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Chapter 1 “Middle & Secondary School Social Studies” – Reflective Essay
Motivation and Enthusiasm (Chapin, p.1-2) are the key points as we begin our text. Well, who am I to want to be a Teacher? Especially in secondary grades – don’t you have to be someone who has motivation to teach? Aren’t you supposed to have the enthusiasm to work with young people and help them learn?
That’s what June R. Chapin tells us in our textbook, “A Practical Guide to Middle and Secondary Social Studies” – but yet when I look in the mirror long and hard after spending more than 30 years working in the fast paced advertising and marketing industry, I actually realize, yes, that’s me!
After raising a son to become a Bucknell University second year college student, and coaching his teams, leading his scout troops, guiding his steps (figurative and actual), and mentoring him and his friends – it dawned on meâ€¦I do have the motivation and enthusiasm to teach. Watching a young mind tackle a difficult concept or wrestle with a perplexing question is a thrill for me to watch, assist and instruct. To guide and educate, that’s what I need (and want) to do with for the rest of my life.
Personal background, beliefs and biases (p.3) are also critical personality traits one must consider if you want to teach. In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” Polonius’ son Laertes is in a hurry to “get on with it,” get onto the next boat to Paris, move forward with his life and get away from his father’s tiresome pontification. But, his father Polonius has one parting point of important wisdom for his son:
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!”
“Hamlet” Act 1, scene 3, 78-82 [my emphasis]
How many of us are really true to ourselves? Do we know the kind of person we are? Are we honest and self aware when we look at that driver who just cut us off and in our anger think to ourselves: “Well no wonder, that person’s a ;” and don’t realize the bias, belief and possible prejudice we’ve just reinforced in our own mind.
What if you are a secondary school teacher driving to work at your job to teach social studies to diverse classes of 7th and 8th graders, for whom you’re teaching a lesson about different cultures or even have students who may also be . Are you aware of your own bias? Are you in the right profession? Can you manage, correct and reverse that attitude?
A teacher must always be aware of who they are and why they may feel a certain wayâ€¦and then just forget it. It isn’t relevant except that you are aware of it and then put it away and if possible eliminate it. You know where you’ve come from, what may have originally prompted those sentiments years ago and now you’ve grown beyond it.
And we must also face bias in materials or resources we read, watch or hear everyday. And just as with our own heritage, we must know what to look for and as it is said “consider the source,” to properly put into perspective, any statement, comment or alleged fact and assign the credibility or lack it may deserve.
“Your beliefs about human potential, ethics and culture are also intertwined with your teaching beliefs and practices.”(p.3) For me, as a professional educator, particularly one in the social sciences, I must have the skeptic’s senses in order to discern the supposed “fact” from the genuine fiction, while also remembering that I myself have a personal perspective in the mix as well.
The “No Child Left Behind” (“NCLB”) Act and “standards movement” has become a pervading concern among all adults involved in the education industry. Our textbook is no exception – it is full of perspectives on the issue – most likely because it affects the foundations of the education process and everyone except the students are concerned with what it means for the future.
What I am also learning from many different resources, in and beyond this textbook, is that there is so much emphasis on problems that no one’s seeing the successes. Beginning with “A Nation at Risk,” a report issued during the Reagan Administration suddenly there needed to be a new national standard and oversight from the Federal government for what was being taught, to whom and whether there was real comprehension and learning coming as a result. Now teachers, administrators, states and bureaucrats across the country are caught up in a challenge on accountability and standards versus school’s autonomy and educational funding.
My frustration with the arguments and debate really stem all the way from the National to the State to the Local to the District levels. I just want to be a classroom teacher and lead my students toward learning strong academic objectives; yet I repeatedly hear the harangue, well – who’s in charge here?
So just as I am starting a new career it seems as though the struggle will escalate to the point where I will be unable to teach a lesson, any lesson, without some bureaucracy being involved with who, how, when and what I teach.
And it seems there is minimal civic enthusiasm or encouragement for what teachers are trying to accomplish. “Troubled Times for Public Schools” (p7) is a mantra that the profession seems to have adopted as a frame-of-mind, instead of something to realize and which we must correct.
