Written and submitted by Jessica Todd, 4th Grade Teacher, Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn CSD with a photo of children performing a close reading exercise about Laura Ingalls Wilder. They are making "tracks” on the article.

Looking back on grade school social studies brings memories of round robin textbook reading and corresponding worksheets. It was an endless cycle of read the text and scavenger hunt for the answers throughout your book. Anyone who could do look and find activities would be considered successful. Sitting by the window in the classroom, with the warm and tempting afternoon sun shining on my face, I counted the paragraphs left before it would be my predicted time to read. Five students ahead of me in the rows of desks meant five paragraphs of daydreams where I completely spaced off and thought of my after school outdoor plans. When the student next to me was done reading, I took my turn and then returned to my dreamy state.  I was good at appearing that I was paying attention, but really all I got out of the lessons was fluency practice for reading and little comprehension about how this mattered in real life.

Years later as a teacher, I look at my social studies textbook for my fourth grade students and I am reminded of my wasted learning opportunity in which I was disengaged and disconnected from the curriculum. Students have a drive to learn about the world around them. If we as teachers can’t find a way to reach them individually and answer the ultimate question of  “When will I use this in LIFE?” We need to reflect on the question, “ Are we doing our job to prepare them for the real world?”    

Remote textbook reading and regurgitating answers back on paper proves that a student is good at memorizing and the search and find game, but what is it teaching them about life? Through the use of non-fiction (real life) text, a teacher can not only give students examples of where curriculum will show up in life, but can also help the student to become connected in a more personal way to life situations that will affect them. If we are to learn from history, why not go about it from real examples. I realize now I need to make the learning more authentic for my students.

With instructional coaching through the AEA, I have been provided with current research and strategies to use while teaching my students about social studies.  Jody Still Herbold has helped me revise my lesson plans from a textbook focus to a non-fiction focus on reading and writing. The lessons that I created my first year were textbook based and involved taking many notes.  The test resembled a traditional multiple choice, matching, and fill in the blank format. She has helped me make social studies relevant and more engaging for my students.

As my coaching has continued over these last few years, my lessons have developed into more activities through the use of the Promethean board, non-fiction books, and interactive websites. Students are doing more authentic research and analysis of information, current events, forming opinions and putting these opinions into writings. Tests have changed from how much can the student regurgitate back to me, to reflecting how much the student understands about the issue at hand through their own explanations in the form of short writings and discussions. All in all my students achievement has increased, students are more engaged, and I am more engaged!

Through the use of non-fiction articles from reliable and creditable resources we can teach our kids through a variety of activities that get them involved and reflecting on the big picture. Textbooks are a tool to be used, but not in isolation.  How much more can we get across to our students through really engaging them in activities that will switch their reflections from,  “What am I doing after school today,” to  “How will this help me after school in life!”