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Teaching literacy through social studies under No Child Left Behind



High stakes accountability has intensified the marginalization of social studies in public schools. A popular response to the dilemma between raising achievement in English Language Arts and preserving social studies is to integrate the two subjects. This qualitative case study analyzes instruction in a fifth grade urban classroom where the teacher used U.S. history lessons to teach literacy skills and strategies. I conducted weekly classroom observations over a semester; interviewed the teacher, students, and administrators; and collected pertinent documents. Although two-and-a-half hours were devoted to social studies each week, I found that lessons revolved around literacy training based on reading passages from the textbook. These lessons became increasingly routine, distancing students from history rather than supporting their understanding of it. The teacher's practice was influenced by standardized testing and professional development. This case study serves as a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences that can result when literacy and social studies are combined with the goal of raising test scores.
The Journal of Social Studies Research
Volume 36, Issue 4
Teaching Literacy through Social Studies under No Child Left Behind
Judith L. Pace
University of San Francisco
High stakes accountability has intensified the marginalization of social studies
in public schools. A popular response to the dilemma between raising
achievement in English Language Arts and preserving social studies is to
integrate the two subjects. This qualitative case study analyzes instruction in a
fifth grade urban classroom where the teacher used U.S. history lessons to teach
literacy skills and strategies. I conducted weekly classroom observations over a
semester; interviewed the teacher, students, and administrators; and collected
pertinent documents. Although two-and-a-half hours were devoted to social
studies each week, I found that lessons revolved around literacy training based
on reading passages from the textbook. These lessons became increasingly
routine, distancing students from history rather than supporting their
understanding of it. The teacher’s practice was influenced by standardized
testing and professional development. This case study serves as a cautionary
tale about the unintended consequences that can result when literacy and social
studies are combined with the goal of raising test scores.
High stakes accountability has intensified the marginalization of social
studies in public schools (Bisland, 2011). Quantitative studies based on surveys
and interviews show that under No Child Left Behind legislation (NCLB), the
push to raise test scores in reading and math contribute to reduced instructional
time for untested social studies (Burroughs, Groce, & Webeck, 2005; Fitchett &
Heafner, 2010; Jennings & Rentner, 2006; Rock et al., 2006; VanFossen, 2005).
The “social studies squeeze” is especially apparent in lower performing schools
with high proportions of minority students, where pressures to raise achievement
are greatest (Au, 2007; Pace, 2008; Von Zastrow & Janc, 2004; Wills, 2006,
A popular response to the dilemma between raising achievement in English
Language Arts, specifically, and preserving social studies is to combine these
distinct goals. At the high school level, advocacy for academic literacy across
the content areas preceded NCLB. Now, under high stakes accountability, the
focus on teaching literacy within social studies (and science) throughout the K-
Teaching Literacy through Social Studies under No Child Left Behind, pages 329-358.
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12 continuum has permeated policy messages delivered through curriculum
materials, professional development, and administrative directives. Just one
example of this trend is the Center for Civic Education’s new proposal for a
multi-million dollar grant to support week-long professional development
institutes to connect the We the People content and pedagogy with English
language arts.” The purpose of these institutes is “to improve the content and
pedagogy” of educators working with “high needs students” (email from Robert
This policy context raises questions about how the dual goals of raising
achievement in English Language Arts and preserving social studies are
understood and operationalized. Prior research on social studies teaching under
NCLB has called for qualitative studies that investigate the quality of classroom
practice (Burstein, Hutton, & Curtis, 2006). Few qualitative studies to date have
examined what kind of teaching and learning is generated by taking on the goal
of raising literacy achievement in social studies lessons (Boyle-Baise, Hsu,
Johnson, Serriere, & Stewart, 2008; Yeager & Pinder, 2006). This article
addresses that gap by analyzing instruction in a 5th grade urban classroom
where social studies lessons were used to teach literacy skills and strategies. It
imports concepts from scholarship in literacy to make sense of teaching in this
The teacher I studied wholeheartedly embraced the idea that social studies
should primarily serve to teach reading and writing, using the social studies
textbook. This belief, and the approach it engendered, was shaped by two inter-
related influences, professional development focused on teaching literacy
strategies in history and school accountability under NCLB. Ms. Monroe was
enthusiastic about her approach to social studies and expressed a commitment to
her students’ academic success. But the study of U.S. history, the major focus of
5th grade social studies, was undermined by the infusion of literacy training. The
study raises critical questions about social studies education and literacy
instruction under NCLB.
Although a growing body of scholarship documents the impact of high
stakes accountability on schooling (McNeil, 2000; Palmer & Rangel, 2011;
Sloan, 2006; Valenzuela et al., 2007; Watanabe, 2007), “few studies show what
actually happens inside classroomsand to literacy activities in particular
when teacher and students are pressed by the mandates of NCLB” (Valli &
Chambliss, 2007, p. 57). Even more rare are studies that focus on social studies,
and that include the perspectives of students on instruction influenced by high
stakes accountability. My research does both by examining how a fifth grade
teacher enacts literacy instruction in social studies and how students respond to
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This case study is important because it serves as a cautionary tale about
what can happen when literacy skills and strategies become the focus in social
studies. I found that in this classroom, emphasis on literacy directed the teacher
and students’ attention away from history and towards the completion of routine
tasks that revolved around the textbook. Instruction focused more on lower level
skills than on high level strategies; thus it did not support students’
understanding of content. Students were bored by social studies lessons; they
generally cooperated with the teachers’ in-class demands and enjoyed group
work, but were not substantively engaged with learning history. In the
conclusion of this article I discuss implications of these findings for policy,
research, and practice.
Research on Social Studies Under NCLB
Although a growing body of research reports a “social studies squeeze”
under NCLB, very little research qualitatively analyzes the enactment of
classroom lessons when teachers focus on literacy in social studies. Two
qualitative studies that include observation and interview data yield mixed
findings. Boyle-Baise et al.’s (2008) research in Indiana elementary schools
finds that social studies has become a “by-product” of reading. Data were
collected from thirteen teachers in six mainly white, lower to middle income
schools all struggling to make AYP (Academic Yearly Progress). The authors
found that in the early grades Reading First dominated, and teachers tried to
address social studies through stories in their basal series. In grades 4-6, teachers
used social studies textbooks and focused on reading comprehension. Teacher-
centered lessons based on recitation used to reinforce comprehension skills
pervaded classroom instruction. Integration of social studies with other subjects
was haphazard rather than intentional. Teachers and principals explained that the
sacrifice of social studies for reading was a consequence of the “rules of the
game” under NCLB (p. 239). NCLB was experienced as a “driving force” and a
“barrier” to teaching (p. 239).
In contrast to Boyle-Baise et al., Yeager and Pinder (2006) described and
analyzed the ambitious practice of two history teachers in two Florida high
schools. The authors explain that Florida history teachers have struggled with
figuring out their role due to intense accountability pressures and the Florida
Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), which does not include social studies.
The two teachers studied by Yeager and Pinder decided to incorporate literacy
skills and strategies into their history lessons with the dual purposes of helping
to raise schools reading scores and meeting students’ academic needs. Isabel
taught in a low performing, largely Latino school, with colleagues united around
the goal of raising achievement, and provision of professional development
centered on teaching literacy strategies. She highlighted these strategies during
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history lessons, by asking students to summarize texts and utilizing a simplified
version of reciprocal teaching that involved predicting, visualizing, clarifying,
formulating questions, and summarizing. The teacher connected students to
important historical content and current issues, but prioritized literacy to both
raise test scores and address students’ educational needs.
The second teacher, Suzanne, worked in a diverse yet mostly white school
with declining test scores and a divided faculty, who either conformed to
mindless test prep or disregarded the FCAT, and did not have professional
development. Working independently, she focused on teaching critical thinking
with rich content but also infused reading and writing skills such as vocabulary
development, identifying points of view, and developing arguments on historical
issues. Literacy skills were addressed so that students could read primary
sources and historical documents and develop perspectives on important content.
While Suzanne focused on disciplinary understanding and Isabel on literacy
strategies, the study characterizes ambitious practice under NCLB as both
preserving social studies and promoting achievement: “One way in which we
have thought about ambitious history teaching in Florida is the inclusion of more
and better content-specific reading and writing strategies in history classes”
(Yeager & Pinder, 2006, p. 252).
Conceptual Framework: Strategy Instruction
Strategy instruction, which emerged from research on information
processing during the cognitive revolution and became part of the thinking skills
movement (Dole, Nokes, & Drits, 2011; Jones et al., 1987), continues to garner
popularity (Fisher & Frey, 2008). Advocacy for strategy instruction and research
on its implementation in classrooms grew during the 1980s and 1990s (Pressley
& El-Dinary, 1993), and has reached new heights under NCLB: “It could be
argued that the literature is currently saturated with research, articles, and books
about cognitive strategies” (Dole et al., 2011, p. 347). However, scholars
previously recognized that effective implementation is very challenging and
requires extensive professional development (Pressley & El-Dinary, 1993).
