Archive for the ‘Social Studies’ Category

It’s Your Year, World History!

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Author: Rachel Hernandez – Social Studies Education Specialist

Tags: World History, Social Studies, STAAR

According to the 2012 STAAR Summary Reports released by TEA, 28,625 students took the World History End-of-Course assessment last year.  Since there is no set rule on how schools establish their course matriculation in Social Studies, all End-of-Course tests were operational in May of 2012.  Most schools in Texas have freshmen starting in World Geography, World History sophomore year, U.S. History junior year, and Government/Economics rounding out senior year.  As expected, World Geography accounted for the largest amount of Social Studies test takers with 320,966 students.  Now that last year’s freshmen have the World Geography End-of-Course under their belt, 2013 is the true year for World History.  Preparation is in order for World History teachers and students.

Now that we are refocused with a few cheerful thoughts, let’s take a look at what we know.  With the 2010 Social Studies TEKS adoption, the World History Studies course was restructured into six time periods that serve as the framework and organization: 8000 BC-500 BC (Development of River Valley Civilizations); 500 BC-AD 600 (Classical Era); 600-1450 (Post-Classical Era); 1450-1750 (Connecting Hemispheres); 1750-1914 (Age of Revolutions); and 1914-Present (20th Century to the Present).  Additionally, the World History course has changed in the number of historical individuals.  The course went from 22 historical individuals in the old standards to 50 individuals in the 2010 standards. Groups such as Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo and Chinese student protestors in Tiananmen Square were also added.

Exploring Integration in Elementary Curriculum, Part 2

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Author:  Lori Reemts – Education Specialist: Elementary Generalist

 

Part 1 of this series focused on laying the foundation and seeking common language when referring to integration. There are as many ways to connect and integrate ideas as there are ideas themselves.  By defining differences between Curriculum Integration, which can be found described on documents and the like, and Instructional Integration, which can be artfully woven into the course of learning over time, we are able to identify what we can control and how that influences student success in our classroom. This series focuses on these choices: Instructional Integration.

As promised, this installment continues the conversation and begins the process of identifying key points of intersection within the curriculum by exploring two key ideas: Direct Connection and Purposeful Awareness.

There are times when different subject areas align with one another through TEKS that are directly linked. Meaningful links may be found in a direct relationship between two concepts, such as money in Math with the economics in Social Studies.  A direct connection might also be found within the language or concept of the Student Expectations themselves. Consider the 3rd Grade standards below.

 

Science

Earth and Space. The student knows that Earth consists of natural resources and its surface is constantly changing.  The student is expected to:

3.7b       investigate rapid changes in the Earth’s surface such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and landslides

3.7c        identify and compare different landforms, including mountains, hills, valleys, and plains

 

Social Studies

Geography. The student understands how humans adapt to variations in the physical environment.   The student is expected to:

3.4c        describe the effects of physical processes such as volcanoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes in shaping the landscape

3.4a        describe and explain variations in the physical environment, including climate, landforms, natural resources, and natural hazards

 

Direct (Explicit) Support

As a third grade teacher looking at any one content area it may be easy to miss. However, a third grade teacher looking across content areas should be able to identify two direct connections within the above sets of TEKS.  In third grade, students investigate rapid changes to the Earth’s surface (Science) and the effects these changes have (Social Studies).  These do not need to be separate and isolated ideas, nor should they be.  Looking at the other pair of standards listed, another direct connection between studying landforms in Science and landforms in Social Studies is easily identified.  These are connections found no further than the TEKS themselves and points of intersection that teachers can use not only to save themselves the time spent in isolated planning, but also to make authentic and meaningful content  connections in a way that benefits all learners.

 

Purposeful Awareness

While not as overtly apparent as Direct Support, the use of Purposeful Awareness is key in applying knowledge and skills to new and novel situations.  These transferrable skills are the very things we seek to build in our students so that they continue to grow and learn throughout their lives while being productive and contributing citizens in the process.  Furthermore, it is precisely this type of thinking that STAAR requires as well.  This type of thinking is more difficult to “teach”, as it must be consistently modeled and practiced using a myriad of examples and scenarios. The beauty of employing Purposeful Awareness lies in the world of possibilities and potential connections that exist within students’ minds. There is no reason that the teacher need be the expert in the room as the goal is to expand student thinking beyond what may be easily apparent or written on a worksheet.  Purposeful Awareness may often come through the use of vocabulary in new contexts to strengthen the comprehension of the language.  Other areas such as big ideas, (i.e. human impact, conservation), relationships, and skills also provide breeding ground for cross-content connections.  Consider the following vocabulary words as examples.

 

Interdependence

– A standard concept and vocabulary term in Science, this term can apply in other contexts with very little change to the working definition.  To understand the concept is to be able to apply it to new and novel situations.

– Language Arts:  interdependent characters, parts of speech, cause/effect relationships

– Social Studies: global economics, countries, opposing sides of conflict, money

– Math: sides of an equation, factors/multiples

 

Consumer

– Basic definition in science: an animal that cannot produce its own food and eats plants and other animals (as opposed to a producer–which makes its own food)

– Basic definition in Social Studies: A consumer is a person who buys and uses goods and services. A producer is a person who makes goods or provides services.

