The other day, I asked those who follow me on Instagram to share their biggest concerns and struggles when it comes to teaching social studies in elementary during the 2020-2021 school year.
Overwhelming, it is clear that emphasis is being placed on math and ELA this year, with some schools directly stating that "social studies isn’t a priority."
Sadly, this doesn’t surprise me. Social studies has been on the back-burner for years, with this subject consistently receiving the least amount of instructional time in elementary compared to other core subjects. You can learn more about the marginalization of social studies here. With remote learning and the juggling of schedules, it seems social studies education is at greater risk of being cut.
So, how do teachers advocate for social studies education and navigate unknown waters? Here are three things to consider as we start with back to school season.
1. Share your Concerns
Talk with your principal about your concerns. When social studies education is marginalized, it becomes an issue of student equity because students are denied opportunities to succeed in social studies skills and college, career, and civic life.
If your school or district doesn't provide curriculum or materials, ask your principal to set aside discretionary funds for social studies resources. Bring an outline of your state standards for your grade level, and ask your principal how they would anticipate covering the standards and providing students with a high-quality social studies education without resources.
2. Add Cross-Curricular Instruction
In elementary, social studies is often integrated into cross-curricular learning, and with remote learning, you might consider some blended learning options. If you are fully digital or are looking for ways your students can engage in meaningful history activities in class, virtual field trips are a great option. If you are new to virtual field trips, you'll want to check out this free virtual field trip to Ancient Egypt, which incorporates reading, critical thinking, Google Earth™ exploration, embedded video, and more.
Book clubs are great, as there are lots of popular historical fiction reads for kids, like the I Survived series. But just reading a historical fiction book, or a reading passage on a social studies discipline and calling it “social studies instruction” is not enough. While there are benefits in building background knowledge through diverse reads, this alone does not provide students a high-quality social studies education. If you are planning on doing book clubs this year, check out some book companions which dive deeper into history through primary source analysis activities, and inquiry-based questions.
3. Accept the Risk
One struggle I'm hearing from elementary teachers is how to navigate social studies with the US presidential election around the corner and a polarized political climate. It's easy to want to shy away from covering topics such as voting and elections because there is an increased likelihood that parents will voice concerns. But we should be willing to accept this risk.
Direct instructional time for social studies is still critical. When students have, for example, time to engage in an election simulation, they have an opportunity to learn communication skills of how to properly share and express their opinion. Effective civics instruction promotes long-term civic development, which means that students are more likely to discuss politics at home, are more likely to pay attention to the news, and are more likely to vote as adults.
If you are worried about what to say if a student says something problematic, this resource from the Oregon Center for Educational Equity provides helpful statements and questions for interrupting racism. You can also check out this list of helpful picture books for teaching the history of voting and elections from multiple perspectives.
There is definitely some uncertainty with how back to school will look this year, but let's strive to bring social studies to the forefront in our elementary classrooms. Our students deserve it. And you don't have to go through it alone. Collaborate with educators by joining the Elementary Social Studies Teachers group on Facebook. Can't wait to hear from you!