While scholarship on strategy instruction is situated in the field of literacy,
and a complete review lies outside the scope of this article, a consideration of
major points and problems is necessary to understanding this case study. In fact,
analysis of data required that I import conceptual lenses from outside social
studies education research to illuminate Ms. Monroe’s social studies practice.
Various approaches to strategy instruction have been developed and
evaluated for their effectiveness (Alexander, Graham, & Harris, 1998; Dole et
al., 2011). Most center on reading comprehension. Many teachers do not
implement a specific model but demonstrate to their classes key comprehension
strategies, such as “inferencing, summarizing, predicting, clarifying,
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questioning, visualizing, monitoring, synthesizing, evaluating, and connecting”
(Fisher & Frey, 2008, p. 20). Additionally, teachers focus on vocabulary
strategies to help readers figure out word meanings; text structures such as
cause/effect, sequence, and problem/solution; and use of text features such as
headings, graphics, and glossaries (p. 20). Writing strategies typically support
the process of planning, composing, and revising (Pressley et al., 1989). For
expository writing they include assessing one’s audience, organizing
information, drafting, getting a peer to edit, revising based on feedback, and
editing the final essay (p. 228).
While strategy instruction has become widespread through teacher training
and practitioner resources (e.g. Harvey & Goudvis, 2007), implementation is
challenging and potentially problematic due to its complexity and superficial
understandings of it (Maniates & Pearson, 2008; Pressley & El-Dinary, 1993).
One problem is over-emphasis on strategies and neglect of subject matter.
Researchers have found that despite the larger purpose of reading, “it is difficult
for many teachers to understand the necessity of keeping the content of the text
at the forefront while teaching strategies” (Dole et al., 2011, p. 367). Fisher and
Frey (2008) warn against the “curricularization” of strategies, in which they
become the main focus rather than a means to understanding text (p. 16).
Teachers and students may attend more to the format of academic tasks and
outcomes to be tested than on actual learning (Anderson & Roit, 1993).
Another problem is confusion between the terms “strategies” and “skills,”
often generated by basal readers that do not distinguish between them: “Reading
strategies are deliberate, goal-directed attempts to control and modify the
reader’s efforts to decode text, understand words, and construct meanings of
text. Reading skills are automatic actions that result in decoding and
comprehension with speed, efficiency, and fluency” (Afflerbach, Pearson, &
Paris, 2008, p. 368). The ultimate goal is that, over time, many strategies
become automatic and integrated into students’ reading skills. Thus, strategies
are needed only when a reader’s skills are not sufficient for effective
performance. Afflerbach et al. note that the historical dominance of lower-level
skill instruction in reading, which gave way to models such as whole language
and balanced literacy that emphasize meaning-making of text, has come back in
full force under NCLB.
Finally, teachers may view strategy instruction as a technical enterprise,
which may reinforce deficit thinking. Bartolomé (1994a) warns against a
“general tendency to reduce complex educational issues . . . to mere ‘magical’
methods and techniques designed to remediate perceived student cognitive and
linguistic deficiencies” (p. 201). She reminds us that learning depends on
responsive teaching that values and connects students’ prior knowledge to new
information. Likewise, Maniates and Pearson (2008) argue that teachers need to
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know how specific strategies fit into a theory of students’ development as
readers. They present Kintsch’s (1998) theory of expert reading as the
construction of a “situation model” in which the reader integrates prior
knowledge and experience with information gained from a given text. Thus,
teachers should teach students strategies that will help them be proactive in
building situation models when they read.
Along with robust understanding among teachers about goals and methods
of strategy instruction and how it fits into theories of teaching and learning,
successful employment of strategies also depends on student motivation.
Students must believe the goals of a reading task are meaningful, the strategies
are useful, and the effort required to use them will be worthwhile (Dole et al.,
2011). Importantly, the overall purpose of strategy instruction is for students to
learn to monitor their learning activities; decide when, why, and how to choose
appropriate strategies; and use them independently. It involves helping students
think metacognitively about task demands and choose among alternative
approaches to attain goals (Afflerbach, Pearson, & Paris, 2008, p. 368).
This case study addresses the following research questions: 1. What
happens to social studies lessons when they are used for literacy instruction? 2.
How do students respond to these lessons? 3. What factors shape the teacher’s
Site and Sample
The case is part of a larger research project on the impact of NCLB on
curriculum and teaching in social studies across diverse school contexts (Pace,
2011). During the 2007-2008 academic year I conducted qualitative research in
five classrooms spanning grades four through seven, located in four schools and
two urban districts. I examined the influence of high stakes accountability on
social studies teaching when the subject is not tested by the state across contexts
that varied by student demographics and performance status.
I recruited teachers enthusiastic about social studies through professional
development networks. One research participant in a high performing school
recommended I contact Ms. Monroe, who taught at a school that had “pulled
itself out of Program Improvement.” Ms. Miller told me that Ms. Monroe, with
help from Mr. Carver, a professional developer, did “labor intensive” work with
“low level readers” using the social studies textbook.
When I contacted Ms. Monroe she was eager to be part of my study. She
came across as an articulate, experienced teacher who loved her school, enjoyed
a positive reputation, and participated as a recipient and provider in professional
development within and outside her school. She had strong collegial
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relationships and enjoyed the support of her principal. Ms. Monroe spoke
enthusiastically about her aims, which focused on teaching reading and writing
through history, and about her attempts to accomplish them.
Lincoln Elementary was an improving school. It was racially/ethnically
diverse, with approximately 43% of students identified as African American,
20% Asian, 16% Latino, 11% White, and 10% Other, 15% English Learners,
and 42% receiving Free or Reduced Lunch. In 2003 the principal hired two
consultants, later credited with helping to raise test scores, which rescued the
school from Program Improvement status and sanctions imposed by the district
and state. Ms. Monroe worked closely with Mr. Carver, who involved her in a
professional development project on integrating literacy strategies and history.
Over the years Ms. Monroe had become not only a teacher participant but also a
presenter at conferences. Mr. Carver still worked with the Lincoln faculty once a
month. He was a former teacher at the school who had started working as a
consultant and was on the staff of a state sponsored professional development
The principal at Lincoln, with whom Ms. Monroe had a long and close
relationship, told me she herself had always been “test-conscious” and
concerned about raising scores. She said that if the school had not made
“significant growth . . . we would have been reconstituted by now.” The
principal approved of what she perceived as “rigor” in Ms. Monroe’s strategy
instruction and believed it should start in kindergarten. She also believed that “a
really good teacher” would integrate social studies into the rest of the
curriculum, due to the necessary focus on language arts and content standards
“because . . . that is what drives the CST test.”
The school district was low income and well below the state average in test
performance. Lincoln scored below the state average in 2001 and 2002, equal to
it in 2003 and 2004, and higher in 2005 to 2007. Lincoln staff enjoyed greater
autonomy and status than schools under sanctions as long as the school’s test
scores met performance goals. Teachers were obligated to employ the mandated
reading program adopted by the district several years before, but monitoring of
instruction by district personnel was minimal.
Data Collection
Ms. Monroe taught social studies and language arts to two groups of fifth
graders; her team teacher taught math and science. In Ms. Monroe’s classroom,
social studies was scheduled for a seventy-five minute block twice a week, an
unusually large proportion of time, even prior to NCLB (Van Fossen, 2005). I
conducted thirteen observations during the spring semester (mid-January
through May), each lasting about two hours, which included observation of a
full social studies lesson with one class and Language Arts activities with the
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other class, and informal conversation with students during recess and with the
teacher during lunchtime. I attended a workshop on teaching literacy strategies
through history conducted by Ms. Monroe and Mr. Carver at a state sponsored
conference. I had an initial 75 minute long meeting and a formal 90-minute
interview with Ms. Monroe. I also conducted individual interviews with five
students, the principal, the district social studies coordinator, and the district’s
assistant superintendent of instruction. Additionally I read textbook chapters,
student work, teacher handouts from the class, and materials from the
professional development organization where Mr. Carver worked and Ms.
Monroe had attended institutes. Field notes were typed and took the form of
running records. Audiotapes of several lessons and all interviews were
Data Analysis
To analyze the case, I systematically read through field notes and interview
transcripts multiple times to identify thematic codes and formulate relationships
among themes. To characterize instructional enactments and trace how they
evolved over time, I analyzed field notes on each lesson using Stodolsky’s
(1988) codes for instructional formats, which include seatwork, recitation, and
group work. I also identified which strategies and skills were actually being
taught in lessons using Maniates and Pearson’s (2008) content analysis of the
Open Court and Houghton Mifflin reading programs and Afflerbach, Pearson, &
Paris’s (2008) clarification of differences between skills and strategies.
