Magazine article Social Studies Review

Increasing Your So What? Factor: One Approach to Understanding in a Social Studies Methods Course

Magazine article Social Studies Review

Increasing Your So What? Factor: One Approach to Understanding in a Social Studies Methods Course

Article excerpt

I've known Suzie for years. She is a well-respected first grade teacher at an elementary school where I have been supervising student teachers. Suzie and I met for tea one afternoon and had an interesting conversation about how the standards-based movement has affected both of our work. Suzie told the following story:

"Last week the principal came in my room just at the right time! If I may say so myself, I was giving a stellar lesson! My students were involved and actively participating; it was one of those moments where everything was working and seemed right. What a perfect moment for my administrator to drop in!"

"That afternoon when I received a "See me" note in my box, I was eagerly anticipating a great pat on the back for a job well done. My heart sank while I sat in her office and she immediately pointed out to me that we had a problem. During her visit to my classroom she noticed my class was on page 58; first grade classes were scheduled to be working on page 72."

The above story is not an unusual one; school districts and teachers are struggling to meet the demands of the standards-based reform movement. In addition to rigid schedules and scripted texts, many teachers complain that there is simply not any time left in the day to teach social studies. Teachers are charged with the responsibility of raising test scores in reading and math - anything else is considered to be extra. Suzie's exchange with her principal was unfortunate; even more of a worry is that in the quest to raise test scores, there is very little understanding about the standards-based reform movement.

Suzie and I finished our tea and agreed to meet again ~ we were determined to make social studies connections with the reading series she was required to use. We would look at the standards and ask ourselves, So What? We felt the need to search for the main ideas and key learnings that exist when one makes connections between standards. We agreed to find some viable methods to work toward understanding and in-depth thinking through social studies, language arts, and visual and performing arts. We were determined to focus on meaningful units of study and student needs, in lieu of page numbers!

Following my visit with Suzie I began to look at my own work. In what ways might I help prepare my college students for the classroom in this age of standards? How will I suggest that they deal with on-site issues such as the one discussed above? How can I help promote the true goals of the standards-based reform movement, and promote effective standards-based practice! How can I increase my students' So What factor?


Most educators will tell you that standards-based practice means teachers are expected to teach content standards developed at the state level for each of the core disciplines. In other words, content taught must be based on the content standards. There is much more involved, however...we must not forget about standards-based practice. If we continue to plan and teach the same way and do not change our practice, a list of standards will probably not make a huge difference in the performance level of our students. The standards-based reform movement requires much more than teaching to a list of facts, concepts, principles and skills. Reform begins when we plan and implement different and effective approaches to the facts, concepts, principles and skills in order to promote deeper understanding.


Western Assessment Collaborative at West Ed offers a chart that gives a clear comparison of traditional practice and standards-based practice (see Figure 1). The major difference is in the planning of curriculum; with standards-based practice, the assessment is established before the learning activities are designed. When we decide exactly what evidence is needed to prove students have grasped a concept, we are clear ourselves about what learning opportunities must be provided and planned. …

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