– “to consume”

 

There are obvious differences when applying these example concepts in different content areas but the core meaning remains the same.  It is the context which changes. Too often we label concepts as “terms” to be used in a particular class or within a particular scheduled part of the day.  Although we have the best of vocabulary intentions, we may inadvertently silo language in such a way that students are not readily and easily applying concepts across areas. A student identifying a word as a “science word” may easily not be able to transfer the actual comprehension of that word/concept when viewing it in a new context.  Whether units occur during the same grading period or not, using Purposeful Awareness keeps these connections alive, albeit in smaller chunks than stand-alone units.  When working in the social studies context of “consumer,” for example, we need to purposefully connect back (or forward) and point out the similarity to other areas.

 

Well-placed questions and quick tie-ins are another way to utilize Purposeful Awareness. Consider the following example. As a teacher you may be introducing the accomplishments and contributions of various citizens in Social Studies. This is actually a standard in all levels of Social Studies. One such person may be Robert Fulton, credited with inventing the first operational steamboat. This invention opened the waters of the Mississippi, which in turn had great impact on the U.S. economy and growth of the day.  During instruction, the teacher may ask questions such as those that follow.

 

  • What type of landform is the Mississippi River? River
  • Is it salt or fresh water? Fresh
  • What landform is created when it meets the ocean? Delta
  • What Earth processes are at play and shape the earth? Weathering, erosion, deposition

 

The kinds of questions enable the student to concentrate on the Social Studies message at hand, while simultaneously connecting it with concepts from science. This is done in a low-intrusive manner requiring nothing more than planned questions to tie things together. Often the best approach to these connections is simply to plan to ask the students how things may connect to one another.  Something as basic as “How does this ______ in our current unit connect with _______, our previous unit?” can be very effective in forcing students to think beyond what is in front of them and to remember previous concepts in the process.  There is always a connection to be made.

 

This process takes time. A solid knowledge of the TEKS, or a consistent referral to them, remains, as always, the starting point.  While everyone has the ability to see connections, some people may seem to see them more quickly or more easily.  While we desperately seek these points of intersection, it seems we have somehow trained ourselves not to.  Of the two techniques listed here, begin with seeking Direct Support within the standards themselves.  From there, be comfortable opening your mind to what may be less obvious.  The more this is practiced the easier it becomes.  Don’t be afraid to bring your students into this thinking journey with you. It can actually be quite fun when taken together!

 

The next installment will focus on the area of skill building.  All of the core content areas, health and technology standards include similar skills.  When we view these as a whole, in addition to the student and the learning day, we are able to better capitalize on the intent of the standards while fostering deep and critical thinking for ourselves and our students.

Exploring Integration in Elementary Curriculum, Part 1

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author:  Lori Reemts, Elementary Generalist

 

There is a place where the learning process, fueled by pure motivation, engages everyone in the room and authentically integrates critical thinking with content concepts. This place operates beyond barriers, perceived or otherwise, and capitalizes on the efficient and effective use of talent and time.

Although this may sound unattainable to some, the reality is that this place can often be found within our own instructional choices.   Of course we, as professionals, operate within larger systems and, of course, these systems each have their own issues, but when it comes right down to it the largest influencer and indicator of student success is the classroom teacher. (Stronge,  2010)  While respect should be given to the realities of life and teaching in today’s world, it is imperative to acknowledge and appreciate that educators do not have a simple or easy task;  it benefits no one to dwell on daily challenges when our energies could better be spent upon enacting change in our own classrooms.  Educators everywhere collectively cry out for the path and the simple answer to integration.  The goal of this series is to focus on this desire and suggestions for steps toward accomplishing this as we journey to this place we so covet.

In this first installment, it may be an excellent time to try to define “integration” so that our conversations center on similar ideas and starting points.  Believe it or not there are many variations in how we use this word which are quite dependent upon the person using the term and in what context.  Obvious historical examples exist referring to actual student integration during the Civil Rights movement, but in this context we are referring to skills and concepts addressed  in our classrooms.  The term itself has been thrown around for a number of years and has recently regained momentum; unfortunately for some, it has become a symbolic “buzz word” without substance.

Humphreys (1981) offers a basic definition: “An integrated study is one which children broadly explore knowledge in various subjects related to certain aspects of their environment.”  That is a wonderful academic definition of integration but let’s get to the practicality of the concept. Curriculum itself is the relationship between three main components: the written curriculum, the taught curriculum, and the tested curriculum.   Ideally this triad operates in balance and responds to each of the other sections.  The written curriculum would be that which we find on our documents. Components such as scope and sequence, vertical alignment, and unit guides exist to help teachers identify and define the “what,” the student expectations.  While important, this written curriculum exists and is effective only when brought to life through the taught curriculum, or instruction. This speaks to the art of teaching. These are the two areas with which to begin the conversation.  As written curriculum is built from the state standards, it is dependent upon those standards. Content area standards do change and not at the same time.  Aligning and integrating them within a written curriculum, therefore, takes time and may be at a slower pace than the call for it would like it to be.  One must know and understand the separate content areas’ requirements in order to accomplish the task of integrating them effectively.  This is not to say it cannot be done, but the reality is that written curriculum, as dynamic and living a document as it may be, is not equipped to change on a daily basis when classroom teachers must make instructional choices and connections, nor could it and remain credible and consistent.  What, then, is a teacher to do?