The text also reinforces the concept of a good teacher being respected by his/her students for the same traits as one might expect from an adult, including:
depth of knowledge and demonstrating a strong effort
showing respect for themselves and their students
having a sense of humor and perspective on what is “really important”
While I remember Social Studies from my youth as a subject about which I was passionate and involved, I never really considered the textbook definition: “an integrated, multidiscipline area of learning” (pp.12-16) which leads me to understand why I cared so much – the disciplinary materials covered were all my favorites – sociology, political science, history, anthropology, geography, and even (some) economics.
Yet today there is also a debate about how much emphasis is placed on the “integration” approach versus what used to be a single-discipline approach when Social Studies had more of the depth and fundamentals of certain disciplines like history, civics and literature. The term used in our text: “Social Studies slush” (p.14) got my attention because it was so vehement and succinctly critical.
My personal perspective is currently rather muddied itself by my own education, my passion for the multiple Social Studies disciplines and what I am reading: “There is an essential need for improvement in teaching of Social Studies.” (p15)
My son was in the AP US History course at his high school. What surprised me about what he was studying was that the content seemed to be what I thought should be in any US History course. Our Chapin textbook argues that some see the AP level as just a college pre-application opportunity instead of a class for higher level thinking. To me it is just a “label” for a popular provocative and broader educational area that should be expanded to all secondary students.
Chapin’s first chapter also expounds on different teaching “approaches” for “the” Social Studies and includes charts showing examples of personal pedagogy – intimating don’t we want to avoid “indoctrination?” (And be sure we also stay away from Americanization?)
It seems to me that in 2011 a teacher would be hard-pressed in the US secondary education system to find any Social Studies student who would tolerate being taught a lesson “without permitting the individual to question or examine the information being transmitted.”(p.18) In actual fact there probably aren’t many Social Studies teachers who have the integrity to promote an “Americanized” curriculum because it must today be integrated, balanced and politically correct.
The NCSS article “Teaching Social Studies as a Subversive Activity” is a challenge to Social Studies teachers to return to the rebellious 1960’s and 70’s and don’t just promote “pat answers” and accept the pabulum of patriotic dogma in their textbook. And instead teachers need to install a “crap detector” for students so to alert them to the whitewashed stories they’re being taught so that High school students, “â€¦exercise the basic tenets of a democratic society.” The authors promote Social Studies as a “subversive activity” whereby students maintain a “civic engagement” with local, regional and national concerns, (“current events or local community issues, the elections, Hurricane Katrina, an international conflict, or school matters.”)
The problem I have with this perspective is that it seems the authors’ underlying approach doesn’t promote discourse, it promotes discord; it doesn’t promote inquiry it promotes disorder; it doesn’t promote higher learning instead it promotes diatribe and invective.
This is not to say that the authors aren’t in synchronization with much of what I hope to be my personal teaching approach;
“â€¦Schools can also develop a greater sense of educational community through curriculum integration or inter-disciplinary teaching: teachers can team with other teachers as their students engage in reading about other nations and peoples in children’s literature, or integrate American literature with American history in secondary school English and social studies classrooms.” p. 3, col. 2., Teaching Social Studies as a Subversive Activity by Charles L Mitsakos and Ann T. Ackerman, © 2009, NCSS – “Point of View” series.
The criticism of many Districts’ Social Studies curriculum today is that it is in a permanent state of critique and cynicism versus practical awareness and preparation for graduates’ involvement in a larger society. “â€¦government and business leaders who are worried about the economic consequences of inadequate education.” (Chapin, p.19)
In another NCSS article: “Should Social Studies Be Patriotic?” the author, Joel Westheimer promotes a different Social Studies approach when it comes to American history and civics lessons built on what he calls, “democratic patriotism.” Mr. Westheimer, who is a department chair at the University of Ottawa in Canada, believes that U.S. secondary students are learning “authoritarian patriotism” whereby unquestioning loyalty and commitment to “my country right or wrong” has become the norm and students remain unchallenged by “â€¦the debates around the various visions of patriotism.”
Yet my complaint with Mr. Westheimer’s approach is the same as previously mentioned; in the volatile world of 2011 where America and her citizens are more and more described around the world as pretentious ignoramuses, too fat and lazy to address, or even be aware of, the social needs of a struggling world, we shouldn’t throw up our hands and admit, “yup, they’re right!”
But, Mr. Westheimer’s use of “democratic patriotism” in the classroom is an approach that has merit, and his examples of different teachers motivating their students is impressive:
“There are many varied and powerful ways to teach a democratic form of patriotism aimed at both critical consideration of the history, present, and future of our society as well as at reinforcing the ideals of improving the country and the lives of its inhabitantsâ€¦. [such as] students conduct research on improving conditions in their own neighborhood, especially with regard to broken promises to build a new school.