I also compared the skills and strategies students practiced and the teaching
techniques Ms. Monroe used with Massey and Heafner’s (2004) overview of
teaching literacy strategies in social studies. The overview identifies various
types of texts students should read in social studies classes: textbooks, primary
and secondary sources, fiction, letters, and so on. It describes strategies
appropriate for different phases of reading. The two pre-reading strategies are
establishing the purpose and focus of reading a text and connecting to prior
knowledge. During reading one strategy is analyzing text structures such as
chronology, cause and effect, and description through features such as titles and
subtitles as well as boldface vocabulary and key words. Another strategy used
during reading is collecting information across texts. After reading comes
reciprocal questioning, in which students formulate questions with answers
found in the text and answer higher-level analytical questions posed by the
teacher. The final strategy is synthesizing ideas and information across texts and
creating summaries. The ultimate disciplinary goal is for students to be able to
evaluate, analyze, and synthesize historical evidence concerning important
complex issues.
To interpret students’ responses to instruction, I looked for evidence of
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engagement and disengagement in my field notes. I analyzed student interview
data to ascertain their views of social studies lessons, what they were learning
about history, and the teacher’s instructional approach. To better understand
factors that shaped the teacher’s instructional enactments. I coded teacher
interview transcripts for evidence of influences such as educational goals,
testing, and professional development experiences. I also analyzed data
collected from sources of influence, including an interview with the principal of
Lincoln Elementary, documents from the workshop Ms. Monroe co-presented
with Mr. Carver, and other documents from the professional development
organization with which Mr. Carver was affiliated.
I worked towards interpretive validity (Maxwell, 1992) by triangulating
among the different data sources, carefully checking for disconfirming evidence,
and developing explanations to account for it (Erickson, 1986). Also, I tried out
different analytic concepts to illuminate my findings. Earlier versions of my
analysis, which drew upon social studies education research, were presented at
conferences and sent out for review. The feedback I received pushed me to keep
searching until I found stronger resonance with the research literature on literacy
strategy instruction. I compared my findings with other case studies to draw
comparisons and highlight the distinctive issues presented by my study.
Rationale for the Case Study and Limitations of the Research
A major purpose of qualitative research on teaching is to illuminate
complex phenomena by examining particular cases in detail (Erickson, 1986). I
chose to write this case study on Ms. Monroe’s teaching because it sheds light
on important teaching issues reported in prior research. The impact of NCLB on
instruction, in particular the emphasis on using social studies to teach literacy,
was much more evident in Ms. Monroe’s classroom than in the others I studied.
Additionally, the teacher’s enactment of literacy strategy instruction was
supported by professional development but clearly reflected pitfalls discussed by
At the same time, case studies of individual settings are limited in their
generalizability. Classroom life is complex, dynamic, and influenced by a
myriad of influences. It is entirely possible that teachers with greater capability
than Ms. Monroe, as described in other studies, may integrate literacy and social
studies more successfully. I have been careful not to draw widespread
conclusions and to provide enough contextual data so that readers may arrive at
their own interpretations. Instead the case study informs the ongoing
construction of a body of knowledge about social studies teaching in today’s
classrooms and addresses issues that may be present in other settings.
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Complexity of Instructional Enactments
In our initial meeting, Ms. Monroe communicated ambitious goals for
students’ learning, and criticism of district-mandated curricula and testing. She
talked about emphasizing the textbook but also developing “metacognition,”
“critical thinking,” and “historical thinking.” She said students would be writing
a five-paragraph essay on the meaning of the Declaration of Independence by
the end of the year, which was “really empowering” for them. Ms. Monroe told
me the district’s mandated reading program trained students to respond to rote
questions, and consequently they had difficulty with thinking on a deep level.
She struck me as a teacher determined to improve the quality of students’
learning while also preparing them for standardized tests and future academic
Observations presented me with conflicting data and told a complicated
story. Instructional formats consisted of active student participation in small
groups and reporting out to the whole group mixed with teacher-centered
recitation. They often followed a pattern. Students were asked to talk about a
reading passage they had read silently in their small groups for a few minutes.
The teacher would call for group representatives to form a line across the back
of the room and individually report what the group had discussed. She would
intersperse several moments of recitation with these reports. This would be
followed by a whole class activity or more group work, followed by more
reports. In March there was a shift, and more time was spent in small groups led
by group leaders.
Academic tasks involved recalling information from the textbook,
identifying cause and effect, breaking down sentences into parts of speech, and
forming topic sentences and finding supporting details from the text. Students
also identified requirements of tasks and problems they had accomplishing
them. They produced oral and written summaries of text. One procedure
regularly practiced was Key Words. The class as a whole discussed each key
word students as individuals or in small groups identified from a passage to vote
on whether it actually addressed the teacher’s focus question. Key words were
then used to form the basis of students’ writing about the passage. Ms. Monroe
acknowledged that the process of listing and voting on key words was very
time-consuming, but said it helped students write about expository text.
These tasks mapped onto important literacy skills and strategies outlined in
the scholarship presented in this article. But my observations raised questions
about whether literacy interfered with teaching and learning history. The
following vignette, based on field notes, reflects the pattern of instructional
formats, academic tasks, and skills and strategies practice I observed. The class
is studying the settlement of North America by various European countries, and
this particular lesson focuses on New France.
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Classroom Vignette #1
January 18th—Ms. Monroe directs the class’s attention to the
passage on New France they have just read in the textbook. She
acknowledges they might have had trouble, and encourages students to
“share those problems.” They will “report out” what they learned, after
taking “two minutes to talk” in their groups. When Ms. Monroe cues
them, each group sends a representative to stand at the back of the
room, facing the front. The teacher prompts: “Lilly. What did your
group talk about?” Lilly reads quietly from a piece of notebook paper.
Ms. Monroe writes on the board up front: “Lived with Native
Americans. Learned their language.” Lilly continues, and Ms. Monroe
writes, “Founded Quebec.”
Holly reads from her paper: “Some stayed with the Hurons to
trade. Most went back to Europe.” Ms. Monroe interjects to ask
whether students found reasons why the French settlements weren’t
permanent, and directs the class to the topic of fur. She pulls down a
world map, and a short period of recitation ensues.
Ms. M: If they’re taking furs from what is now Canada what are they
doing to the resources? Five hands. Take a stab.
Student: Killing animals?
Ms. M: What does that mean for the environment?
Student: The population is down.
Ms. M: The beaver population is dropping. Have you talked about this
in Mr. Wolf’s (math/science teacher) class? Not yet. What happens
when the animal population drops?
Student: It starts to get extinct.
Ms. M: Fur trading changed what?
Student: The number of animals.
The teacher draws a line of attached boxes and plays a hangman type of
game; hands are up and waving and students guess letters first and
finally the word, “environment.”
Ms. M: As the environment changes for the Native Americans, what is
France getting?
Student: Land.
Ms. M: No.
Student: Fur.
Ms. M: Sales in fur. They’re building their economy far away.
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The next student, John, reads intently from his notes. The teacher
writes a few items on the board and asks, “Is that copied from the
text?” John admits it is, and Ms. M queries, “Why am I asking?”
Someone volunteers that they need to use fifth grade language. Ms. M
says, “Yea, why?” John responds, “So you know what I’m thinking.”
Ms. M tells him to put the paper down and asks, “What’d you learn
about this?” John stumbles and the teacher reinforces the point that the
fur trade is hurting the environment.
After all six students have taken their turns, Ms. Monroe asks who
can read the Focus Question from their reference binders. John reads,
“Explain the conflict that existed between the French, Dutch and Native
Americans as a result of the Europeans’ efforts to control North
America.” Ms. Monroe instructs the class, in their groups, to
summarize what they now know about French settlement in North
America, and then think about how that helps them answer the focus
Finally Ms. Monroe calls for another reporting out session. The
first two students read brief summaries and say there isn’t enough
information in the text to answer the Focus Question. Other students
read summaries of why the French did not stay in North America. It is
time to stop. (Field notes, 1/18/2008)
The structure of the lesson consists of small group discussion on a one page
textbook passage, reporting out facts gleaned from the reading mixed with
recitation about the fur trade’s effect on the environment, more small group
discussion about how the text answers a focus question, and another round of
reports. Instructional formats vary and students actively participate. Ms. Monroe
encourages metacognition when she tells students to publicly share their reading
difficulties and explain why they should use “5th grade language.” Her
recitation questions prompt cause and effect thinking. Answering the focus
question about conflict among European countries and Native American tribes
requires analysis. The main goal of this lesson is apparently to extract main
ideas from the reading passage and relate them to a big idea.