We turn to instructional integration.  This is where educators can capitalize on the information a written curriculum provides to them by seeking commonalities.  Learning does not occur on a bell schedule or subject shift during the day. Children and adults alike learn throughout the course of experiences rather than isolated skills or facts.  By embracing this continuous learning idea, even when operating on a much-needed school schedule, we can build transferrable skills in a more effective manner rather than feeling the need to “close out” Subject 1 in order to begin Subject 2.  These same real-life skills can be found within every content area as can almost endless content/concept connections. The key to locating these areas lies in working toward a core and solid understanding of what the most recent and required student expectations actually communicate.

Our next conversation will continue with this idea and explore how to use the required state standards and other information found within our written curriculum in order to effectively utilize and maximize the integration potential.

Humphreys, Alan, Thomas Post, and Arthur Ellis. Interdisciplinary Methods, A Thematic Approach. Santa Monica:

Goodyear, 1981.

Stronge, James. Effective Teachers = Student Achievement: What the Research Says. Larchmont: Eye on Education, 2010.

TEKS Referenced / TEKS Based Resource Calibration

Monday, February 13th, 2012

There is so much “stuff” here …what do I use?

I don’t seem to have any “stuff” to use…what do I buy?

Money to spend this year?  Budgets to create for next year?

These are but a few questions heard in meetings, hallways, teacher lounges and the like.  Sometimes the sheer volume of materials to wade through is overwhelming while other times it may feel as if there just isn’t any resource to be found.  This may differ from content to content and even differ from unit to unit within any given content.  If you have ever felt as though you are simply racing against time and the system itself to “fit it all in” or as though you are spinning your wheels because students seem to “have it” only to just as easily have “lost it” over any given time frame, perhaps simplifying the instructional decision process by simply targeting the intent of the TEKS will help.  Admittedly this is far easier said than done, but wouldn’t we all love it if at the end of day we had a base of solid “go to” resources absent of ambiguity and rich with potential?  As the practice becomes second-nature, arguably an art form, we are able to focus our time and energy on each of our students with confidence that we are covering appropriate content and at the appropriate cognitive levels for our students.

Certainly we can launch an in-depth study of works by Robert Marzano, Mike Schmoker, and others noteworthy in their field…but really?  Do we all have that kind of time?  Although their work on defining Standards-based vs. Standards-referenced education serves as wonderful appetizers to full blown educational debate, when push comes to shove we are in our classrooms with our students each day and we make countless instructional decisions fueled solely by the intent to help and serve our children in their journey.  Part of the beauty of teaching is keeping hold of an eclectic set of items and resources because you just never know when or if you can use it again. Part of the danger of teaching is keeping hold of an eclectic set of items and resources and pulling from this comfort zone regardless of assignment or how many years have passed.  Admit it: there is a purple mimeograph copy somewhere in your files.   It may even be entitled something very similar to something you currently teach.  Does that make it the best instructional choice?

Consider this:  TEKS based vs. TEKS Referenced Materials.  Has a ring to it, doesn’t it?  If we focus on TEKS based materials in our original or main instruction we are then able to support and supplement with TEKS referenced and additional TEKS based items.  After all, we teach children, not subjects.

TEKS based:  resources tightly aligned with the content and cognitive level of the standards

  •  Example: A lesson addressing Science TEKS student expectation 2.7c focuses on distinguishing natural vs. manmade resources; combine this with Scientific Investigation and Reasoning TEKS student expectation 2.2d where students record and organize this information using pictures, numbers, and words within their science notebooks (TEKS 2.4a).

TEKS referenced:  resources loosely aligned with the direct standards but support the overall understanding of the concept; they may be considered “in the same ball park.”

  • Example:  In addition to reading non-fiction text on natural vs. manmade resources, a guided                         reading group explores a fictional leveled-reader short story in which the characters choose resources to gather and build a class project.

We would not rely on the TEKS referenced story to address the TEKS directly or to support student experiential learning, but we would choose this title to help support and solidify the idea of choosing and using resources which in turn helps the overall conceptual learning related to the standards.

One final word of caution:  sometimes less is more.  Let’s suppose that you begin your elementary unit on life cycles and you have come across a poster that you believe includes your grade level’s standards.   All six of the elementary grade levels contain TEKS related to life cycles.  For argument’s sake we will take the role of a 4th grade teacher covering 4.10c: explore, illustrate, and compare life cycles in living organisms such as butterflies, beetles, radishes, or lima beans.  Does the poster below support this student expectation in the TEKS?

 

image found, February 2012 at http://www.biographixmedia.com/index.html  

One could argue that the basic information is indeed found within this poster (content).  Of course just having a poster doesn’t elicit the required cognitive level of the standard and that would have to be incorporated into the lesson itself, but take another look at the content.  Sometimes resources are lacking content but other times, as in this case, they contain too much content and the original intent is lost for many students.  The extraneous information can easily muddy the water for many students.

What is the moral of our story? When considering resources, whether to utilize for TEKS based instruction or to purchase for future use, one must consider three questions:

1. Does the content align to the TEKS?

  • (Consider: TEKS based or TEKS referenced. This impacts how you would use the resource.)

2. Is the student cognitive level at the depth and complexity required in the TEKS?

  • (Consider: Are there means to combine a content student expectation in the TEKS with a process skill or other skills-based TEKS to increase the rigor?)

