I love assigning research projects. My heart soars at the thought of young minds searching out information, gleaning scraps of knowledge from the pages of history and finding joy in the sheer act of learning. But then I grade the research projects and, for the most part, my hopes are dashed. There has always been a serious gap between what I expect when I assign a research project and what the students produce. Personally, I’m excited that the makers of the C3 Framework have addressed this very issue in Dimension 3.
Where I’ve Been Going Wrong
Although a book could be written on this subject, I’ll stick to the subject at hand. I’ve taken it for granted that the skills students learn in Language Arts would automatically transfer to Social Studies. I’ve failed to explain my expectations and use the same lingo their Language Arts teachers use. I’ve failed to teach them how to gather information, analyze sources and cite passages. Incorporating research projects in my class has been more about showing that I at least tried to be cross-curricular and less about teaching my students how to learn. Like so many Social Studies teachers, this type of activity has always been more about submitting a stack of Social Studies papers for student’s cumulative writing folders while using as little of my class time as possible. There. I said it. Don’t pretend like you haven’t done the EXACT SAME THING!
The skills listed in Dimension 3 of the C3 Framework are skills that will change our student’s lives. They aren’t boxes to be checked off of a list or standard numbers to mindlessly denote on a lesson plan.
These are skills that students must have to be competitive in the modern age of technology and endless data. Let’s just take a quick look at the goals for the end of 8th grade:
- “Gather relevant information from multiple sources while using the origin, authority, structure, context and corroborative value of the sources to guide a selection.”
- “Evaluate the credibility of a source by determining its relevance and intended use.”
- “Identify evidence that draws information from multiple sources to support claims, noting evidentiary limitations.”
- “Develop claims and counterclaims while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both.”
Essentially, students will be able to determine whether or not a source is reliable. They will determine whether information from the source is relevant to the topic. They will compare information from multiple sources and use the information to form claims and counterclaims. Is this rigorous, complex thinking that students haven’t been asked to do before? Yes. Are these the types of skills we as students weren’t developing until late high school and college? Yes. Will these skills better prepare them for life? Yes. Has every 8th grade student’s brain developed to the point of mastering these skills? No. (You’ll have to keep talking to lawmakers about that one!) Will challenging students to master this skill hurt them any? No.
Times They Are a Changin’
In the old days, we would always argue that we didn’t have time to teach reading and writing because we have so much content to cover in Social Studies. We resented begin required to do anything that would interfere with our focus on rote memorization of facts. We gloried in those adequate to excellent test scores we acquired by making sure the kids learned the facts that we just knew would be on those standardized tests. Times are changing. Standards across the country are changing as the focus shifts from scores to growth and from memorization of facts to college and career readiness. Transition is never easy, but the changes we are making in Social Studies curriculum will have a meaningful and lasting impact in the lives of our students.