Most public schools teachers have romantic images of what they want to do in the classroom. That’s him, above. Not Ben Stein. But in reality, one thing matters: test scores. That’s true in most states.
If Mr. Keating was teaching in a public school today, he’d probably be inspiring students to “slash and trash” or “jail the detail.” Not contemplating how a deeper understanding of history can make you a better global citizen. The answer is A, by the way.
For five years, and specifically, the last 2 weeks, I’ve been working with 6th – 11th grade teachers whose students struggle with our state End-of-Course tests. These rounds of tests also come with meetings to talk about the data from the test. In these meetings, we discuss why we think students are doing so poorly. The most common comment is that, “the kids can’t read.” Specifically, the students can read the words, but reading for comprehension and meaning is lost on them.
This is where things get tricky. I’ll often ask, “when do they read in your room?” and I’ll get a variety of answers, some good and some bad. But, when I observe classrooms, rarely do I see students critically reading. Mostly, the reading I see is students scanning a textbook or web page to find an answer for a worksheet.
This isn’t reading.
Today, for Social Studies teachers in the struggling school, they have to realize that they are a teacher first. They are teaching students to succeed in their class and they’re teaching Social Studies as a means to that. But if students cannot critically read, it’s time for Social Studies teachers to teach this, and not rely on the English teacher or past teachers. They must teach THEIR students, in THEIR classroom, how to critically read THEIR content.
Teachers can’t merely ask their students to read a passage . . . they need to teach their students how to get meaning out of it. Reading strategies need to be an integral part of the teaching day.
Currently, my favorite reading strategy to share with teachers is called the VIP (Very Important Point). I like it because it’s quick for teachers to do and is a great first step to get students critically reading.
In the VIP, you give the students a history passage to read and partner them up.
- The two students read the passage and highlight 3 important points. Hopefully, they’ll find more than three and have to make hard choices to narrow down to 3.
- They share their 3 points, but chose only 3 important points between the two of them. This means evaluating their choices.
- The teacher then asks each pairing to share out to the class their three important points and why. The class is now having a discussion, and hopefully, the students are more interested because they’ll want to see if other people agree with them.
- The class as a whole then discusses the top 3 as class decision.
The other reason why I like this activity is because students will see that history isn’t just one answer, that there are often many points of view.
My goal is to discuss other reading activities, but many can be googled and work well with writing, another important and lacking skill in the Social Studies classroom.
Here’s a great site for reading activities.