3.  If the answer to Question 1 and/or Question 2 is no, then you must ask if a small adjustment or tweak (resource calibration) could be made relatively easily to calibrate the resource to the standards.

  • No?  Then it is time to “retire” or share this resource with another grade level or course, if appropriate.  By the end of the unit, you will have streamlined your toolkit and saved time in the long run.

Remember, we all have favored lessons, resources, and vendors.  Companies and non-profits may even provide a correlation document aligning our state standards to their product.  For example, textbook publishers assign TEKS throughout the publication. As professional educators, there is no substitute for evaluating and calibrating resources before we use them.

Of course we know that things are much easier to say than to do in real time, but this practice can easily become second-nature and prove invaluable when designing lessons.  Want more information or practice evaluating and calibrating a variety of resource types?  Region XIII has offered several professional learning sessions doing just that; keep an eye on E-Campus, join the content list-servs, or request a visit from a specialist to learn more.

 

Searching for Rigor

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Rigor.  This word may be a topic of conversation that many of you are avoiding right now.  This may be related to the curricular chaos you have experienced this year with the increased numbers of historical figures and more standards in a compacted instructional pacing.   With the coming of the STAAR assessment in May, you may be more concerned with getting through the tremendous amount of information with the students rather than challenging them to think critically.  In the book Best Practice: New Standards for Teaching and Learning in America’s Schools (1998), authors Daniels, Hyde, and Zemelman believe, “Complete ‘coverage’ in social studies inevitably results in superficial and unengaging teaching, like painting a room—covering plenty of square feet but only one-thousandth of an inch thick.”  Moreover, they state, “Students of social studies need regular opportunities to investigate topics in depth” (p. 139).  A common mistake is to equate in-depth for copious amounts of time, but this doesn’t have to be the case.  A well-planned Socratic questioning session with students may do more for them than taking PowerPoint notes for half of the class period.  As you search for rigor, you really have to look from within and evaluate what you are doing on a daily basis.  This search should start first by reflecting upon where rigor can be found in the standards.

Although this standard certainly looks like a Science student expectation, it is found in all K-12 Social Studies courses: Use a problem-solving process to identify a problem, gather information, list and consider options, consider advantages and disadvantages, choose and implement a solution, and evaluate the effectiveness of the solution.

So how exactly does it translate to the classroom when you have no new resources?  One recommendation is to be intentional.  Look for free resources that will help to stimulate problem-solving issues to pose to your students.  Just a few weeks ago I caught a 10 minute segment on PBS NEWSHOUR that led to me the website for the Center for Investigative Reporting. They are undergoing a yearlong examination of the global food supply and the world’s growing population in the series, Food for 9 Billion. World Geography students can use the audio and video segments to investigate the countries being showcased and use the website to further examine and compare world food statistics.  This is a great opportunity for them to discuss the problems that will arise with global population growth.  Are there solutions to these problems?  If so, what could be effective solutions?  This kind of problem-solving allows students to evaluate the issues on their own and make decisions based on what they read, hear, and view.  To really spark interest, try connecting the in-class discussion with Hans Rosling’s 5-minute population exploration, The Joy of Stats: 200 Countries, 200 Years.

Here’s another student expectation that is ubiquitous in K-12 Social Studies, but worded differently throughout the various grades: Explain the difference between primary and secondary sources and examine those sources to analyze frame of reference, historical context, and point of view.

This may be one of the easiest to integrate for rigor, but is often replaced by the textbook.  The argument may be, “Hey, the textbook is a secondary source.”  Yes, it is, but the textbook is one of many resources that should be used in the classroom.  Here’s an example of a primary and secondary source pairing that could enrich student learning in the World History classroom.

Examining Primary Sources

SEP TESEP TE

Ibn Battuta’s 1348 account of the Black Death

I went to Horns and found that the plague had already struck there; about 300 persons died on the day of my arrival. I went to Damascus and arrived on a Thursday; the people had been fasting for three days…. The number of deaths among them had risen to 2400 a day…. Then we went to Gaza and found most of it deserted because of the number that had died…. The qadi told me that only a quarter of the 80 notaries there were left and that the number of deaths had risen to 1100 a day…. Then I went to Cairo and was told that during the plague the number of deaths rose to 21,000 a day. I found that all the shaykhs I had known were dead. May God Most High have mercy upon them!

1350 account of the plague in Scotland 

In 1350, there was a great pestilence and mortality of men in the kingdom of Scotland, and this pestilence also raged for many years before and after in various parts of the world. So great a plague has never been heard of from the beginning of the world to the present day, or been recorded in books. For this plague vented its spite so thoroughly that fully a third of the human race was killed. At God’s command, moreover, the damage was done by an extraordinary and novel form of death. Those who fell sick of a kind of gross swelling of the flesh lasted for barely two days. This sickness befell people everywhere, but especially the middling and lower classes, rarely the great. It generated such horror that children did not dare to visit their dying parents, nor parents their children, but fled for fear of contagion as if from leprosy or a serpent.

