Learning from Our Mistakes

Grant Wiggins wrote in a recent blog “…it is not the teaching that causes learning but the attempts by the learner to learn that causes learning….” He went on to write, “the first attempt may not be successful,” indicating that learning my not occur immediately, but it is through subsequent or extended attempts that learning may occur. There are few things that learners can do well with a single attempt, but in school we tend to judge students based on single attempts. We teach the topic/concept and move on. The student who did not learn the concept through the initial instruction may be re-taught, tutored, failed, labeled, or even ignored. There are some times where the lack of learning may not have even been noticed. No one benefits from a teach-and-then-move-on philosophy.
Many teachers feel the pressure to move through the curriculum at a set pace: keep up with the quad sheet, the road map, the framework. But we don’t want that quad sheet to have a strangle hold on our instruction causing learning to cease or to be sporadic. Teachers of elementary social studies have neither a district assessment nor a state assessment to restrain them from quality instruction. So let’s take the time to give our students deep learning experiences that offer multiple and varied opportunities to learn the concepts we teach.
In actuality we are given six years to develop the language and thinking around all aspects of social studies—geography, economics, citizenship, history and government. We have the time to build a depth of learning and thinking in our students that will bleed over into their learning and thinking in math, in science and in language arts. Actually, social studies is prevalent in art and music as well. We don’t need to keep our students trapped at the knowledge level of learning memorizing facts and vocabulary while doing very little thinking or interacting with the facts and vocabulary. Instead, we can give our students opportunities to experience various aspects of social studies so that they may play with ideas in new ways, so that they have opportunities to think about and use the concepts that they are studying, and most importantly, so that they can connect those concepts to learning throughout the school day and throughout their own lives.
How do we make our instruction more than teacher talk, cut and paste construction paper, or fill-in-the-blank worksheets?
1. Invite in speakers—government officials or their aides, Spring Branch police officers, veterans from different wars, historians, etc. People want to speak with your students. They want to share their experiences. Take a survey of the families of your students—their work, their experiences, their interests and all add to our students’ learning. My father spoke to my class as a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. It was interesting to hear them compared. He worked in missiles {military}, so he brought in rockets and explained how they worked and shop them off. My grandmother spoke to my class about living through the Great Depression. They loved it; I loved it. Don’t forget Skype. We are no longer limited to those who live around us; the world is open to us. You could Skype with a senator’s aide or an historian who is an expert in our area of study.
2. Virtual Field Trips—we could watch the Senate in session, http://www.senate.gov/floor/
Native Americans in Texas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-w2uf3JnAl8 {Texas Parks and Wildlife video} http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4noWkREmVs {a more informal video to extend the Parks and Wildlife video.
Early colonies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRQulztY1Kk
Video a school board meeting and share the role of government with your students.
3. pen pals: http://www.epals.com/ connect with folks in Texas, in the United States and around the world. This site allows teachers and their students to connect with other students. You could chat with folks in different regions of Texas as you study regions or folks in England as you study the establishment of America. There is no limit to the discussions that could occur. My fourth grade students shared letters with a ninth grade group of students. It gave both groups extensive opportunities to write and share ideas. The ninth grade students would chat about the topics that we were addressing in class. It was one of the most beneficial instructional tools I ever used.
4. multi-genre essay: this adds writing across genres to a social studies topic. For those of you who have never tried this, it is based on Tom Romano’s work—he has some information online. We will offer a staff development on this before winter break.

These are just a few ideas. The great learning for the teachers occurs when others share their ideas for delving deeply into the concepts in social studies. Send your thoughts to me or simply respond on this blog.
Enjoy your third week of school.

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One thought on “Learning from Our Mistakes

  1. Shelene

    Social Studies teachers really do have the “world at their fingertips”. Since elementary teachers are not confined to a particular assessment, they have the freedom to step outside of the box, in other words, explore! Over the years, I have found one of the best ways to maintain student engagement and interest is by using what’s happening now. Current events are useful starting points for focused discussion, projects, and cooperative learning opportunities all while bringing-in real world connections. Hopefully, students see and to some degree, understand the basics in news broadcasts. However, they may not always have the opportunity to have meaningful conversations or simply get their questions answered. At times, I feel that elementary aged students in particular are not given the same opportunities as secondary students for open discourse simply because of their age. In reality, this is the prime time for Social Studies teachers to take advantage of cross-curricular learning opportunities, encourage independent thinking and develop language skills for all students.

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