These approaches to teaching about patriotism share several characteristics.
First, teachers encourage students to ask questions rather than absorb pat answers
Second, teachers provide students with the information (including competing narratives) they need to think about patriotism in substantive ways
Third, they root instruction in local contexts, working within their own specific surroundings and circumstances. Because we cannot teach democratic patriotism without paying attention to the environment in which we are teaching it.
And, as a teacher that believes discourse is possibly the most important strategy that we undertake with our students, we will lose their respect and our country their allegiance, if we try to gloss over or “whitewash” civic issues or historical controversy.
But we must also remain vigilant and aware, as Social Studies teachers and as citizens, of the nearby precipice when we encourage dialog that foments dissent:
Critique becomes Criticism
Commentary becomes Cynicism
Dissent becomes Despair
and patriotism in any form, becomes passé.
Finally in this chapter I read Chapin’s text about teaching values and ethics, and I askedâ€¦why not? Ms. Chapin makes it clear that any social Studies teacher who undertakes a values approach must remain cognizant of the potential controversies and assessment dilemmas they face. First and foremost, whose values are correct? And how far should the discussion go before we are in a behavioral guidance area? Yet in my opinion, values, character, moral education are not areas that should be avoided, just tempered with an understanding that a values approach might only be effective for some students, in some circumstances.
Last note: “Improvement can be made to the teaching of Social Studies” p.26
Chapter 2 “Planning for The Social Studies” – Reflective Essay
1. “The” Social Studies?
This bothers me; why is the subject discipline for which I want to become a State of CT, professionally certified secondary school teacher have an English language article: “the” placed in the title? It reminds me of the contemporary baseball zealots (usually on ESPN) who determined at the end of the last millennium that the acronym “RBI” which stood for “Runs Batted In” was inherently plural, so the acronym shouldn’t or couldn’t and won’t be pluralized (“he now has hit 27 R-B-I”â€¦to me this just sounds dumb.) â€¦So I emphatically disagreed. As a youngster following Mickey Mantle or Carl Yastrzemski I would always want to know “how many R-B-I’s he had hit.” We also called them “ribbies” meaning the plural of R-B-I, ended with an “s.”
Now I find as I want to change my career after 30+ years in marketing and advertising (an industry which in itself has played fast & loose with the English language,) that because of the new contemporary multi-disciplined approach that Social Studies is an integrated discipline of so many other Social Sciences, that the NCSS (I assume) has decided it must have the article “the” in the title.
Well, when I was a youngster, going to Social Studies class, we sometimes talked about RBI’s; and now as a teacher, I hope to teach Social Studies to students who sometimes will want to talk about Derek Jeter’s RBI’s, when I will want to discuss their homework assignment, instead.
(I had to reflect on this linguistic concernâ€¦thanks for understanding.)
2. Planning – my Achilles heal
This is the area as a Social Studies teacher on which I MUST concentrate and remain focused.
An effective teacher must plan well in advance what Unit they will cover, composed of what Lessons, to accomplish what Objectives, followed by what type of Assessments they will use to complete their Evaluation of each of their students’ performance. Then as they begin to teach during that semester, an effective educator will always adapt and adjust those Lesson(s) to accommodate or modify the situation, setting and material for any exceptional learners or other student requirements, particularly as the calendar year progresses and any special needs or circumstances arise.
A teacher’s effort at maintaining an inclusive classroom that differentiates the lesson plan according to their Exceptional Student’s Individual Education Plan (“IEP”) is following a standard policy and an appropriate attitude for a “busy teacher.” Yet, as I examine my own strengths and needs for growth it is clear that written plans will be key to my optimal performance, and this must include a period of reflection and examination on how each lesson may be improved after it’s taught. This may occur multiple times a day, or long after a unit is completed depending on how the lesson was received and performed by my students. It should also always be accompanied by my own observations and notes in the margin, as well as any notes or comments from colleagues, visiting administrators or other professionals so I can “tweak,” modify, adjust, or entirely re-teach the activity.
And another major part of creating modifying and improving my lessons will be finding the necessary resources for students’ activities. In our Chapin textbook there is a list of a dozen areas to search, but that is just a start on the numerous areas one can find resources for planning Lessons.