                                                                          John of Fordun (d.1384), Scotichronicon

The students should be reading, viewing, and examining various sources as an on-going process. Leading students through primary and secondary source analysis can open up interest and pique curiosity to people’s lives long ago. In this case, the secondary source map can be used to make ties and provide a spatial understanding of the spread of the Black Death. You can also make an ephemeral correlation to issues and pandemics today. The Center for Disease Control has a brief plague page that has simplified information on the transition and distribution of plague in our modern world.

The last student expectation on rigor exploration has different verbiage at various grades, but is still present throughout Social Studies: Create written and visual material such as journal entries, reports, graphic organizers, outlines, and bibliographies based on research.

For this standard, the rigor is in what the students are producing and creating. You should provide opportunities for students to research, evaluate, and reflect on the information they have learned. A concrete example is this leader report card with Napoleon Bonaparte as a model example. The assignment would be to have students evaluate Bonaparte’s leadership and impact based on the reforms made under his authority. The student research would be focused on the French leader’s time in power and overall impact.

Now that you have seen a few examples of rigor in the Social Studies process skills, consider the following quote from a recently published article from Education Service Center Region 20 entitled, “How do you Identify Rigor in the Classroom?”  The authors state, “Rigor is evidenced through the observation of a number of essential components of rigor: content acquisition, critical thinking, relevance, integration, application of concepts, long term retention, and student ownership of learning.”  As a teacher, none of this can happen if you are not actively seeking new ways of reaching your students by pairing both content and rigor.  Yes, this takes time, intentional planning, and firmly rooting yourself in your content standards, but the rigor-reward will be great.

 *If you are looking for primary sources related workshops, ESC Region XIII will be hosting two workshops this spring – Teaching with Primary Sources and Document Based Questions for the Social Studies Classroom.  Go to Region XIII e-campus for more information.  (Workshop ID: SP122647, SP1223152)

a humorous look at what rigor is (not) in the Social Studies classroom, check out the following link

 

References

Bullis, D. MacDonald, N. (2000). The longest hajj: The journeys of Ibn Battuta, Part 3: From traveler to memoirist – China, Mali, and Home. Saudi Aramco World, 51, No. 4, Retrieved January 29, 2012 from www.saudiaramcoworld.com.

Damian, L., Dykes, S., Martinez, J., Zwart, L. Final report card: Napoleon Bonaparte. Presented to R. Hernandez, HCHS.

First incidence of black death in Europe and Asia, 1333-1369.  Retrieved January 29, 2012 from http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Italian_Studies/dweb/images/maps/decworld/plaguetraderoutes.jpg

Hyde, A., Daniels, H., Zemelman, S. (1998). Best practice: New standards for teaching and learning in America’s schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Jenkins, R., Goldhorn, J., Webb, M. How do you identify rigor in the classroom?  Retrieved February 2, 2012 from http://portal.esc20.net/portal/page/portal/STAAR/Administrators.

Ibeji, M. (2011). Black death. BBC: British History. Retrieved February 2, 2012 from  http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/middle_ages/black_01.shtml.

Making Connections: Points of Instructional Integration and Skill Building

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Our goal as educators is that our students grow into productive citizens with a wealth of skills to draw from. We want to foster learning so that students are critical thinkers and problem solvers who are able to make connections and apply their learning in new and novel situations. The TEKS call for critical thinking, problem solving, and making connections. STAAR calls for critical thinking, problem solving, and making connections. Life calls for critical thinking, problem solving, and making connections.  This necessitates that our instruction include and build critical thinking, problem solving, and making opportunities for students to make connections.

In modern education, we are under more and more time constraints with fewer resources. We often feel we are trying to do it all and it seems there just is not enough time. It is easy at times  to become focused on the pure content within our grade level or subject matter, and forget that the skills we wish to build are transferrable skills that apply to all content and simply may look slightly different based upon the context.

As a result, we sometimes find ourselves and our lessons looking somewhat like a solved Rubik’s cube. Although within this particular game, getting all colors onto one side and isolated from the rest of the colors indicates you have “solved” the puzzle; in education this represents ideas, skills, and learning in isolation.

We want students to be able to operate within all of the colors and, in fact, NEED students to be able to operate in a more integrated fashion for STAAR and beyond.

Consider the term interdependence for a moment. What does it mean?

A dictionary definition would be “a relation between its members such that each is mutually dependent on the others.”  For students understanding content and their world, such a definition means nothing and holds little relevance. We learn about interdependence within Science. In fact, this is a key concept in science.  For example, the entire understanding of food chains relates to this idea among many others. Students may build an understanding of this vocabulary word within the Science context and examples, but can they apply it outside of these specifics?

  •  What might “interdependence” look like within Language Arts?

Characters are often interdependent. 

  • What might “interdependence” look like within Social Studies?

Countries in time of war and peace are interdependent upon each other. Economic systems, global economics, are interdependent upon one another.         

  • What might “interdependence” look like within Math?

Concepts such as part/part/whole and balanced equations include ideas of dependence and interdependence.

Would it be better to build on the idea in its entirety with multiple examples in order to assure students can transfer and apply knowledge or would it be best to know this term simply through a dictionary definition, a specific example such as a food chain, or within a specific content? Even if the word is introduced as a new vocabulary term in science, we want and need students to have word study skills that might enable them to determine what this unfamiliar word means, especially within multiple contexts.

That is one specific example with the intention of planting the seed for making connections and continuing learning throughout the day rather than in isolated periods of time or content.

