social studies

Real World History: Six Videos that Model and Inspire

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Summary: Looking for ways to involve high school students in using historical tools to craft arguments and make personal connections to current issues? These six short NWP-produced videos spotlight Real World History, a high school course that frames history as an argument about the past and teaches students to think like historians. The video footage, focused on a study of the Great Migration of the 20th Century, could be a springboard for curriculum design or spark conversation in classes or professional development focused on disciplinary literacy with a social justice bent.

Paradise Lost: Introducing Students to Climate Change Through Story

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Author: Brady Bennon

Summary: How does a teacher help students understand and care about global warming in a personal, meaningful way? Moving beyond policy and “big-picture” issues, high school teacher Brady Bennon focused on story. He asked his students to write about their own connections between place and identity, then showed them the documentary film “Paradise Lost.” Students’ poems expressed their thinking about the people in the film, and showed a strong sense of identification and caring. The ultimate goal was to help his global studies students “see themselves as truth-tellers and change makers” in response to global warming. With its science and humanities content, this resource may be useful in professional development settings as a way to explore cross-disciplinary themes and projects.

Book Review: English Learners, Academic Literacy, and Thinking: Learning in the Challenge Zone

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Author: Debra Schneider

Summary: How can we best support English learners in classrooms where rigorous curricula focus on intellectual practices across content areas? How can we engage in practices that enable students to construct rather than reproduce knowledge, develop deep understanding of disciplinary knowledge and forge connections between school and the outside world? In this review of Pauline Gibbons’s book, Debra Schneider shares insights and successful strategies emerging from her own”high-challenge, high-support classroom” practice and the work of her study group related to their reading of the chapter on Academic Literacy [see PDF].  An excellent resource for individual classroom teachers, study groups, inquiry groups, or those leading professional development.

Disciplinary Literacy and Reading Across the Content Areas

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Author: Art Peterson

Summary: A valuable resource for professional development planners and facilitators and content area classroom teachers, this article poses the questions: What does it mean to be a successful reader and writer in English class, in science, in history, in mathematics? With those in mind, Elizabeth Birr Moje argues that focusing on disciplinary literacy will help us understand the thinking and learning demands students face as they move through different content area classes that make up a typical high school day. Noting that since each discipline has its own literacy, the author argues for stripping away the one-size-fits-all literacy “strategies” and engaging students in the way historians and scientists and others actually read and write in their disciplines.

Multiple Texts: Multiple Opportunities for Teaching and Learning

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Author: Laura Robb

Summary: Offering a vivid glimpse into her middle school classroom, author Laura Robb illustrates how making available a range of texts at different reading levels and from a variety of perspectives on a subject promotes the engagement and success of all students in her heterogeneously grouped classroom. Noting that multiple texts help all students engage as active members of a literate community of readers, Robb also shares a list of sources for locating a range of nonfiction texts along with a variety of effective teaching strategies. Sharing both theory and practice, this article could be easily the basis for a single workshop session or a series of workshops demonstrating strategies for strengthening students’ content-area literacy skills.


What’s Next: Possibilities for Literacy and Content Area Learning (NWP Radio)

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Summary: This NWP Radio show captures the conversation among planners, presenters and participants in the 2010 National Reading Initiative Conference in New Orleans. The conference grew out of and captures the learning from a series of inquiries that several NWP sites engaged in to understand the work they were doing with professional development related to reading. Of particular interest to teacher leaders looking at the reading/writing connection and disciplinary literacy, the conference examined the intersections of threads of work related to adolescent literacy and content area learning by addressing the following questions:

  • What is a text and what should we know about reading and writing texts in different disciplines?
  • What does strong interdisciplinary work look like?
  • What is the role of inquiry in content area learning?
  • What is discipline-specific in reading and writing?
  • What role do digital literacies play in content area learning?
  • How can writing project sites and schools organize to work toward deeper understanding and new practices?


Building Culturally Responsive Units of Study: From Texas to Mexico and Back

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Author: Katie McKay

Summary: By crafting units of study that cast immigration as part of the American historical process, a teacher-consultant at the Heart of Texas Writing Project creates opportunities for her bilingual fourth-graders to explore immigration in a trusting and productive classroom environment. This article can support discussions about how to connect curriculum to students’ own knowledge, how to explore sensitive topics with younger children, or how to use writing to support students’ understanding of history or current events.

How Language Minority Students Can Learn in the Content Areas: An Alternative to Silence

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Author: Beth Winningham

Summary: A teacher researcher who studied the experiences of five language-minority students over the course of a school year offers concrete suggestions for improving the learning experience of middle/high school students in general, and English learners in particular. This article could be examined as a model of teacher inquiry and student advocacy.

Incorporating Multigenre Writing in the Social Studies Classroom

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Author: Kari Scheidel

Summary: Noting the gap between the level of sophistication of her students’ writing in writing workshop and in social studies, teacher Kari Scheidel reflected upon her teaching practice, asking “How do I use writing effectively in social studies?” and “How do I find time for it?” In this article she shares how she developed inspiring ideas for having students practice multi-genre writing to learn in social studies. In the process, she also shares samples of student writing in American History and suggests how students’ individual and collaboratively-authored pieces inspire their creative engagement at the same time that they build their subject area knowledge. This piece, along with the suggested readings included at the end, may be useful in genre study workshops and professional development focused on content-area literacy.

Disciplinary Literacy: Why It Matters and What We Should Do About It

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Author: Elizabeth Birr Moje

Summary: Why should we help students learn how to read, write, and speak in different disciplines (e.g., science and social studies)? Watch this keynote address to meet Elizabeth Birr Moje who believes that when students learn the literacy particular to each discipline, they gain access to advanced learning opportunities. Moje positions disciplinary literacy as a social justice issue and offers rich questions that could serve as writing prompts and lead to challenging, substantive discussions.