I spent last week at the National Council for the Social Studies Conference and am still on a high from being with a bunch of proud history nerds.
While I was in Washington, D.C. I went to the Florida House and I was talking to our host about Common Core. She was in graduate school for public policy, but wanted opinions on Common Core. My colleagues said they liked the standards because of the emphasis on close reading and the integration of primary sources and non-fiction materials. I agreed. But, with the caveat that in elementary school this integration doesn’t always happen. So, yes, I have pause about Common Core in elementary grades. I have seen the exclusion of social studies in elementary classrooms and it makes my heart hurt because it means our students are missing out on learning opportunities to practice and refine the key skills needed to analyze and interpret history.
I had a bit of a debate with a friend over the weekend about content versus skills in the social studies classroom. I am firm believer that skills are the foundation, especially in today’s world when students can find content on their own. I am not saying the content is not important. It is. But, I would much rather my students discover that content through the use of historical thinking skills. The type of skills that the C3 framework lays out: questioning, inference, evaluating sources, communicating, and critiquing.
This article from Smithsonian Magazine came on the heels of my travel to the NCSS Conference, after days of discussing primary source analysis, object-based learning, cultural competencies, global understanding, and the importance of history education.
The emphasis in the article was on the history teacher’s role in facilitating student understanding of the authenticity of news sources.
The author of the Smithsonian article argues that:
The history classroom is an ideal place in which to teach students how to search and evaluate online information given the emphasis that is already placed on the careful reading and analysis of historical documents.
But, this point only stresses why teaching skills is sometimes more important than teaching content.