Aligning TEKS to TEKS, side by side can be a daunting process when one considers the number of standards Texas has and how little time there is within a given day.  However, there are a few manageable ideas to begin to take the first small step(s) toward integrated learning throughout the day.  By doing so educators are able to “shave” time off of discreet stand-alone lessons and students are able to see connections and apply their learning across content and contexts.  These processes have the potential to increase efficiency and effectiveness by capitalizing what already exists within the TEKS and conceptual connections.

Within lesson design, we must look for opportunities to make connections and build skills across content.

1. Look across content units within the same time period: big ideas/concepts.

Are there opportunities for direct and explicit support or purposeful awareness or both?  For example, in 3rd grade Science your landforms unit may be within the same time frame as the Social Studies unit on landforms.  This is direct explicit support.  Or perhaps you teach English in 7th grade and the Texas History class covers political change in Texas as a result of the Civil War.  Through resource choice, instruction can support purposeful awareness and support the overall connections and learning associated with the Texas political climate without actually directly teaching the Social Studies TEKS within the English classroom.

2. Focus on transferrable skills across content and context:  TEKS skills strands

Every content has a skills strand, or skills-based student expectations, embedded within the course TEKS.  These are the very skills needed to approach and access content in order to make connections and increase comprehension.  Focusing on the skills across the course of the day rather than “period to period,” regardless of the content, builds practice and repetition and therefore increases skill levels.  For example, if we consider the 3rd grade TEKS and the skills embedded, we can identify basic skill categories, including data collection, analysis, inferring, forming conclusions, and problem-solving.   Similar skills found within these and other categories can be found in Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Health, and Technology Applications.  Learning effective data collection across content areas allows the students to see the skill applied within different contexts and in new and novel situations, resulting in deeper and broader understanding.

In the end it is the student who ultimately benefits from this direct explicit support and purposeful awareness.  We know the brain is wired for making connections.  By asking where there are opportunities to make connections and build skills during the lesson design process, we make more efficient use of our time while increasing the overall effectiveness of our instruction.

What Does Progress Monitoring Really Look Like?

Monday, December 12th, 2011

We are almost at the halfway point in the year and you have groups all over your classroom and so does everyone else in the school.  The questions start to echo off the walls: Is Mary in the right group?  Are they progressing fast enough to close the gap by the end of the year?  Am I doing this strategy correctly?  How do I group the students to get the most progress in the least amount of time?  Is this strategy working or not?

A critical key component to successful progress monitoring is setting reasonable goals.  We do not want to waste time implementing an ineffective strategy or taking data and then not using it to help guide our instruction.  If you have not set goals for your class as a whole and for individuals who are struggling, then you are going to have a very difficult time trying to get them where they need to be.  Consider the following analogy (Adapted from V. Lynch, C. McGuigan, and S. Shoemaker, “An Introduction to Systematic Instruction”).

Suppose you are taking a trip.  Contrast the difference between taking that trip having specified your destination and taking the trip with no special endpoint in mind.  For example, you leave Seattle this morning with a goal to reach Mexico City by nightfall three days hence, as opposed to merely leaving Seattle.  Without a specified destination and projected arrival time, you know neither in which direction to go nor how fast to travel; having established a goal, you know both these facts (head south and really hustle).  With this information you can judge whether the direction and the rate at which you are traveling will get you to your final destination on time.

If you have not set specific goals for the end of the year yet, it is not too late.  You need to meet with your colleagues/team and decide what the specific end of year goal is for each of your students.  Look back at your data and determine how many students have already met the goal, how many are close to reaching the goal already and how many students have a long way to go.  There are many research based standards for establishing performance goals using baseline data including DIBELS (http://dibles.uoregon.edu/), AIMSWeb (http://aimsweb.com/), and “Formative evaluation of academic progress: How much growth can we expect?”  School Psychology Review, 22, 27-48 (http://www.studentprogress.org/library/articles.asp).  You can also use normative peer data to establish a reference point for the initial goal for an individual. Not only is it critical to set a goal for your students but a key factor in determining success is teacher responsiveness to the data.  “Goal ambitiousness seems to positively affect student achievement.” (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Deno, 1985)  In other words, teachers and students who set their goals higher and continue to increase those goals progress at a more rapid rate than do peers who select lower performance goals and do not change them.  It is also crucial for teachers to follow specific rules for how to be responsive to the data instead of just collecting and graphing it.  Having clear and measurable goals allows teachers  to work as a team with other teachers and with the students.  There can be meaningful and concise communication with regard to how and what students need to improve, and whether they are indeed progressing.  Student progress will help keep the groups flexible as teachers adjust the groups according to student level of progress and program modification.

Let’s look at how to use goal setting, scores along the goal line, and program modification to make decisions about student progress.  If the student’s current level of performance is more than one-half of the peer norm, and if we had more than 30 weeks left in the school year, we would consider setting the goal at the current peer norm.  Since we do not have 30 weeks left in the year,  we need to reduce the goal to a level that we estimate to be attainable.  Initial goal setting may be done through estimation because it can be adjusted if the goal turns out to be unreasonable.   The main point here is to set a goal for every student so you know where you are headed.  Progress toward that goal is then represented on a student graph using a goal line.  When 4 consecutive scores exceed the goal line, raise the goal.  In contrast, when 4 consecutive scores fall below the goal line, modify the program.  Draw a vertical line on the graph to indicate where the program was modified and continue to graph the scores.  The new goal line will need to be parallel to (but lower than) the goal line beginning at the student’s present level of performance.  You may also adjust your groups at this time to regroup students who are progressing without modification and students who will all need an adjustment to the program.  Keep in mind that you will need to progress monitor the lowest 40% of your students more often than the others.  You will also need to monitor the programs in which more students are struggling more often than the programs in which most of the students are progressing along their goal line.