Yet the development of historical knowledge is limited. The same
information is repeated several times. Ms. Monroe raises a vital issue about the
fur trade’s impact on the environment, but the hangman game—while fun for
studentsslows down the pacing of the lesson and takes time away from
content. The focus question is meant to help students access historical
significance from the text, but is recalled midway through the lesson, is not
phrased as a question, and is so broad and complex that the reading passage does
not answer it. The lesson ends without a conclusion about what is significant
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about the reading passage or the settlement of New France. The rich, critical
issue of inter-group conflict generated by the European presence in North
America is left unexplored. Most lessons I observed were similar to the previous
one in their emphasis on practicing skills and strategies through tasks using the
Ms. Monroe seemed deeply invested in her students’ success. She told me
that she wanted her students to be prepared for middle school and do well on
standardized tests. Additionally, she wanted to show that her teaching methods
worked. Yet it appeared her approach did not sufficiently engage students in
learning, and tension emerged as students began to resist increasing academic
Student Responses to Instruction
Although students generally cooperated during lessons, they expressed
ambivalence towards them. When Ms. Monroe introduced me to the class, she
gave examples of questions I might want to explore: “Do we get to do social
studies? Is it your favorite subject?” The students vehemently responded, “No!”
Ms. Monroe took it in stride, and suggested I might see a “metamorphosis.”
During interviews students politely told me that in their view, social studies
alternated between boring and interesting. When I asked what was interesting,
they all referred to one lesson, a Town Hall Meeting in which the teacher let
students direct their own debate between Loyalists and Patriots, as explained
later in the article.
Tanisha said that breaking down the reading to help everyone understand it
was helpful but boring. When I asked how she would describe Ms. Monroe’s
social studies teaching, she said:
Like, she would have the packet and . . . we’ll read the passage and
then after like the sentences that we didn’t get or something, she would
break it down for us and tell us like what does it mean . . . we might
break it down in our groups together, just see what it means and after
one person from each group comes up, and there’s six groups and they
would say what they think. . . . if we’re writing a paragraph of
something, we would come up [with] sentences about like what to
Tanisha’s description indicates that instruction revolved around breaking down
passages copied from the textbook, presenting translations of them from the
small groups, and generating sentences for writing paragraphs about the text.
Holly expressed a more positive view; she said she liked the way Ms.
Monroe taught because she gave them reading packets for homework that were
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helpful, but she also volunteered that she didn’t always understand the reading,
or the key words identified during class. She also expressed appreciation for
learning how to write a paragraph “about the colonies and stuff.” When I asked
what she was learning in social studies, she replied: We’re studying the colonies
and like umm, well it’s more like the significance of the British and the
colonists, like Parliament, and right now, we’re studying like the acts that they
did, like the Stamp Act and the Townsend Act and yeah, and well . . .”
Before I had a chance to ask, she characterized the teacher’s approach:
. . . what Ms. Monroe does is she gives us blank sheets of paper, and
we fold it in threes, and what we do is we write Topic Sentence in the
first box, and the second box is our Evidence box, and then our third
box is the Conclusion, and . . . first, we come up with the topic sentence
in our groups, and then we go to the front of the room and say the
sentence that we came up with, and then Ms. Monroe, well, we all kind
of pick which one we like the best, and then she helps with the
evidence, even though we haven’t done that yet, and then the
conclusion . . .
Holly’s summary indicates her internalization of Ms. Monroe’s approarch.
In contrast, Crystal’s description of Ms. Monroe’s social studies teaching
was spare: “We write notes, we write paragraphs together. We had Town
Hall meetings.”
Ahmed’s explanation included more about classroom talk and
We read a passage, and then we talk about it like in groups. . . . and see
like, we have different opinions, and then we go to the back of the wall,
and like she gives us a question, and like the group answers it, and then
we go back there, and sometimes we just read the passage, write notes
about it, and we also do . . . we use key words to help us answer the
focus question, and that’s it.
Ahmed seemed to understand students’ translations of textbook facts as
opinions. His comments center on different instructional formats and a particular
literacy strategy.
Kyle explained why social studies was boring: Social studies isn’t my
favorite subject, because it involves a lot of going through books and reading
and re-reading and writing . . . so it’s not really my favorite subject.” He said he
had learned that “social studies writing is very very hard. . . Well not, no, it’s not
really hard, but it just takes a really, really long time to do. You can’t just read
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information and write it down. You have to go through a giant process that takes
about two or three weeks. . . . It’s really mind-boggling just writing over and
over and over.
Kyle’s characterization speaks to the repetitive nature of reading and
writing tasks that were not challenging yet were mentally taxing and time-
consuming. Pearson and Dole (1987) warn, “We have to consider the possibility
that all the attention we are asking students to pay to their use of skills and
strategies and to their monitoring of these strategies may turn relatively simple
and intuitively obvious tasks into introspective nightmares” (p. 162).
Across interviews, students’ comments highlight the instructional emphasis
on reading and writing; their descriptions of social studies teaching all center on
literacy skills and strategies. Specifically, they focus on procedural tasks for
reading, speaking, and writing divorced from content. They note the varied
instructional formats, but accounts of classroom activity and academic work for
the most part suggest tedium.
Students seemed to enjoy opportunities to talk and work with their peers.
But Ms. Monroe also relied on extrinsic incentives to motivate students to fulfill
their obligations. She used a system involving accumulation of points for
coming to class prepared, completing tasks, and turning in homework
assignments. This led to rewards such as homework passes, positive phone calls
to parents, dropping the lowest assignment grade, publicly presented awards,
and high grades on report cards. Notes regarding points, rewards, and grades
earned by individual students were publicly displayed on the white board at the
front of the classroom. The teacher regularly made references to these rewards
and warned against sanctions such as losing an award or getting low grades. She
also used reprimands to persuade students they needed to act like sixth graders
and prepare themselves for middle school, where teachers would not be flexible.
Students’ cooperation notwithstanding, tension over homework became
evident during my fourth observation at the end of February. In the first group,
nine out of thirty students had not done it; in the second group, it was nineteen
out of twenty-nine. Ms. Monroe called on each student with an increasingly
stern tone, holding individuals accountable. At the end of the second period, she
threatened to take back homework passes and other rewards. After class Ms.
Monroe told me that the mandated reading program was so drill-based with rote
questions that it had discouraged students from doing work that asked them to
Over the next two weeks, it became increasingly evident that students were
not meeting the teacher’s expectations. Ms. Monroe had begun a project on life
in the colonies. She had decided to host a public event where students would
display exhibits of their learning to their parents and other community members.
However, the academic work involved, while demanding of students’ time,
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replicated traditional reading and writing tasks. Each small group team was
responsible for a reading packet, copied from the textbook, on a particular topic,
such as trade, government, religion, social customs, or relationships with Native
Americans. They had to write an essay about how their topic changed in the
thirteen colonies over time.
Along with the usual incentives to encourage students’ efforts, Ms. Monroe
had told her classes that they were responsible for teaching each other about
their topics, and if they did not do a thorough job they would be letting down
thirty other students. But many of them did not complete assignments. After a
few weeks, Ms. Monroe discontinued the project; she explained to me that
students’ work was unsatisfactory and taking too long to complete. In addition
to abandoning the project she decided to teach a new reading strategy to address
the difficulties she confronted.
New Strategy Increases Routinization of Social Studies
In preparation for the project essays, students had been practicing the
formulation of main ideas as “thesis statements” and finding “evidence” or
supporting details from the textbook passage to substantiate them, as Holly
explained in her interview. Ms. Monroe explained to me that the summaries
students had written were very poor; she could not diagnose the problem but
decided they needed a strategy to aid their comprehension. She starting having
students in their groups break down individual sentences from the text by
identifying the following parts of speech: Preposition/Time Marker, Subject,
Action, Who’s Getting the Action.
Additionally, to address the problems of missed assignments and low
quality work, she devised a solution that would hold students accountable and
provide assistance. She delegated authority to team leaders, responsible for
making sure team members did their class work and homework, understood
tasks and the subject matter, and behaved appropriately during lessons. The
teacher and students I interviewed explained to me that leaders were chosen
because of their academic performance and their ability to help others do the
work. They maintained their position with the same group unless the teacher
decided changes were needed.
The following vignette shows how one group functioned in breaking down
the text. This ethnically diverse group, composed of two girls and three boys,
accomplished the assigned task with minimal conflict under the leadership of an
especially capable student, but without any thought about history.
