Understanding Instructional Shifts

by Christopher Busse, Civic Mentor for St. Clair County

Chris Busse is the Social Studies Department Chair at O’Fallon Township High School in O’Fallon, Illinois, where he has taught AP Political Science, AP Comparative Government, American Government, Civics, Psychology, Economics, United States History, and the American Legal System. Chris serves as the Regional Mentor for St. Clair County. He has been recognized with the Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award, the Constitutional Rights Foundation Barbara O’Donnell Teacher of the Year Award, and was chosen to participate in the Supreme Court Summer Institute.

As a curricular leader in his district, Chris has guided many educators through the instructional changes associated with the new Illinois Social Studies standards and civic education requirement. Here are his thoughts on how to help educators “make the shift.”

The new Illinois Social Studies Learning Standards and the Civic Learning Practice Indicators provide social studies teachers, new and old, with a template for engaging students in the learning process. In my position of social studies department chair at O’Fallon Township High School, I have encouraged social studies teachers to use the standards and indicators to reflect on “best practices” and to use them as benchmarks when considering instructional strategies, materials and resources which will effectively engage students in the learning process and contribute to a more productive learning environment.

The benefit of the new standards are they are skill-based, rather than content-based, and allow the expert in the classroom, the teacher, to tailor instruction to the needs of students, to the strength of the instructor, and to make content more relevant and meaningful for student growth.

Learning is achieved when a student is able to use prior knowledge to apply, evaluate, and analyze new content. The Social Studies Standards facilitate students’ investigation of content to discover its value in better understanding the world around them. What we teach in the social studies disciplines are relevant to a student’s understanding of the society in which they now and in the future will operate. The Standards and Learning Practices help us design, use and implement instructional resources and strategies to maximize the potential of students to become informed decision makers, engaged learners, and responsible citizens.

How have you made sense of the instructional shifts associated with the new Illinois Social Studies standards and civic education requirement? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare Illinois students for college, career and civic life.

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