Program modification includes a myriad of options.  It is important to first look at the implementation integrity to make sure the program is being used in the way it was designed.  There are a number of implementation integrity checklists created by Alecia Rahn Blakeslee at http://www.aea11.k12.ia.us/idm.  Once you have determined the integrity of the intervention, you can start to look at ways to modify it in order to meet the needs of your students and your campus.  Deb Simmons has created a chart that displays alterable variables in programs. This chart is available at http://oregonreadingfirst.uoregon.edu/inst_swrm.html.  There are several other guidelines to consider when modifying any program.  Supplemental groups should optimally include no more than five or six students.  Intensive groups should optimally include no more than three or four students.  Put the most qualified staff with the neediest students.  Your campus may want to do a personnel resource inventory with ALL staff (general education, Title l and special education teachers, G/T, ELL specialists, paraprofessionals, trained volunteers) to see who has knowledge, skills and experience with the strategies you want to put in place.  Scheduling is another important factor.  Possibly have teachers teach core subjects at different times of the day or different periods so the support staff can schedule time in each classroom and students can access additional time in other classrooms.  You can list each teacher and support personnel’s schedule in 15 minute increments.  Any 15 minute section that they are not teaching core content is a possible intervention time.  This could be a way to provide the additional intervention time for the supplemental and intensive groups.

RtI implementation takes a commitment from all the staff and administrators.  Students will be successful if we use our time and resources effectively and efficiently.  At this point in the year teachers and the leadership team need to be looking at the goals for all students and their progress towards those goals.  It is critical to be responsive to the data that have been collected to modify the program after implementation fidelity has been established.  There are many resources to guide you through this process.  For more information please refer to the RtI Blueprint for Implementation- School Building Level at www.nasdse.org and the Progress Monitoring Leadership Team Content Module at www.rti4success.org.

Where in the World: Using Inference in the Social Studies Classroom

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Around the Region XIII water cooler, we have been recently talking about inference and how it applies to different content areas.  We were asked, “Which one of these Merriam-Webster definitions relates to your subject area?”

INFER:

  1. to derive as a conclusion from facts or premises
  2. imply, guess, surmise
  3. (a) to involve as a normal outcome of thought (b) to point out: indicate
  4. suggest, hint

Although an argument could be made for all definitions, the first definition applies best to Social Studies.  The definition was selected after carefully exploring the Social Studies Skills K-12. The skills explicitly outline inference in grades 4-8 and high school U.S. History, World History, Government, and Economics courses.  The following is a student expectation from the Grade 6 Social Studies course, Contemporary World Cultures:

Grade 6 (21)B: analyze information by sequencing, categorizing, identifying cause-and-effect relationships, comparing, contrasting, finding the main idea, summarizing, making generalizations and predictions, and drawing inferences and conclusions. 

Next we were asked, “So what does infer look like in your subject area?”  One example that comes to mind is picture and text analysis.  For grade 6, you could introduce the study of a country by presenting a Where in the World assignment where you provide the students with pictures, text, and factual information to infer the country in question.  The objective of this assignment is to give students evidence and time to analyze (This is the verb in the student expectation.) in order to make inferences and draw conclusions.

Picture A

Picture B

 

Observation

What exactly do you seein the photographs?What people and objects do you see?

 

Students could be asked additional questions such as:

  1. What clues does Picture A contain that help to determine this man’s general location in the world?
  2. What clues does Picture B contain that help to determine the general location of this McDonald’s?
  3. What role does economics play in Picture A?
  4. What role does economics play in Picture B?
  5. How does Picture B indicate the influence of globalization?
  6. How does Picture B indicate the influence of the U.S. free enterprise system?
  7. Taking it to another level, you could present students with text and factual information such as:

(…) women in my country wear a black cloak which completely covers their bodies.  This is called an abaya.  They also wear a headscarf.  Some women cover their faces and some do not.  Men wear thobes, ghutras, and sandals or shoes.  (…) are Muslims.  We believe in one God.  We pray five times a day.  All shops and businesses close at prayer time so it is easy for people to go to the mosque to pray.  We follow a lunar calendar.  Traditional (…) diets centered around coffee, dates, bread, meat and rice.  We even have a type of traditional chewing gum.  You have to have strong teeth and jaws to chew it.  Some people eat fast food like hamburgers, pizza, french fries, and donuts.  We have restaurants like McDonald’s, Hardees, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and many more.

Most of us speak both Arabic and English.  Women don’t drive in my country.  Our money is called the Riyal.  The Kingdom earns most of its money by selling oil to other countries.  Our king is King Fahad.

(…) is a beautiful country.  Thank you for taking an interest in it.