Classroom Vignette #2
April 17Ms. Monroe has put a chart for identifying parts of a
sentence on each table:
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Each group is assigned a passage from Lesson 2: “Colonists Speak
Out” (Porter, 2007, p. 326). They will break down each sentence and
present their work tomorrow. I join the group working on “The Stamp
The first sentence of their passage is: “After the French and Indian
War ended, the British Parliament reviewed its budget, or plan for
spending money (p. 327). Led by Kyle, the group immediately starts
to fill out the chart with a non-erasable marker as they read each part of
the sentence, which creates confusion. “French and Indian War” goes
under Subject and “ended” under Action. They start to put “British
Parliament” under Who’s Getting the Action but Kyle says it goes
under Subject and moves “French and Indian War” under Prep/Time
Marker, using an arrow. Without hesitating he says “reviewed” goes
under action and “its budget” goes under getting action. Kyle continues
to confidently direct the group: "Put a line under it [the sentence]." He
says they should write a conclusion but decides to moves on to the
second sentence. Maisha gently prompts John, who seems distracted, to
pay attention.
The second sentence reads, "The British leader George Grenville
said that Parliament needed more money to pay off the costs of the
war" (p. 327). The students put “British leader George Grenville” under
Subject, and “said” under Action. The entire phrase “that Parliament . .
. war” is written under Who's Getting the Action. No one questions the
ambiguous fit between the sentence and elements of the chart, or the
purpose of the activity.
Kyle calls John, who is now sprawled out on the hardtop, over to
the porch, and he obeys. Ahmed suggests that Kyle have them each
take a turn, and then determine whether he/she is correct. Kyle agrees,
and the group slowly proceeds sentence by sentence. Kyle excuses
himself to ask Ms. M a question, comes back, and says they'll divide
into two groups. He announces who will be in each group, and politely
asks "OK?" There's a bit of negotiation for gender homogeneity, but
Kyle decides to help out the girls. He directs John and Ahmed to the 2nd
paragraph, while he and the girls will do the 3rd paragraph.
Kyle now realizes they should read the whole sentence before
filling in the chart. Ahmed asks him where tax should go, from the
sentence: "The Stamp Act placed a tax on paper documents in the
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colonies" (p. 327). Kyle tells him, then diplomatically challenges his
peers’ dependence:
K: Ahmed you also have to think.
A: I was!
K: OK.
The process continues; Kyle corrects Raquel’s spelling errors.
Children from the class next door come out and say it's time for PE.
Someone utters, "Thank God." Ahmed tries to rush John, who is
writing: “Come on man, arriba!” Kyle tells Maisha what to write, and
goes to tell Ms. Monroe it's time for PE. (Field notes, 4/17/2008)
The scenario shows students’ harmonious yet labored collaboration in
completing a tedious assignment. Kyle is a model manager. He seems to be the
only one in the group who really understands how to break down the sentences.
The task is purely procedural; the aim is to get it done quickly. There is no
discussion of either content or students’ confusion regarding parts of speech.
Except for John, who needs a bit of prodding, the students are motivated; no one
questions the purpose of their work. However, talk about history is non-existent.
Given that the new strategy of deconstructing sentences further distanced
students from meaningful engagement in learning about history, I wanted to
know what motivated them to complete tasks assigned by the teacher and
cooperate with their team leader. I asked my interviewees how they interpreted
the system of delegated authority. Ahmed explained how the teams served the
teacher’s agenda and students’ interests:
A: And now we have team captains. They like . . . control like the table,
and then they help us figure out stuff that we don’t know as much, like
you could ask them a question, and if they don’t understand, they could
ask the teacher . . . before we used to do this, people never really turned
their homework as much, but now like, they don’t want [to let] the
group down so they, they like “Yeah, I’m gonna do it.”
JP: Really, that’s interesting. What, why do you think people don’t
wanna let the group down?
A: Well, it’s like, sometimes, we get an award . . . to be the one
hundred percent, or to be the highest score in the class.
JP: Like what kind of reward?
A: Floating A. Like if you got something bad, she would like try get it
as up as she can like to, let’s say if you got a F, she might give you like
a C or a B . . . and like another one is homework pass, and sometimes
she uses that as a book report.
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According to Ahmed, the team system addressed the problem of homework
completion by motivating students through competition and incentives. Crystal’s
response added an additional factor in students’ acceptance of team leaders.
JP: Why do you think it works? Why do kids listen to other kids?
C: Cause they want to help us pass Social Studies. Like, cause the team
leaders has a better understanding than the regular groups.
Her comment suggested that granting authority to more capable peers was
beneficial for less capable students.
Although they were burdened with extra responsibility, which a few team
leaders told me was sometimes challenging, they enjoyed having higher status.
Kyle said: “It gives you a sense of, like you’re kind of the top dog, or you’re not
really the top dog, but it makes you feel like - oh, look, the teacher thinks that I
really get this, and that I can help other people, and so it makes you feel better
about yourself just like [good] grades.” This admission revealed the complexity
of motivational factors operating as students collaborated on tiresome academic
At the same time, student motivation seemed to remain an ongoing issue.
Tanisha told me that sometimes it was difficult to get her group to focus on their
work, and had to ask the teacher to send misbehaving students to the “clown
table.” In early May, in response to complaints of boredom with history, Ms.
Monroe allowed students to hold their own “Town Meeting,” in which they
debated whether the British or Patriots were justified in their actions. She took a
completely passive role, and the debate became a shouting match, but the
students apparently had fun. It was as if they used it as an opportunity to vent
energy that had been pent up during lessons focused on tedious exercises that
lacked significance for many of them.
Influences on Instruction
A variety of interacting influences drive teachers classroom practice
(Grant, 1996). Albeit a teacher’s own capabilities are fundamental, interviews
with Ms. Monroe informed my understanding of three inter-related factors
instructional goals, testing, and professional development that shaped her
approach to social studies. She had come to Lincoln as a teacher eight years
before, which was after the onset of the state accountability system that
preceded NCLB. But she had student taught with the principal, and then worked
at other schools as a special education teacher.
Instructional Goals
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Ms. Monroe told me she used history to teach students expository reading
and writing strategies. She critiqued urban districts for tending to focus on
narrative reading and writing, and said her district was “missing the mark on the
equity issue” by not focusing on “the structure of reading and writing” in
expository texts. The teacher claimed that she was meeting the objectives of
English Language Development by providing “explicit” instruction in “breaking
down the text,” strategies such as “key words,” and “analytic skills in writing.”
Interestingly, she framed her main goal of implementing literacy strategy
instruction as linked with NCLB’s rhetoric of achieving educational equity for
all students (Metz, 2008).
Another goal was teaching students to “think like historians” and know
“how to construct a historical argument.” When I asked what she meant, she
responded a bit tentatively: “Well, to me, it means that you take an event and
you think about, “Why was that important?” and that in some way, they can
describe the significance of the event.” I asked for an example and she used the
Declaration of Independence:
Well, for example . . . minimally, that they could see that the colonists
were angry, and that they did something about it. Now to add on to that,
they could understand that the columnists were angry at having laws
passed where they had no say by a government that really was at that
point so separate and foreign to the colonists. Uh and then to take that
further, a kid that's really able to do some thinking with it would be
able to see . . . one of the outcomes of this anger was the Declaration of
Independence, and that that document expresses the anger that the
colonists felt. . . .
Ms. Monroe seemed to understand historical thinking and argument in
terms of literacy skills such as stating the main ideas from the textbook,
explaining cause and effect, and narrating a sequence of events.
Additional goals included teaching “metacognition” and “critical thinking”
about the kinds of texts students were reading and what they were being asked to
do on tests and assignments, for example, how to identify a cause and effect
question and “make their T chart.” She said she was “pretty opposed” to
standardized tests, but realized “the kids have to take them.” Along with raising
test scores she also wanted to send on students ready to succeed at the next
Yeah, I want them to do well on those tests. . . . but what really is more
satisfying to me is having the middle school teacher say, "Well, your
kids were really prepared." Or having the kids come back and say,
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"Well, when they talked about this kind of paragraph, we knew about
evidence and supporting evidence.
She believed that teaching expository reading and writing strategies and
skills was fundamental to preparing students for middle school and beyond.
Ms. Monroe expressed ambivalence about standardized testing, but her
school and district were committed to raising achievement. She verbalized
frustration with the district’s benchmark testing; she said it did not inform her
understanding of students’ learning and speculated that other teachers were
inappropriately modeling their practice on standardized tests. Nonetheless on
February 1st when I observed students taking one, Ms. Monroe used it to practice
reading skills and strategies by asking questions while they worked on the
reading passage about George Washington. She asked students to predict:
“When we read a biography what do we expect to find out?” She also asked an
inference question about why it was significant that Washington was the first
President. A recitation that addressed this second question ensued. The teacher
spoke with students about what the test questions were asking them to do and
reminded them to figure out word meanings using context. She continued to
scaffold subsequent parts of the benchmark test. At the end she empathized with
students, acknowledging that the district was overly focused on testing, yet tried
to motivate them by warning that if they did not do well they would have to
“take strategic reading at middle school next year.” She said, “This is your ticket
to an elective,” and added that students should give her their “best effort.” The
teacher used the mid-year test to reinforce the skills and strategies she was
teaching. Notwithstanding Ms. Monroe’s criticism of test-driven instruction, this
observation indicated the overlap between the content of her instruction and
what was required by the standardized tests.
