To be honest, I’m a little overwhelmed. The first day of school is right around the corner and I haven’t done all of the things I wanted to do this summer! Theme parks, water parks and zoo adventures aside, I’m also anxious about the upcoming school year. I’ve done a lot of studying and thinking about how to teach Social Studies this summer and I’m worried that it’s all for naught. I’m worried I’ll start off with good intentions but by October my classroom won’t look any different! What if I fail???
Hence, I’m going to tackle this sucker one small piece or dimension at a time. Journey with me into the deep recesses of Dimension One of the Inquiry Arc of the C3 Framework. The NCSS has given us this road map to follow to become the best Social Studies teachers we can be. When have they ever led us astray?
In the past, questions in a Social Studies classroom were things found beside numbers on a worksheet and there was only one correct answer. Sometimes teachers wrote questions. Sometimes questions come from internet or textbook company fairies. That, my friends, was the past and a brighter future awaits. What if students asked the questions? (Insert brain explosion here.) What if we taught students how to ask questions and find their own answers? Middle school students are full of questions and are constantly seeking validation for those questions. They don’t need answers, they need the ability to question. This part of the inquiry arc addresses that need by suggesting that we teach students about questioning strategies. This is one of the drastic shifts that we are going to adapt to as Social Studies teachers.
This first dimension of the C3 Framework has three general elements: compelling questions, supporting questions and helpful sources. (Please keep in mind that I’m writing MY INTERPRETATION of this document with the goal being to simplify it for myself primarily and anyone else who is crazy enough to read this.)
- Compelling questions are questions that focus on “enduring issues and concerns.” It could be as simple as, “WHY ARE WE STUDYING THIS?” or “HOW IS THIS RELEVENT TO ME?”
- Supporting questions are follow-up questions that help flesh out the compelling question.
- Students need to be able to identify helpful resources to answer these questions. They also need to be trained to consider different perspectives and the validity/dependability of the source.
I’m trying to picture what this will look like in my classroom. Personally, I always like to start the year off with the question, “What is the American Dream?” I do this because I believe that so much of American history is built around the pursuit of a dream and the consequences (sometimes good, sometimes bad) of that pursuit. At the beginning of the year, I’ll need to model the idea of a “compelling question” so I’ll start with this one and continue to provide compelling questions for a while until I feel like they are ready to develop their own.
I typically toss that question out there and then say, “GO!” This year, I’m going to have them come up with their own supporting questions. This would probably be a good group or partner activity. I hope their questions might be something like, “Do you have to be rich to be living the American dream?” or “Is the American dream the same for everyone?” or “Is the American dream a good thing?”
Next, I’ll ask them to find sources to help them answer their questions. I always like to have students interview their parents about their opinions of the American dream. This year, I’ll require at least two other sources with some type of explanation about why they feel that source is valid.
I usually wrap this activity up by asking students to submit a song title that they feel represents their American dream. Then, I’ll build a youtube.com playlist of those songs to use for playback during group work, etc. I’m thinking it needs to go deeper than that though. Perhaps I’ll have them choose a particular quote from the song and explain how different people in the world might perceive that interpretation of the American dream.
Whew, I’m feeling better already. One reason I’m feeling better is the fact that I know I’m not alone in this. My friends over in the ELA world are doing the same work – focusing on questioning, argument, and perspectives. I love the thought of using shared language to reach a shared goal and creating a cohesive and collaborative learning community! That’s the pipe dream I’m living in. Find your happy place and live there.
P.S. – Just found this totally awesome and incredibly relevant website on twitter: Rightquestion.org – a website with resources for teaching students to ask questions.
P.S.S. – That led me to this video of teacher Christine Miller introducing the idea of creating their own questions to her students.