Just as the iPad revolutionized so many aspects of our daily lives, using an I.P.A.D. approach in your social studies classroom can be a helpful reminder of what to think about for your students every day. While I.P.A.D. doesn’t come with music and games, it does with decades of research about why it works and why it should be an essential part of your planning.
My top four research-based approaches to social studies instruction spell I.P.A.D. and can be used (in order) as either a planning framework or to self-check your existing lessons. In this case, I.P.A.D. stands for:
- Primary Sources
- Disciplinary Literacy
I believe that if you thoughtfully incorporate these four practices in the manner described below, that you will be giving you and your students the best chance to learn the content in a meaningful way through the application of essential skills.
As the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) notes in their College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework, “inquiry is the heart of social studies” (NCSS, 2017). Through inquiry, students are given the opportunity to go deeper into their learning while making connections across disciplines that matter to them. When your lessons and units are centered on a question it gives each student “voice and choice” about what matters to them about the topic and how they want to approach answering your question.
When teaching my methods classes at the University of Maine or when doing professional development with educators, I am far more worried about the question that drives a lesson instead of the content. When you tell the question you will ask your students about a topic, I have a better sense of what you are looking for from your students and where they might be able to take their learning. For example, think about the different learning outcomes for students based on these questions about the Civil Rights movement:
- What are the key events of the Civil Rights movement?
- What event of the Civil Rights era was the most crucial turning point of the Civil Rights movement?
- How are contemporary issues of race impacted by major events of the Civil Rights movement?
All these lessons could be titled “The Civil Rights Movement”, but the compelling question is what tells us what the students will learn, what overarching concepts (turning points, compare/contrast, continuity and change) will be addressed, and what skills they demonstrate. When preparing your lessons, look beyond your topic (Civil Rights movement) and think about a compelling question that students will WANT to explore that is presented in a way that allows some choice in WHAT they learn.
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Educators are living in a golden age of access to primary sources, and we must take advantage of this. Every minute of every day, there are more historical documents being made digitally available in addition to almost instantaneous access to the most/all the voices of our modern world. What better gift for our classrooms than the ability to hear voices that span across perspective, place, and time? If you are building off the inquiry approach outlined above, then you need to provide students with appropriate resources that allow them to address your question in a way that is meaningful to them. This is done by expanding the different primary sources that they can use to address your question.
When presented with a handful of appropriate primary sources, student can “hear” the voices, but they are limited in the ways in which they can build their answer to your question. The more primary sources, the more perspectives that can be included and the more “choose your own adventure” paths that a student can take to get to their answer. You have a student that has an interest in women’s history? Let them explore “women of the Civil Rights movement”. What about students that have family ties to different historical places or regions? Can they learn more about the role a specific city had in the Civil Rights movement? Maybe they want to focus on church/religion or teenagers/schools, then let them! This is what actual historians do when they “do” history and we should not expect any less from our own students.
Inquiry is great, but students still need to provide answers. (Which by the way, can be in the form of more questions! Inquiry is sooo awesome!) Primary sources are key to voice and choice as well as diverse perspectives, but there are still essential skills that need to be assessed. This means that we need to make sure that our assessments are authentic in relation to the use of primary sources in response to a question. I have met very few teachers that think primary sources are “bad” or disagree with students doing DBQs (document-based questions) in class. However, I do run into a good number of teachers that while they believe in these types of assessments, they default to multiple choice quizzes and fill in the blank work sheets more often than they would like. Of course, we know that these types of assessments are readily available and easy to grade, but it often leads to such a disconnect between what we want our students learning to do and what is being assessed.
It is worth noting that multiple choice quizzes CAN be used for authentic assessment, but you must keep in mind what is your goal for what you are trying to assess. Do you have students reading primary sources to identify diverse perspectives about a question? Then you can use multiple choice questions that ask students “which of the primary sources shows the perspective of a southern African American woman in the 1950s”? Your responses could still be A, B, C, or D, with the letters referring to primary sources (or excerpts of) would best answer this question. This would help student read primary sources to practice the sourcing skills essential.
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Along the way to assessment, our instructional moves and pedagogical moves need to give students the opportunity to practice what they will eventually be assessed on. Understanding by Design researchers McTighe and Wiggins tells us about the final step that I feel is so often overlooked by educators. We talk about what we students to be able to do (learning targets, standards, outcomes) and what it looks like so that we can assess it (though as noted above, we sometimes miss the mark on the assessments too), but what about making sure that your daily instruction actually sets them up for success?
If you have reached this point in the IPAD framework, then having “disciplinary literacy” for a foundation is what will fill in the gaps in your daily lesson plan. You have your compelling question that drives student inquiry based on primary sources with an authentic assessment, so now it is time to make sure that your class has the students doing the things that you WANT them to do! Are you going to assess using a DBQ? Then well before they are writing a DBQ, they need to analyze those primary documents in support of a strong thesis. I have written before about all the ways to work on DBQ skills before the final DBQ because disciplinary literacy should be the engine that powers your class.
Our students live in a world where there is more information is available than they can process, so we need to help them refine the information at their disposal by teaching them how the professionals of their disciplines look at their world. DBQs are great for a lot of social studies to be “like a historian”, but disciplinary literacy is also the skills of geographers and economics. If your goal is students to dive deep into geography, then have them play with the tools of geography instead of memorizing countries and capitals. You want your students understanding supply chain interruptions? Then move their study of supply and demand charts beyond “widgets” on a worksheet. Have them engage in the development and marketing of a product that fills a current need and examine how different price points impact both the cost of production and customer demand.
I don’t pretend to think that all of this is new to you. In fact, I hope that you are already familiar with all the four key components of the IPAD acronym and already using them on a regular basis in your classroom. By pulling all the pieces together, I was hoping to remind you of the power of these four pillars of quality social studies instruction. By providing the structure that I did, I hoped to give you a simple framework to look at your lesson each day. Just like so many kids in the recent decade, I want you to make sure that you start class by double checking that you have your IPAD for the day.
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Joe Schmidt taught social studies at the high school level for nine years and worked three years as a K-12 Social Studies Teacher Leader in Madison, Wisconsin. He currently holds the position of Social Studies Specialist with the Maine Department of Education, and teaches an elementary social studies methods course at the University of Maine. He is a founder of Joe Schmidt Social Studies LLC. and was recently elected to the NCSS Board of Directors. He also serves on the iCivics National Educator Network, sat four years on the Teaching Tolerance advisory board, and works with a number of other organizations that advocate and work actively to improve social studies education. Check out his upcoming book, Civil Discourse: Classroom Conversations for Stronger Communities, available for pre-order now!
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