The year after my study when I checked test scores in the fourth and fifth
grades at Lincoln between 2004 and 2010, I noticed that the fourth grade reading
scores were almost always higher than the fifth grade scores, which indicated
that students’ achievement decreased slightly from one grade to the next. It is
possible that Ms. Monroe felt pressure to compete with her fourth grade
colleagues in raising achievement, but this is just conjecture. During my
interview with the principal she clearly conveyed her longstanding concern with
test scores, and claimed that Lincoln’s placement in Program Improvement had
been an error. She expressed gratitude for the consultants that helped faculty
raise achievement and strengthen the school’s standing. The principal also
congratulated Ms. Monroe on her efforts, recognizing in particular her demands
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for student participation during social studies lessons and preparation for middle
Professional Development
Ms. Monroe’s experiences with professional development, and especially
those with Mr. Carver, seemed to have the biggest influence on her instructional
goals and methods. She spoke about four different experiences as being very
helpful. One was training in a new classroom management system. Another was
two days of G.L.A.D. training (Guided Language Acquisition Development).
Having representatives of small groups report to the class from a line across the
back of the room and breaking down sentences were adapted from G.L.A.D. Ms.
Monroe also participated in a Teaching American History grant, and said that a
lesson study experience was especially enlightening. But the dominant influence
on her practice was clearly her work with Mr. Carver and his program, which
revolved around teaching literacy strategies through history.
A particularly powerful theme that emerged from a summer institute she did
with Mr. Carver was the relationship between literacy and equity. She told me
that seeing other teachers’ examples of written analysis produced by suburban
students “really opened her eyes.” She complained about the personal narrative
emphasis of a popular writing program: “What do they think? Every poor kid
has to write about their neighborhood, because they don’t have anything else to
say? When these guys out in the suburbs are looking at reading a piece of
history and analyzing it. Who’s going to get into college?” Ms. Monroe told me
her concerns were reinforced by conversations with high school and college
teachers she met at another institute, who said their students came academically
unprepared from elementary and middle school. This input reinforced the
importance of her culminating assignment, the five-paragraph essay on the
Declaration of Independence.
The conference presentation delivered by Ms. Monroe and Mr. Carver that I
attended in March distilled the instruction I observed in the classroom. The
handout they distributed stated the premise of their approach that improving
student achievement was accomplished through disciplinary knowledge and
discipline-specific literacy skills. It outlined the steps in planning a unit on the
causes of the American Revolution and identified the reading and writing
strategies students would practice, planning backwards from the final essay on
the Declaration of Independence that would conclude the unit. The emphasis on
deconstructing text and constructing written responses to specified questions
using key words paralleled the lessons I observed. Historical analysis consisted
of identifying a chain of events related by cause and effect. A flyer about Mr.
Carver’s professional development organization clearly stated that its goal was
to develop literacy and content knowledge “as measured by” state tests.
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Discussion and Implications
With its varied instructional formats, prevalence of small group work, and
notable student participation, Ms. Monroe’s lessons seemed to hold greater
potential for meaningful instruction than those described by Boyle-Baise et al.
(2008). Relative to other fourth and fifth grade classrooms, Ms. Monroe devoted
a substantial amount of time to social studies (Pace, 2008, 2011). Additionally,
the teacher employed tools and techniques that addressed expository writing as
well as reading. However, her approach revealed pitfalls identified by strategy
instruction scholars over the last three decades.
First, emphasis on literacy instruction directed students’ attention away
from learning history and towards the completion of tasks that reproduced a
simplified version of textbook knowledge. The almost exclusive use of the
history textbook reinforced a narrow conception of history that revolved around
simple cause and effect relationships. Attention to text features was occasional,
and graphics that enriched the text were avoided because the teacher viewed
them as a distraction. Students did not do research using multiple sources,
recommended for fifth graders (Stodolsky, 1988). The essay at the end of the
semester on the Declaration of Independence that required synthesis of
information was evaluated on the basis of a rubric that specified the content for
each paragraph; it consisted of thirty-three items. It steered students towards
creating a formulaic response rather than making sense of the political
relationships, issues, and events that led to the founding of the United States.
Thus, the study of history was made routine.
Second, despite the academic heterogeneity of the class, instruction focused
less on strategies and more on skills that inappropriately lowered the cognitive
level of academic work (Doyle, 1981; Stodolsky, 1988), especially as the
semester progressed. Students did not learn to select and use strategies
independently and when having difficulty, but followed them as rote procedures.
Reading and writing devolved into technical tasks instead of meaning-making
Third, instruction did not support students’ understanding. Strategies were
not organized into pre-reading, during reading, and post-reading activities as
explained by Massey and Heafner (2004). Lessons often did not start with a
clear purpose, and connections between important concepts and students’ prior
knowledge were not consistently made. Therefore students were not assisted in
building a situation model (Kintsch, 1998), which would engage them in the co-
production of historical knowledge and deepen their understanding of the text
(Wills, 2006, 2007).
Fourth, students were bored by social studies. The tasks and assignments
lacked intrinsic value. They were not challenged to think about important issues
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on a deeper level or perform in ways that tapped their intellectual abilities and
interests. Although they found academic work laborious, students demonstrated
procedural cooperation with their peers and the teacher in class, but not
substantive engagement with learning. Perhaps students did feel better prepared
for middle school. As Kyle, “It’s a lot of talking, writing . . . she’s preparing us
for middle school, where the teacher will talk, and you take notes the whole
time, so I think it’s helpful.” Albeit a potentially accurate statement, this is a sad
commentary on the state of secondary education.
Although it documents just one example of teaching practice, this case
study shows that social studies may be undermined even when instructional time
is devoted to it and professional development aimed at raising achievement
purports to support it. The implications of this research are especially critical
because it resonates with other studies. Despite the rhetoric of NCLB,
educational opportunities among schools remain unequal (Metz, 2008). For
example, studies show that economically disadvantaged and minority students
receive inferior citizenship education compared to their affluent and white peers
(Hess, 2008; Kahne & Middaugh, 2008). The increased marginalization of
social studies under NCLB intensifies that problem (Pace, 2008). In my larger
study, I found that in Ms. Monroe’s classroom, located in the lowest income
school serving the largest proportion of minority students, concerns about
testing and literacy intruded upon the study of history more than in the other
classrooms I observed (Pace, 2011). Although these concerns seemed
appropriate in Yeager and Pinder’s (2006) study of history teaching in low
performing schools, they did not result in high quality instruction for Ms.
Monroe’s students. In fact, this case reinforces Bartolomé’s (1994b) warning
against turning strategy instruction into a “methods fetish” that perpetuates a
drive towards deficit remediation instead of responsive teaching.
My findings also underscore the need for improved professional
development so that potential problems of strategy instruction can be avoided. I
am not arguing that integrating literacy instruction in social studies is doomed to
failure. But it must not undermine subject matter. Teachers need long-term
assistance to develop deeper understanding of educational purposes and theories
that underlie strategy instruction models. Teachers’ growth requires
opportunities to observe effective classroom implementation of robust models
and receive coaching within their own classroom. Additionally, teacher
education programs need to attend more to social studies content and practice
for their elementary school candidates (Bolick, Adams, & Wilcos, 2008:
Russell, 2009).
Social studies education needs a revival. It is common knowledge, and
reflected in recent NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores,
that Americans’ knowledge of history and civics is at a low level. In synch with
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high stakes accountability in states where history does not count (Grant, 2006),
the most well-resourced and widespread educational reforms often leave out
social studies (e.g. Supovitz, 2006). A recent Education Week article, “Experts
say social studies are ‘left behind’” (Sparks, 2011), conveys the concerns
expressed by scholars at a National Research Council meeting about the neglect
of social studies by both NCLB and the Common Core State Standards
Initiative. An additional concern is current state standards in “social and
behavioral topics” that require only basic skills such as memorization rather than
high-level skills such as evaluation and connection making (p. 11).
Ironically, content knowledge is essential for reading comprehension
(Kintsch, 1998); thus, narrowing the curriculum may actually defeat the purpose
of emphasizing literacy. We need qualitative research that closely examines
different approaches to social studies teaching that appropriately balances
history and literacy instruction. There is not yet adequate analysis of how this
works, particularly in elementary school classrooms, in the current context of
high stakes accountability. Research must attend to the experiences and
perspectives of students, which are of utmost importance yet often neglected in
discussions of teaching and educational policy.
