the ability to deeply evaluate the claims a source is making, critique the reliability of sources, corroborate several pieces of evidence in order to make an effective argument, and write to name a few.

This shift also demands the use of multiple primary and secondary sources in the classroom. If students will develop an argument about the above questions, they must have access to multiple sources to help them make that argument. These sources should be tightly aligned to the compelling and supporting questions so that the inquiry can be sustained throughout the unit. 

Several examples of text sets that include compelling and supporting questions as well as primary and secondary sources aligned to those questions are available from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs website. The text sets were developed by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and the Iowa Department of Education through a grant from the Teaching with Primary Sources program at the Library of Congress. More sets will be released in August 2018.

Provide opportunities for communicating conclusions and taking informed action.

To complete the inquiry process, teachers must now think about how they will purposefully plan for students to communicate their conclusions, and potentially take action as a result of the outcome of their inquiry. There is an expectation that social studies students practice citizenship in the same way they practice historical thinking, economic decision-making or geographic reasoning. As a result, students will need tangible opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom to consider, debate, plan for, and undertake action-oriented experiences that would culminate their academic inquiries.

Engage in rigorous, student-centered learning.

Civic readiness is a key component of the Iowa social studies standards. The idea of collaboration and student-centered learning is hard-wired into inquiry, but collaboration means more than just pairing up with other students to analyze questions or analyze sources. Rigorous student-centered learning is key for preparing students for participation in civic life.

The Iowa Department of Education has released a three-year implementation plan, with full implementation required in 2020. Implementation of Iowa’s new social studies is a process that will take time. Implementing new standards is not a task that should be done quickly or without deep thought. This year, our statewide professional development has focused on learning about these instructional shifts and the stages of planning for inquiry. In comparing this to the process of building a house, we are working on building the foundation first. Next year, we will work on building the frame of the house and get into the process of unpacking the standards. In the third year of the implementation plan, the Department will work on finalizing the exterior and interior of the house by focusing on what good assessment of the standards looks like. Each year, the Department will offer professional development and resources based on the stage of implementation we are in.

Iowa Social Studies Standards

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Posted by : stefanie.wager