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EFFECTIVE SOCIAL STUDIES CLASSROOM DISCUSSION
In social studies curriculum there is often a lot of emphasis put on knowing the small facts. Names of people, places, events, dates and the ability to recall this knowledge for state tests gains a lot of the focus of the teacher and influences the direction of the class. Teachers often put to much of an emphasis on students being able to recall these small facts. In fact, according to Kathleen Cotton in her article, "Classroom Questioning" (1998) around 60 percent of questions asked by teachers are lower cognitive questions.
If teachers focused on higher cognitive essential questions for each unit then not only would students think at a higher level, they would learn the small facts needed for the state test even better. According to Inquiry Based Learning  an effective essential question requires deep intellectual thought to answer it, as well as smaller facts to back up the answer. All social studies teachers should aim to increase the amound of higher order thinking questions that they ask each and every class. As a result, these essential questions for social studies would not only enable students to increase their declarative knowledge, but allow students to see the big picture and increase their knowledge and depth of understanding on the topic.
- Essential Questions lead to mastery understanding and allow students to have a performance perspective because they can do several thought-demanding things with the topic. (Perkins & Blythe, 1994).
The higher order questions cannot stop with simply the teacher asking them. It is imperative that social studies teachers understand,encourage and respond appropriately to student questioning. The Initiation-Response-Feedback(IRF) model of how to respond to student questions should be used. Instead of evaluating student answers, the teacher can prompt students to build upon each answer and think at higher and higher levels moving up Bloom's Taxonomy with each response.
To see where the current state of higher order thinking questions, or essential questions, existed in social studies classrooms a variety of professional sources were utilize. Cotton's article, "Classroom Questioning" was used along with the Inquiry Based Learning website mentioned previously. Another source that was used was a professional development program for teachers known as Teachers Expectations and Student Achievement, or TESA.  TESA focuses on several aspects of teaching, but one of their major focuses is on student questioning. Not only does TESA talk about the lack of equal question distribution between high and low achievers, but TESA also has lots of information about the shortage of higher order thinking questions. Also, the majority of essential questions get asked to the high achieving students, so the low achieving students are left with simple questions that often require one word responses. This inconsistency and shortage of essential questions will have to change.
Summary and Revision
Having many essential questions every class period will greatly increase student comprehension of the material. The essential question will also improve higher order thinking skills, reading and writing and many other intellectual skills that require students to analyze, synthesize and create. Having a major essential question can be very beneficial. The essential question for perhaps a unit or for the day should be displayed somewhere in the classroom because it is important for when students learn supporting information and details they can constantly be relating it to the essential question.
After studying a range of professional literature it is clear that the lack of essential questions is definitely a problem. TESA pointed out something that needs to now be addressed as well, that when teachers do utilize essential questions to access higher order thinking they often reserve those questions for their top students. Every student in the class should have access to these questions and should feel comfortable answering them.
Roughly 60 percent of questions are lower level thinking and 20 percent are procedural(Cotton) because many teachers feel that this is the material that is on State Tests. Since the state tests are often bubble in multiple choice tests, teachers ask their questions in similar formats thinking that this will increase their student's scores on the exam. However, if teachers utilized essential questions and delved into student responses to allow students to continually build on their answers, they will master the material. If students are used to answering higher order thinking questions, then the low level questions on state tests will seem easy and students will do better on the tests then before (TESA).
A final major concern that will have to be addressed was the issue of time. Teachers were worried that essential questions might take too much time and all the content for the year might not be covered. This is because if the teacher gives the answer to an essential question, then the class can move on. It takes time for students to formulate answers and to build on one anothers answers until finally the higher order thinking question is answered. However, having students answer the questions might seem like it is taking longer, but the students are actually learning and understanding the material. If the teacher spits it out, then the class has "covered" it but the students probably do not fully understand it.
Course Performance Objectives: Social Studies Essential Questions
- (1) In a social studies classroom, the student(Classroom Teacher) will be able to summarize the limitations of the Initiate, Response, Evaluation (IRE) Model of classroom discussion.
- (2) In a social studies classroom, the student(Classroom Teacher) will be able to state the advantages of the Initiate, Response, Feedback (IRF) Model of classroom discussion.
- (3) In a social studies classroom, the student(Classroom Teacher) will be able to generate higher order thinking questions and pose them to their class at least 5 times a period.
- (4) In a social studies classroom, the student(Classroom Teacher) will be able to adopt their class's responses and create delving questions to further promote deeper understanding utilizing the Initiate, Response, Feedback (IRF) model of questioning.
Enabling Objectives: The major enabling objectives revolve around the idea of what an effective discussion entails. The classroom teacher must understand that higher order discussion is more valuable then one right answer simple questioning.
Supportive Objectives: The classroom teacher must be willing reevaluate their chosen style of questioning and have the patience to impliment a new and more effective style.
Enabling Objectives: The key enabling objective is that teachers must be able to create higher order thinking questions that are clear and give students the appropriate wait time to formulate their responses. Also, the classroom teacher must fully comprehend the IRF process and be able to put in into effect properly so students can access higher order thinking responses and back up their answers with detail.
Supportive Objectives: A major supportive objective is if the classroom teacher is able to make the essential question relevant to student's lives. This will increase the student's interest and help them answer the question and assist in their retention of the information.
Enabling Objectives: There are essential two essential objectives that must be met in order to achive the overall objective 1. The teacher must understand what is a higher order thinking question and have the ability to pose the question properly. That means in order to achieve objective 1 the lesson needs to be broken down into three parts. Part 1: Learning the criteria of a higher order thinking question; Part 2: Learning how to pose the question; Part 3: Putting the two skills together
Supportive Objectives: One of the key supporting objectives is attitude, a positive attitude from the teacher will greatly increase the chance of success. Also, orating ability and providing visual aids and a proficient content knowledge base will definitely be a great help.
Enabling Objectives: For this objective, the major enabling objective is learning what the IRF model is. Thefefore, a lesson that is required should be broken up into 2 parts. One in which the techniques of IRF are taught and another where the benefits are gone over to encourage use.
Supportive Objectives: As always, attitude is a big support but even more so is cognitive ability. The student will be greatly assisted by thinking "fast on their feet" in order to delve and promote higher order thinking responses.
Types of Media
An instructional course for teachers needs to follow the same basic idea as an instructional course for students. What this means is that there are many different types of learners who learn best with different media. Therefore, the mini course on Effective Social Studies Classroom Discussion will utilize many different types of media. There will be "mini lectures", formative quizzes, a short video, supplemental reading through online articles, activities that have the class interact with the material and online websites to reinforce the material. Each sub unit will use several different types of media that best fits the purpose of the lesson and gives the class the best chance at achieving the set goals.
The Mini-Course Effective Social Studies Classroom Discussion
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