Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Social Studies Common Core Standards Are Great!

Not the normal sentiment you hear about the Common Core standards, right? And, to be clear, I do not know much about the math standards or elementary standards. Also, I am only just learning about the standardized tests that accompany the Common Core, but have some concerns about them being too hard, too expensive, and maybe not so useful.

But I know a lot about the social studies standards. The teacher resources I'm working on this year are fully about them. The series is called Applying Common Core and each book consists of nine activities that, as a whole, cover all the social studies standards (reading and writing). So you can accuse me of being biased or a homer. Then again, I certainly wouldn't have been willing to write these twenty-eight books had I not thought the standards were good. Here are three reasons why.

1. They really aren't controversial
In some ways it cracks me up that people are getting so upset about the Common Core standards. Perhaps it's really just the math and elementary standards, since changing math always upsets people and I have heard complaints from people I respect that the elementary standards push too much academics or end up in confusing assignments. But if they are anything like the social studies standards (and by extension the Language Arts standards, which are derivatives of each other), I'm not sure what the hubbub is about. Seriously, take a look at the 6-8 reading standards and writing standards. Citing texts? Analyzing primary sources? Writing argumentative papers? Revising your writing? Crazy! Honestly, the only offense I can find in them is their overuse of educationalese that makes many hard to understand.
2. They do not affect which historical subjects you teach
 Look at them again. You can apply them to the Civil War, Mesopotamia, or the history of basket weaving. Yes, a teacher would need to construct curriculum with them in mind, but the actual historical subjects one teaches can be anything. This is actually a bigger deal than you might realize. One of the biggest fears of having national standards is the government deciding for a very large and diverse country what is history. The social studies Common Core standards manage to affect social studies teaching without telling states what specifically to cover.

3. They have influenced me to add important social studies skills I was overlooking 
And I feel, if used, that they affect social studies teaching in a positive way. The change on one's teaching is probably individual, since it depends on what your teaching focuses were before. For example, my school has long pushed teaching writing in social studies. So the writing standards are mostly just repeating things I was already doing. But in the reading standards, I had to make some significant changes; ones that I think have made me a better teacher. In particular, I've really liked the focus on teaching with biased texts. Besides being an important skill to decipher what the author's purpose is, it's much more interesting for students than reading overly objective texts. I've also enjoyed adding questions about how the text is organized (e.g. how it is sequenced; what the paper's goal is in the introduction; what is the counterargument, etc.). Not only is this a higher-level thinking activity, but I believe it will make students more conscious of these important structural decisions when they write. Lastly, even though I knew primary sources were important, I had really gotten away from them after switching to teaching ancient cultures from U.S. history. The Common Core standards reminded me to make sure primary sources were integrated into more units.

So there you have it. Another blog about how awesome the Common Core is! Oh, wait, am I alone here?

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