My findings lend support to prior research that examines problematic
consequences of gearing instruction towards standardized test preparation
(McNeil, 2000; Valli & Chambliss, 2007; Watanabe, 2007). Ironically, it is
questionable that Ms. Monroe did effectively prepare her students for the tests.
Although testing of elementary school social studies in some states may result in
more instructional time for the subject, it does not necessarily generate more
powerful teaching and learning (Grant, 2001; Lintner, 2006). Governor of
California Jerry Brown has “launched an extraordinary broadside against the
current national obsession with testing that continues to dominate school reform
efforts across the state and nation” (Freedberg, 2011). If improving public
education is truly the aim of reform, policymakers must pay more attention to
studies that show the failure of high stakes testing to do so.
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Alexander, P.A., Graham, S., & Harris, K. R. (1998). A perspective on strategy
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About the Author
Judith L. Pace is associate professor in the Teacher Education Department at
the University of San Francisco. Her research is on classroom relationships,
curriculum, and teaching within the socio-cultural and political contexts of
schooling. She is co-editor, with Annette Hemmings, of Classroom Authority:
The Journal of Social Studies Research
Volume 36, Issue 4
Theory, Research, and Practice (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates) and, with Janet
Bixby, of Educating Democratic Citizens in Troubled Times: Qualitative Studies
of Current Efforts (State University of New York Press).
... Dünyanın birçok ülkesinde de sosyal bilgiler dersine aktif, hızlı ve mantıklı karar veren, katılımcı bireylerin yetiştirilmesi misyonu yüklenmiştir. Ancak sosyal bilgiler ile ilgili yapılan araştırmalar incelendiğinde öğrencilerin, öğretmenlerin, yöneticilerin veya politika yapıcıların bu derse yönelik tutumlarının olumsuz olduğu ve okullarda sosyal bilgilere ayrılan zamanın azaldığı görülmektedir (Egan, 1980;Gallavan, Putney ve Brantley, 2002;VanFossen 2003;Zhao ve Hoge, 2005;Fitchett ve Heafner, 2010;Pace, 2012;Ollila ve Macy, 2019). Bu çalışmaların çoğunda öğrencilerin matematik veya dil dersi gibi dersleri sosyal bilgiler dersine tercih ettikleri ortaya Öğrencilerin Sosyal Bilgiler İle Günlük Yaşamları Arasında Kurdukları İlişkinin İncelenmesi [3825] çıkmıştır. ...
... Ancak yapılan bir araştırmada sosyal bilgiler ders kitaplarında beceri etkinliklerine çok yer verilmediği ortaya çıkmıştır (Hayırsever ve Kısakürek, 2014). Yapılan birçok araştırmada ise öğretmenlerin sosyal bilgiler dersini kitaplara bağlı olarak öğrettikleri belirlenmiştir (Zhao ve Hoge, 2005;Gibson, 2012;Pace, 2012). Dolayısıyla öğretmenlerin beceri öğretiminde de ders kitabına bağlı kaldıkları, öğrencilerin beceri gelişimini destekleyecek farklı etkinlikler hazırlamayı tercih etmedikleri düşünülmektedir. ...
... Past studies show the pressure on schools to perform well in the tested subjects of reading/language arts, mathematics, and science impacts both the schedule (i.e., time allocated to instruction) and the actual amount of time spent teaching social studies Bailey, Shaw, & Hollifield, 2006;Burroughs, Groce, & Webeck, 2005;Heafner, 2018;Houser, Krutka, Roberts, Pennington, & Coerver, 2017;Kavanagh & Fisher-ari, 2018;Leming, Ellington, & Schug, 2006;Lintner, 2006;Pace, 2012;Pascopella, 2005;Pedulla et al., 2003;Segail, 2003;VanFossen, 2005;Vogler, 2003;Vogler & Virtue, 2007;vonZastrow & Janc, 2004;Zamosky, 2008). Lintner (2006) found in a study of Kindergarten through fifth-grade social studies in South Carolina that "with such a tremendous emphasis being placed on reading, writing, and math, social studies has to fight for instructional time" (p.3). ...
... What is interesting is the lack of agreement that principals had regarding the perceived barriers affecting time allocated for social studies. Much has been made about the negative impact that federal and state-mandated testing has had on non-tested subjects such as social studies Bailey et al, 2006;Burroughs et al., 2005;Heafner, 2018;Houser et al., 2017;Kavanagh & Fisher-ari, 2018;Leming et al. 2006;Lintner, 2006;Pace, 2012;Segail, 2003;VanFossen, 2005;Vogler, 2003;Vogler & Virtue, 2007;Zamosky, 2008); but for all that has been written about this unintended consequence of high-stakes testing (Au, 2009;Grant, 2006;Jones, Jones, & Hargrove, 2003;Madaus, 1988;McNeil, 2000;Popham, 2001;Smith, 1991), not even 40% of principals believed that this was an issue. As a matter of fact, the "no barriers" response was only 1.7% less than was the "testing mandates for content areas such as English and math" response and 1.7% greater than was the "non-inclusion of social studies in federal accountability mandates" response. ...
... Some contend that social studies has always had a minimal role in the core curricula (Barton, 2011), while others have documented declining trends in allocated time (AUTHORS, 2010). Although differences in the use of time can make instructional time difficult to study, researchers agree that it is important to study the amount of time that students are exposed to social studies as a measure of students' opportunity to learn, teachers' appraisal of how time should be allocated in learning environments, and the harmful effects of curriculum narrowing (Berliner, 2011;Crocco & Costigan, 2007;Pace, 2012). Using a national cross-section of grades K-5 teachers' Schools and Staffing Survey data from 1999 to 2016, this study compares teachers' reports of instructional time distributions across years for English/Language Arts (ELA), mathematics, science, and social studies to provide a longitudinal description of the elementary curricular landscape and students' opportunity to learn social studies. ...
... Past studies have shown the pressure on schools to perform well in the tested subjects of reading/ELA, mathematics, and science impacts both the schedule (i.e., time allocated to instruction) and the actual amount of time spent teaching social studies (Blaise, 2018;Bulger, 2012;Heafner, 2018;Holme, 2013;Houser et al., 2017;Journell, 2010;Kavanagh & Fisher-Ari, 2020;Lintner, 2006;Pace, 2012;Seymour & Garrison, 2016;VanFossen, 2005;Vogler & Burton, 2010;Vogler & Virtue, 2007). Lintner (2006) found in a study of kindergarten through fifth-grade social studies in South Carolina that "with such a tremendous emphasis being placed on reading, writing, and math, social studies has to fight for instructional time" (p. ...
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This study compared the academic performance of students on the 2019 South Carolina Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (SCPASS) by the instructional time configuration used and explored the relationship among the variables of gender, race/ethnicity and poverty on this performance. Results of 25280 seventh-grade student social studies test scores from 112 middle schools, as well as information regarding each school’s instructional time configuration, were analyzed. While controlling for poverty, students in schools using instructional time configurations with the least amount of social studies class time per week had the highest performance levels. Additionally, White students scored significantly higher on the test than Mixed students, Mixed students scored significantly higher on the test than Hispanic students, and Hispanic students scored significantly higher on the test than Black students regardless of the instructional time configuration used.
... As educators of preservice teachers, we often find the enactment of family and community curriculum challenging for preservice teachers to execute. Part of the reason for this challenge is that core subjects such as math and English are often prioritized in school over other subjects, based on instructional time allotted, national policies, and curricular marginalization (Fitchett, Heafner, & VanFossen, 2014;Heafner & Fitchett, 2012;Pace, 2012). In the early grades, much attention is directed to the acquisition of foundational skills. ...
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Today, more than ever, the uninformed person misses out on the opportunity to be a part of history as it is being made and broaden their perspective of the world and its’ people. Even as far back as 1963, Criscuolo says that planned current-events pro- grams are an essential part of elementary education. Criscuolo’s words from 1963 ring true today when he says, “Probably never before in the history of our country, or of the world for that mat- ter, has the need for a thorough familiarity with the news been more urgent” (p. 427). Civic-mindedness is a habit that must be cultivated. Elementary school teachers can do this is by develop- ing regular, ongoing program instruction involving daily news and issues.
... Several curriculum experts contributed significant areas where social studies fit for concept integration such as literature [32], multicultural education [33], controversial issues [34], and literacy [35]. The MELCs and selflearning modules illustrate fusion continuum model, where two or more subjects, concepts, and/or skills are combined to produce a meaningful curriculum (Parker, 2005). ...
