Saturday, November 29, 2014

3 Power Strategies That Work For Social Studies

Many of the meetings in our social studies department focus on content, strategies, and assessment. We spend the bulk of the time reflecting on whether our choices are preparing the students to achieve the learning goals.

In the past, we've attempted to focus the use of strategies by choosing between two. This year's conversations have been about dialing in the must-use strategies, the ones that we know work. 

 ... Here's what I think.

Note-Taking and Summarizing
Social studies, in Texas anyway, has the most standards out of the core subjects. The students need to learn a lot of facts and develop context schemes to understand new information conceptually and use it beyond memory recall.

Teaching kids the importance of organizing notes is crucial if they're going to learn how to do stuff with the notes they make. It doesn't matter whether its tables, drawings, half-page, or Cornell notes, the students need to learn to leave room on the page to add analysis and thematic labels.

Regardless of the note-taking format students use, summarizing notes is critical. Some teachers have the students use their notes to respond to the lesson question on a half sheet, which is turned in for a formative check. Others, like myself, prefer the one-sentence summary to be posted anonymously on a tack board or to a Padlet (image below) or TodaysMeet room. When I use one of these discussion web tools, my students receive specific feedback on

Both Padlet and TodaysMeet provide many share and access format options, including downloadable PDF transcripts.
Find Five Facts is another one of my favorite activities. The title and the directions are one in the same. Students list five facts based on a civilization and theme, for example. The picture below shows my five facts for a Persian Empire explanation. Once the students are better at finding the five facts, I will have them make five facts videos, slide shows, Quizlet decks, infographics, etc. 

We talk about note-taking activities without including ABC notes (also called alphabet soup). I like to have students make an ABC list while watching a video (like Crash Course). This is a particularly fun activity to help them think about what they've learned in a lesson cycle. This example shows a list one of my classes made collaboratively on Google Docs.
Whether notes come from lecture, reading, placard activities, or sharing content with peers, the students will retain more from their work if they bring it all together at the end. Something as simple as the one-sentence summary or a list, group, label is quick and doable. Students will be especially confident if confidentiality is kept and only commentary feedback is provided.

Similarities and Differences
I don't use the words "compare" or "contrast" much in the classroom. It's not that the students don't know what those words mean, well most of them, anyway. They just learn more comfortably when they hear more commonly used words like "similar" and "different."
I recently assigned this comparative analysis activity after two classes of Classical Empires background building and a five fact explanation: (1) Internal vs external forces, (2) Overproduction, (3) Corruption, (4) Invasions, and (5) Social institutions. This was enough to prime the students to complete the tasks. 
If my students are summarizing their notes about types of constitutional governments, for example, I would have them write a one-sentence summary that includes one similarity and one difference between two of the examples from their notes. This could also be down with causes and effects or continuities and changes. Keep it simple by requiring one of each.

When students come together to do cooperative learning activities, it's a great time to have them create a graphic organizer (Venn diagram, side-by-side table,Double Bouble, etc.). For example, if the students are comparing the influences of the Vikings and the Byzantine Empire on the development of Russia, students could be assigned either Vikings or Byzantine and two of each could make a group of four. This sets up two layers of analysis: (1) Students will compare what each of the two like examples wrote in their notes, and (2) Students will compare the two different examples to respond to the issue (influences on the development of Russia).

If possible, have a student make an explanation presentation with an app like Google Slides, Educreations (shown below), ShowMe, or Google Drawing. A student could even post to the classroom blog via e-mail. 

Follow these activities up with group presentations and discussion for formative assessment. Give them a quick quiz at the beginning of the next class to let you know whether the class needs to move forward or take a step back for a moment or two.

Achievement Tracking and Scoring Scales
It's one thing for teachers to know exactly how students are doing, but it's a whole new level of meaning when students can tell you to what extent they are meeting expectations or excelling relative to standards. Achievement tracking and scoring scales support development of this ability by providing feedback that correlates to a consistent set of achievement levels and descriptors. 

Self-tracking is powerful because learners can relate their classroom activities to a personal goal that will support their path to mastering a standard (examples below). And, it's not more work for teachers. Having the students do some of the evaluation puts the documentation mostly in their hands, I do the same for reassessment documentation.

These examples show the two types of achievement tracking that my students do after a major assessment. We use this information to review achievement for purpose of focusing remedial work before reassessment. This information is also helpful to present to parents when issues start to develop.

Achievement Tracking through Self-Reflection
This is completed by students immediately after the major summative. It is also reviewed when the marked papers are returned. Students, at that time, are asked to make adjustments to reflect achievement and write a goal to support learning.

Achievement Tracking through Assessment Items

Students circle the ones they missed and mark a check in the far right column if they answered a majority of the standard's assessment items correctly.  
This is a student-friendly adaptation of Marzano's scoring scale.

Thanks for reading. Please share comments, stories, or anything that might make these ideas stronger for myself and others.