     –Grade 4 student, 1994

  • Extensive coastlines provide great leverage for shipping
  • Arable land is at 1.67%
  • North of Yemen
  • Official language is Arabic
  • Harsh, dry desert with great temperature extremes
  • Only males 21 years of age have voting privileges
  • Natural resources are petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold, and copper
  • Geographic coordinates for the capital city: 24° 38′N 46°43′E

 -CIA, The World Factbook, 2011

You may consider providing students with a map or giving them supplementary pictures and vocabulary explanations to help them further in this deduction method.  Ultimately, the students should infer from the material provided that the country of focus is…drum roll please…Saudi Arabia.   If that was your conclusion, then you inferred correctly.

References

Central Intelligence Agency.  (2011). Saudi ArabiaThe World Factbook.  Retrieved November 29, 2011, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sa.html

Hernandez, R. (2006). Picture A: Man with Honey and Picture B: McDonald’s in Riyahd.  Saudi Arabia.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary (2011). Infer. Retrieved November 25, 2011, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/infer

Voices of Saudi children. (1996, October). Middle East Resources, 18, 3-4.  Retrieved November 29, 2011, from http://www.outreachworld.org/Files/cmes_harvard/Voices_of_Saudi_Children.pdf

Social Studies – Writing is a Process

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Social Studies teachers avoid ELA writing workshops like the plague.  This is an exaggeration, of course, but the statement has some validity.  So let’s rephrase the statement: most Social Studies teachers don’t want to attend a workshop that doesn’t address their field perspective.  Could it be the lack of workshops focused specifically for writing in the general Social Studies classroom?  Or could it be the time-consuming task that accompanies student writing, i.e. endless hours of grading?

Teachers of Advanced Placement Social Studies courses know all too well that writing is going to be a key part of their instruction and a significant student expectation.  For training many teachers attend AP institutes or obtain coveted access to the world of AP grading to gain better insight.  No such writing assessments are attached to any of the STAAR Social Studies examinations.

The lack of writing prompts on state Social Studies assessments may lead to two misconceptions.  The first misconception is that students in Social Studies courses don’t have to write.  The second misconception is that Social Studies teachers don’t need professional development in the field of writing.   These misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth.  If we examine the new TEKS, writing for Social Studies begins in Grade 2, carries through to middle school, and all successive Social Studies courses that follow.

This doesn’t mean that every teacher needs to assign the age-old five paragraph history essay starting tomorrow.  In fact it would benefit teachers to examine the student expectations.  For example, students in grade 2 are expected to “create written and visual material such as stories, poems, maps, and graphic organizers to express ideas.”  In grade 6, students are expected to “create written and visual material such as journal entries, reports, graphic organizers, outlines and bibliographies based on research.”  By the time students get to World History, they are expected to “interpret and create written, oral, and visual presentations of social studies information.”   This means that students in every Social Studies class should be writing in various ways to authentically demonstrate the historical information that they are learning.

In Checking for Understanding, authors Fisher and Frey break up writing into two different types: high stakes writing and writing for learning.  According to the authors, both have important value, but writing for learning appears to be less commonly used and valued.  They assert,

(…)despite all the known benefits of using writing to learn content,

we rarely think of writing as a way for us to learn about our students’

thinking.  Writing clarifies thinking.  For that matter, writing is thinking.

Analyzing student writing is a great way for teachers to determine

what their students know.

 

As a novice teacher, I assigned the classic history essay because that’s what was assigned to me in high school and in college.  I believed that my students should learn to write in the very same way.  There were significant problems with this thinking.  First, I assigned essay writing without any pre-assessment to gauge their writing skills.  Second, I didn’t have a strategic plan for a writing process with my students.  Third, it took me an exceptionally long time to grade 175 essays.  In fact, it took me weeks.  I found myself weary, to say the least, upon returning the essays to the students.  By that time, the students didn’t care about it anymore.  Last, nothing else was done on my part to address inaccuracies that should have impacted my instruction. In all honesty, I didn’t know how to.

The longer I taught, the more I learned and began to understand that writing needed to be approached differently.  I started assigning manageable short response writing.   “Snippet” writing became the operative word for short paragraph response writing that the students would complete.  I could get the writing responses back to the students in a relatively quick time frame, while assessing if they understood what they were learning.  What I was doing, without knowing it, was focusing my attention on formative assessment rather than summative assessment.  I was learning how to create a process for writing that worked for both my students and me. The essay wasn’t exactly phased out, but rather worked in over time.  Additionally, I staggered the complete essays at intervals for different classes so that I wouldn’t assign myself to weeks of grading purgatory (a useful tip suggested to me by my principal).  Overall, it was a lot of trial and error, but I didn’t give up; I just restructured.

In November, the co-creators of the DBQ Project (Document Based Questioning) will lead two workshops at Region XIII specifically geared for Social Studies, but open to teachers of English Language Arts.  The hope is that teams of teachers will work together to collaborate and learn strategies to help students become better analytical thinkers.  Teachers will be led through DBQ analysis of primary sources to the development process of the written DBQ.

What we recognize most of all is that writing is a process.  For the teacher, if it is paired adequately with the content, it will not take away from instruction, but serve to improve it.

 

Fisher D. & Frey N. (2007). Checking for understanding: Formative assessment techniques for you classroom. Alexandria: ASCD.

Social Studies student expectations referenced: Grade 2 (19)(B), Grade 6(22)(D), World History (30)(B).