Academic journal article The Councilor: A Journal of the Social Sciences

The End of a War and the Rise of a Nation: A Lesson on the American Revolution

Academic journal article The Councilor: A Journal of the Social Sciences

The End of a War and the Rise of a Nation: A Lesson on the American Revolution

Article excerpt


A long-standing goal for many teachers is to create good citizens. Although the definition of a good citizen is debatable, many contend that a good citizen learns from their previous actions. To take it a step further, a good citizen learns from others' previous actions and that is why it is important that students are equipped to learn history. After all, history is a means to categorize past events in order to create meaning for present circumstances (Doolittle, Hicks, & Ewing, 2004-05). Students at the elementary level lack opportunities to master and understand history (Leming, Ellington, & Schug, 2006 & Turner, et al, 2013). The goal of the article is to aide upper elementary teachers in their employment of historical inquiry. First, we build a rationale for the inclusion of the historical inquiry and then we provide a sample lesson, on the American Revolutionary War, that utilizes primary and secondary sources.


There are numerous reasons why students are not taught with the historical inquiry process but none are more influential than the marginalization of social studies curriculum and instruction at the elementary level (Jensen, 2001; Leming, Ellington, & Schug, 2006; McEachron, 2010; Russell, 2009; Van Fossen, 2005; Vinson, Ross, & Wilson, 2011; Vogler & Virtue, 2007; Zhao & Hoge, 2005). Much of the narrowing and marginalization of social studies can be blamed on the standards-based educational reform that American school districts across the nation have implemented (Vinson, Ross, & Wilson, 2011; Vogler & Virtue, 2007). At the heart of the standards-based educational reform is accountability and school districts must proctor various high stakes tests in order to document the learning gains of students primarily in reading, writing, and math. What is noticeably missing is the lack of accountability associated with social studies, perpetuating further the marginalization of the subject (Kenna & Russell, 2014).

Gail McEachron (2010) conducted a longitudinal study where she analyzed the intended allocation of social studies time based on written timetables provided by elementary classroom teachers (n = 72) in the state of Virginia from 1987-2009. The data revealed that allocated time for social studies averaged less than two hours a week, the smallest amount of time among the core subjects. In 2008, Virginia added social studies to the list of high stakes tested subjects and McEachron (2010) was able to show evidence that the allotted time given to social studies increased that year to approximately four hours a week. The findings may not come as a surprise for experienced elementary teachers but the study implies that the fate of social studies is tied to high stakes testing.

As a means to combat the marginalization of social studies at the elementary level teachers supplement their time with an interdisciplinary approach. That is, they use historically themed texts during their reading instruction time (McEachron, 2010). In the seminal work Decision Making: The Heart of Social Studies Instruction, Shirley Engle (2003) contends that social studies educators "...should emphasize decision making as against mere remembering" (p. 7). Social studies should lead students to be self-sustained learners who analyze and synthesize information in order to make decisions for their lives. Linda Levstik (1996) further suggests a shift should be made "...from an emphasis on a 'story well told' to an emphasis on 'sources well scrutinized'" (p. 394). A place where students ask questions, organize and analyze sources, struggle with significance, and ultimately build their own interpretations. We do not suggest that teachers reframe from using an interdisciplinary approach. After all, narrative forms of history provide the framework where questions are posed and answers developed (Pendry, Husbands, Arthur, & Davison, 1998) but students often switch off when they fail to connect with abstract alienating details (Counsell, 2000). …

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