“A common experience while teaching is feeling frustration and anger. Students are usually the trigger for these negative emotions. These emotions often make teachers tense and intrude on their thinking.” (p. 34.)
The key for me in this instance, or any new teacher, is patience, (they say Lesson Planning gets easier with experience.) Remaining confident and calm is vital, as I develop (and teach) each Plan that addresses the appropriate Objectives with the necessary Activities which meet correct Standards and use the necessary Assessment techniques for a comprehensive Evaluation. Confidence can come from the fact there are numerous resources, BUT only if I search extensively and frequently for topical and effective materials. By remaining dedicated to reaching that unnamed student who needs me to care, to making that extra effort on their behalf — this is the personal integrity I want to have and will need in order to be the educator I want to and should be.
3. Long Range Plan
After studying Figure 2.1, on page 35 of our Chapin textbook, my focus goes to the critical juncture before the plan is laid out, “My Approach” and the Rationale for what, why and how I will teach these lessons. The three areas that must be addressed as the Unit’s Curriculum Plan is established are clearly identified and understood. Two of the areas have prewritten guidelines, formats and styles (taxonomies) to follow which must be “aligned,” the third is up to me: my Attitudes, Values & Dispositions.
One professional element that we haven’t covered extensively yet, but I know will be critical to my career as an educator is the colleagues and teams with whom I will be working. Their contributions to my development as a professional Social Studies teacher will be critical to my growth. Some frank and honest feedback from a professional peer can be invaluable in understanding how my Plans can improve, be expanded, edited or discarded. Constructive criticism will require some receptivity and acceptance without personal sensitivity to improve over time.
4. Objectives & Standards – my other Achilles heal
Writing objectives is where we are in all of my professional semester ED and ESPY classes, and they are proving to be difficult for me to get a handle on. This may be because I’m over-complicating them by trying to fit too much into a single activity or lesson, or I am confusing verbs and levels of learning or the activity I want students to perform isn’t correct for the objective. Simultaneously I get hung-up on what Standard fits with what Objective – instructional vs behavioral vs performance.
I believe however that over time in each class I will get the hang of it, with practice. Fundamentally, I know what these terms mean:
â€¢ observable performance – the physical activity that will be measured to meet the objective I have set.
conditions of learning – where the student is starting from or with what material, (e.g. “After reading XYZ textbook,” or “Given a copy of President Obama’s speech, ” etc.)
measurable criteria – an assessment is invalid and actually no objective can be written that doesn’t have levels of criteria on a rubric that the students see in advance, accept and understand. The criteria can be difined simply with a number: “and students will provide 5 examples ofâ€¦” or a measurement device: “using a Likert Scale of ‘Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree’ students will evaluate…”
Organizing Content – Units
In number 2 above I described most of this section without realizing I was, however it is important to note the hierarchy of levels teachers use when planning their subject content:
District’s Subject Curriculum (Year Long)
Team Semester Plan (2-3 Semesters)
Curriculum Module (2-3 Modules)
Unit Plans (6-8 wks)
Lesson Plans (30-40 lessons/Unit)
I hope to be able to frequently use each of the listed resources in my Lessons, particularly those that integrate other disciplines or areas of study: textbooks; commercial/free preprinted lessons, integrate units with colleagues’ discipline (literature, science experiments, etc); technology – online, presentation or other devices.
It is also important that I mention biases; Lesson Plan resources usually have some form of bias, particularly those obtained from a commercial or political or cause-related organization. Many teachers I have seen and known so far use valuable and expert resources, particularly those associated with a textbook or a discipline-oriented publisher. However as a professional educator I must remain vigilant addressing lesson materials that may contain some form of bias. This is not to say that they can’t be used in a lesson, they will just need to identified as having a bias or perspective that must be considered in their usage.
â€¢ Unit Outline:
The following is a “skeleton” Unit showing the elements that comprise most Unit structures, but these can vary and this is for a Teacher-made Unit (there are many pre-published in textbooks and elsewhere.). There are other formats that may use an “integrated” approach with another subject discipline or a variety of technologies (Smart Boards, MS PowerPoint, MS Publisher, etc.,) or some other device or strategy to stimulate students’ multiple intelligences.
– Unit Title;
– Standards & Goals;
– Focus “Big Idea” question;
– Lesson Plans incl. Objectives;
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