September 13, 2012
Social studies teachers who want to align their instruction to the Common Core have so far gotten only limited guidance: The new curriculum standards exist only for literacy and math, and a search of the city’s resource library comes up bare.
Now, they are getting a helping hand from the State Education Department, which today released a proposal for revising what is taught in social studies and when.
The department is soliciting feedback on the proposed guidelines, which lay out expectations for social studies teachers and students in kindergarten through eighth-grade, through EngageNY, its teacher resource website. The 85-page draft, which was released this morning, will be submitted to the Board of Regents for approval in October, and would help districts and teachers develop their social studies curriculums for next year and beyond.
The guide to the new standards released today follows the broad contours of the current curriculum, meaning first grade will still be focused on families, and the last two years of middle school will still be spent on American history. But in addition to emphasizing content knowledge, the Common Core “framework” also tells teachers to focus on “key ideas and conceptual understandings,” “unifying themes,” and “practices,” such as chronological reasoning and using evidence. It also offers a detailed chart on how students should be using primary and secondary historical sources to understand and write about the past, reflecting the Common Core’s emphasis on literacy instruction across disciplines.
The framework says it is not meant to give teachers concrete guidance about how and what to teach on a daily basis. That will come later in a practical “field guide.”
New York City is requiring every teacher to deliver some lessons this year that reflect the new standards, which are aimed at boosting college readiness by emphasizing critical thinking and literacy skills. But so far official materials on how to do that have focused on elementary and middle school English and math — the first subjects that will have new, Common Core-aligned tests. This year social studies teachers have been asked to follow the old state standards, and the state tests will not reflect the new standards until 2014.
The city has developed some resources for social studies teachers whose lessons focus on literacy, which can be found in the “new tasks” section of the Common Core library, and promises more are in the works.
Chad Gleason, a social studies teacher at the School of the Future, a secondary school where students are not required to take most state exams required for graduation, said the new standards seem to do a better job of spelling out the skills students and teachers need. However, he is not sure whether the guide will motivate teachers to change their teaching practices.
“There isn’t much to disagree with here,” he said in an email. “Most teacher’s instructional decisions will be driven by the test that is developed rather than this document. To what extent the new assessments are aligned with this framework remains to be seen.”
Gleason also warned that the standards don’t leave much space for teachers to weave contemporary subject matter into their history lessons, even though those subjects can create valuable opportunities for reflection.
“I don’t see much room to study issues that develop after the content standards have been written. This is always one of the challenges with social studies curriculum maps,” he said.
The state’s complete proposed blueprint for social studies instruction in elementary and middle schools is below.