Friday, September 25, 2015

Knowledge: Use it Skillfully, Use it Conceptually

Social Studies has a challenging past where a student's ability to repeat factual content was valued. In our modern society, factual content is at an individual's fingertips. For this reason, a 21st century learner must be able to use information in different ways. This implies that learning in social studies might be simplified into a three-step process.
1. Learners acquire knowledge
2. Students make sense of knowledge through applying it skillfully
3. Students make sense of knowledge through applying it to explain concepts

Let's expand on these ideas just a bit.

How do learners acquire knowledge?

  • One of the most traditional ways that learners acquire knowledge is through the use of traditional texts (textbooks, articles, non-fiction books, and video segments). We ask students to apply literacy skills through capturing the big ideas and supporting details. We might also provide students with a question (or questions) that can be answered through engaging with the traditional text. 
  • Students might also acquire content knowledge through the analysis of non-traditional texts (primary sources, charts, graphs, maps, images, and infographics). This approach is critical for 21st century students who live in a world where they engage with a multitude of non-traditional sources. 
  • Students might experience classroom simulations, direct instruction, or other lessons that are designed to build content knowledge. 
How do learners apply knowledge skillfully?

  • First, we must recognize that we are not teaching students history, we're teaching them to engage in the thinking practices of historians. We are not teaching students geography, we're teaching them to engage in the thinking practices of geographers. We are not teaching students economics, we're teaching students to apply economic reasoning. We are not teaching students civics, we're teaching students to engage in the thinking practices of informed citizens. 
  • When we think of student work, we must consider their work as artifacts that allow us (the teachers) to see that they have the ability to show thinking. Student work, or artifacts of thinking, are designed based on what students should be able to do. These statements (found in Stage 1 of curriculum planning tools) are the skills of a historian, the skills of a geographer, the skills of an economic thinker, and the skills of an informed citizen. 

How do learners apply knowledge to explain concepts?

  • First, we must recognize that concepts are the big, broad ideas of a discipline. In curriculum, they are the organizing concepts and the big ideas. 
  • Concepts are also the ideas that come from a learner when they use knowledge to explain essential questions. Since essential questions are broad and based on a student's interpretation and understanding, we must be aware that students will provide evidence (content knowledge) to explain their ideas...and student answers will vary.

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