Emerging Illinois Social Science Standards Require Paradigm Shift for Teaching and Learning

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Yesterday, the Illinois Civics team, in partnership with members of the Illinois Social Science Standards Task Force (see p.3), presented a daylong workshop for K-12 teachers at the West Cook Regional Service Center on emerging state standards. It was remarkably well attended. In fact, we were oversubscribed and stretched into three different rooms. A subsequent workshop was scheduled there for next month and is already at capacity.

We take this as a sign that there is significant demand in the field for additional support with standards implementation that transcend the new course requirement, and our team is strategizing with the Illinois State Board of Education on a collaboration that spans the state and K-12 spectrum. Stay tuned for additional details in the weeks and months ahead.

My workshop assignment was to provide context for the standards’ development, and I began by making the case for civic learning, which lies at the heart of the C3 Framework’s inquiry arc embedded in the standards. Most of our work to date has been with high school teachers, so in preparation for the presentation, I analyzed data from the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress in Civics administered to 8th graders.

The standards require a paradigm shift from teacher-dominated to student-centered instruction, and the NAEP results underline the value of this proposition. For example, while reading from a textbook had little impact on students’ civic knowledge and skills, usage of primary documents moved the needle significantly, maxing out at daily dosages (see below).

Monthly to weekly current events discussions also proved effective, as did periodic debate and panel discussions. The same was true for role plays, mock trials, and dramas.

The evidence is firmly in our corner, but students taking the test suggested that these practices are all too rare, and in the cases of current events discussions and simulations, decreasing in frequency.

Moving forward, our challenge is to further unpack these new standards with educators and work with them to align current practices and curriculum. There is also a demonstrable need to identify and create curriculum that meets the new standards, later scaffolding it with teachers in the trenches for classroom use.

I was asked by one attendee during my presentation about how long teachers and schools should expect standards implementation to take. A specific answer was elusive, but as is true with implementation of the civics course, we view this is a multi-year process. At its center will be continued engagement with educators and responsiveness to their identified needs. It’s fair to say that we “put points on the board” towards this end yesterday.

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