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The educational landscape was disturbed by the sudden spread of the COVID-19. Alterations of curriculum transaction were coming up face to face interaction with students were no longer possible so as to address the need of the students’ online classes were implemented while schools are closed. The social studies curriculum as a core subject in the basic education curriculum that leads to the development of civic competence among young learners was also abridged to fit for flexible learning while sustaining its learning standards. The implementation of the Most Essential Learning Competencies (MELCs) to guide for teachers served as the emergency curriculum for the school year during the brink of the pandemic. The social studies emergency curriculum featured condensed learning competencies, flexible learning time, and personalized learning experiences. However, with learning events happening inside learners' respective homes, learned knowledge and skills in social studies are ephemeral, and the authenticity of learner’s work is open for skepticism.
... Past studies show the pressure on schools to perform well in the tested subjects of reading/language arts, mathematics, and science impacts both the schedule (i.e., time allocated to instruction) and the actual amount of time spent teaching social studies Bailey et al., 2006;Burroughs et al., 2005;Heafner, 2018;Hong & Hamot, 2020;Houser et al., 2017;Kavanagh & Fisher-Ari, 2018;Leming et al., 2006;Lintner, 2006;Pace, 2012;Pascopella, 2005;Pedulla et al., 2003;Segail, 2003;VanFossen, 2005;Vogler, 2003;Vogler & Virtue, 2007;vonZastrow & Janc, 2004;Zamosky, 2008). Lintner (2006) found in a study of Kindergarten through fifth-grade social studies in South Carolina that "with such a tremendous emphasis being placed on reading, writing, and math, social studies has to fight for instructional time" (p. ...
This study investigated the relationship among the variables instructional time configuration, gender, race/ethnicity, and poverty to predict the academic performance of seventh-grade students on a state-mandated social studies accountability test. Results of 24,919 seventh-grade student social studies test scores from 117 middle schools, as well as a survey given to principals of the same 117 middle schools, were analyzed. A hierarchical multiple regression analysis showed that when controlling for poverty, the variables instructional time configuration and race/ethnicity were significant, explaining 11% of the variation in student social studies accountability test results; a small effect. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) were also used to illuminate the relationship of these variables on accountability test performance.
... This unbalance is highly problematic due to the perception of social studies as in alignment with literacy (Boyle-Baise et al., 2008), but positioned as "a site of ancillary literacy instruction" (Au, 2013a, p. 6). This heavy emphasis toward literacy and away from social studies may even undermine literacy instruction through narrowed curriculum and instruction (Pace, 2012). ...
Purpose As school districts continue to devalue social studies through a narrowed focus on English language arts (ELA) and mathematics, this study investigated elements of curricular control in a district lacking a formal, purchased curricular program in the elementary grades. Without prescribed and scripted lessons, it was hypothesized that teacher autonomy would allow greater opportunities to investigate social studies concepts and skills. Design/methodology/approach Without prescribed and scripted lessons, it was hypothesized that teacher autonomy would allow greater opportunities to investigate social studies concepts and skills. Bernstein's theory of pedagogic discourse guided this study's analysis of power and control. This manuscript describes a micro-level discourse analysis that applies Gee's tools on interview data from two teachers. Findings Findings demonstrate some opportunities for teacher autonomy, but hierarchical control from administration persists and influences teacher decision-making. As researchers continue to argue for the increased presence of elementary social studies, this study demonstrates that the lack of a formal scripted curricular program presents opportunities for teachers, but administrative control endures and hinders teacher autonomy and instructional decision-making. Research limitations/implications The data size and number of participants in this study may present limitations that impact generalizability. However, the focus for this study was to gain a deeper understanding of the messaging from two teachers. Comparability and translatability were identified as factors for research design to establish legitimacy (LeCompte and Preissle, 1993). Practical implications When considering implications from this study, two elements are considered. First, the continued devaluation of social studies persists, despite the implementation of Common Core standards. As a result, other measures must be investigated and implemented to ensure the subject is elevated to a more prominent position representative of its importance to a democracy. To accomplish this goal, teacher input and autonomy must also be respected to ensure a quality curriculum is utilized in the classroom. While teachers may exert control, albeit limited, in their instructional decision-making, many others are reliant on purchased programs that do not allow even this narrow classroom influence. Originality/value In this study, teachers' language use demonstrated external administrative control as well as autonomous decision-making. Their assigned schedule privileged ELA and math through the allocation of time. Moreover, administrators stated that social studies is not a priority, a sentiment counter to participants' values. Therefore, while they recognized the inherent benefit of the subject to their students, hierarchical power controlled the classification and framing of instruction. A weakened classification and framing structure must be sought to allow more opportunities for purposeful integration of content through messaging systems that are more responsive to students' needs.
Focusing on the 25-year body of knowledge produced by studies on literacy skills in social studies education, the current study determines the trends of articles published in international journals. After the evaluation process, we reached 114 articles published between 1996 and 2020, which met our criteria and examined literacy skills in social studies education. We used bibliometric analysis and descriptive content analysis methods to systematically evaluate the articles. The bibliometric analysis results revealed that few studies were conducted on the relevant subject between 1996 and 2006, whereas there was a huge increase in the number of studies after 2006. We also found that most of the studies were conducted in the USA and that the articles were mostly published in journals about social studies education and literacy. Our content analysis results revealed that most of the studies used qualitative research methods and that pre-service teachers were usually selected as samples.
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If Congress passed a law saying that those who earned less than $35,000 a year no longer had the right to vote or influence who gets elected to the U.S. Senate, most of us would be outraged. With such a law, some would ask, "Can we still call ourselves a democracy?" Unfortunately, according to recent research by Larry Bartels of Princeton University, such a law might not make a big difference. Indeed, after reading Bartels's findings, one might be tempted to ask, "Have we already passed this law?".
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In this study, 172 elementary teachers were surveyed to determine the state of social studies teaching in their classrooms. Data was collected during the spring of 2004 in various geographic locations within an urban district in southern California. The survey measured teachers' time teaching core subjects, how teachers chose to spend their time teaching social studies, and types of strategies used to teach social studies. Teachers revealed that many were dissatisfied with how much time they spent teaching social studies while negotiating mandates to teach language arts and mathematics. Although teachers reported they felt well prepared to teach social studies, many use lecture, readings, and worksheets to teach the California Content Standards. We recommend qualitative research be conducted to explore how teachers who spent more time teaching social studies despite mandates can share those strategies with those who did not teach social studies regularly.
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A balanced view of the effects on students, teachers, and schools of the controversial federal law: the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
Background/Context Recent research indicates that social studies is being “squeezed” from the elementary curriculum as instructional time is shifted to language arts and mathematics in response to state testing and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, especially in schools serving poor students and students of color. However, less is known about the specific curricular and instructional choices teachers make as they confront reduced instructional time for social studies, and the enacted curriculum resulting from these choices. Purpose The purpose of this study is to analyze what happens to the enacted curriculum in social studies in elementary schools where instructional time for social studies was reduced in response to state testing in language arts and mathematics. Setting This research was conducted at a rural elementary school in Southern California serving poor Latino, African-American, and White students, a low performing yet improving school as measured by state testing in language arts and mathematics. Research Design A ten-month qualitative case study of social studies curriculum and instruction was conducted in one fourth-grade and two fifth-grade classrooms at one elementary school. Data Collection and Analysis Data collection consisted of observation and videotaping of classroom lessons and activities in social studies during the 2002-2003 school year in three teachers’ classrooms, consisting of a total of 125 videotaped observations. Interviews with teachers, students, and the principal, and the collection and analysis of student work and curricular materials supplemented this data. For this article, data analysis was based on the coding of field notes, analysis of transcripts of lessons and activities, and teacher interviews, to understand the curricular and instructional choices teachers made in social studies and the effect of these choices on the enacted curriculum. Findings/Results Reduced instructional time in social studies has resulted in a reduction of the scope of the curriculum, the curtailment or elimination of opportunities to promote students’ higher order thinking, and an increased emphasis at times on the simple reproduction of content knowledge. Conclusions/Recommendations The institution of a system of accountability meant to improve teaching and learning for all students is instead undermining the quality of students’ education in social studies, especially at low performing elementary schools serving poor students and students of color. As instructional time is shifted to language arts and mathematics the scope of the social studies curriculum and opportunities for thoughtfulness that would deepen students’ understanding of history are being squeezed from the enacted curriculum.
The teaching of social studies at the elementary level is becoming marginalized. Currently, elementary teachers spend one hour or less on social studies per week. Furthermore, some elementary teachers have completely cut social studies from the curriculum. This article examines elementary teachers and the forces that impact the amount of time spent on social studies curriculum each week. Twenty elementary teachers from across the United States were randomly selected. Participants were interviewed and two majors themes emerged from the interviews. The themes suggested that teachers are spending a minimal amount of time on social studies because 1) social studies is an untested subject with regards to high stake testing and 2) teachers lack content knowledge.