Teaching English Language Arts Skills in Social Studies

Graduation is a week away, and I am currently in the process of job-hunting.  I have applied to many humanities positions in nearby school districts.  The idea of simultaneously teaching both my content areas, English language arts and social studies, has always appealed to me a great deal.

During my student teaching I was able to teach ELA concepts in my seventh grade social studies classes.  This already happens organically because there is a lot of reading and writing in this content area.  I wanted their social studies class to connect directly with what the students were working on in their English classes.  My mentor teacher and I met with the head of the English department to talk about how we could build on what they were doing in their English classes.  This interdepartmental collaboration was really successful and a great experience.

One thing students are learning about is how to identify the author’s purpose.  They are being taught how to differentiate between persuade, inform, and entertain.  I was able to incorporate this concept into their social studies readings.  When I gave students primary source documents, I would ask them to read the text and determine the author’s purpose.  This gave students additional opportunities to practice this skill and to apply it in a new context.

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Here is a CER poster that explains the method of writing.

The English department is also having students write CER responses.  CER stands for claim, evidence, and reasoning.  It is a format that students follow when writing about a text in English class.  I had students identify the author’s claim, evidence, and reasoning in various primary source documents.  I also gave students different historical perspectives on events, and asked them to come to their own conclusions and support their response.  For example, I had students read a series of primary and secondary sources on Captain John Smith and Pocahontas.  I asked students if they thought Pocahontas saved John Smith’s life or not.  They had to pick a side and then provide evidence from one of the sources along with reasoning in their own words.

In addition, there is a lot of vocabulary building in social studies.  The classroom has a word wall, and students are able to play an online game called Memrise that allows them to practice new vocabulary words of the unit.  I also have students take Cornell Notes in class which is something they also do in their English classes.  Finally, students annotate text and read with a purpose, both of which are skills they use in English class.

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This is a picture of the Cornell Notes reference tool that is featured on the classroom wall.

Making an effort to have some alignment between English and social studies promotes deeper understanding and learning of both content areas.

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Communication and Collaboration

Communication skills and collaboration are very important in the teaching field.  I possess excellent written and verbal communication skills which help me to be an effective teacher and coworker.

I have been an active participant  in PLCs in both my content areas, English language arts and social studies.  It has been a great experience that allows me to practice lesson planning with other teachers, goal-setting, and calibrating our assessments.  We also collect and discuss data on student progress, and identify effective and ineffective practices.  Additionally, I have been a part of all-staff meetings where I was able to work with teachers in other content areas.  I am well-versed in productively collaborating with my peers and working as part of a team.  I love being able to share ideas with others and brainstorm solutions and strategies in a group.  I feel that everyone has strengths they can bring to the team and it is a mutually beneficial practice.  I am a solution-oriented person who utilizes all resources at my disposal.  I problem-solve with my peers before going to administration with questions and concerns.   That being said, I am comfortable communicating with my administration when necessary. I think it is very important for teachers to pursue collaboration rather than isolation which is why communication is essential.  I like to be involved and get to know everyone in the building professionally.

During my student teaching, I created a PowerPoint on one of our school-wide non-curricular day lessons, which administration shared with the whole staff.   I also was able to reach out to teachers in other content areas/departments to implement school-wide practices such as writing CERs (claim, evidence, reasoning paragraphs) to ensure alignment with other classes.  In addition, I make sure that I am enforcing school-wide rules and expectations for the sake of consistency.  Talking to other teachers about shared students helps to better address student needs.  I plan to communicate with my peers about specific individual students to better meet their needs and help them be successful.  When a student has an IEP you want to talk to their case manager (usually the SE teacher) to see what accommodations and supports the student needs.  You also want to talk to the other teachers who share the same student and see what is and is not working in regards to the student– share successes and challenges.This personalized touch will foster greater academic achievement and engagement.  I am very interested in inter-departmental collaboration, for example teaching WWII while another class is reading The Diary of Anne Frank.  I am supportive of school-wide initiatives and expectations and do my part to enforce them.  As a student teacher, I communicated with parents through email, phone calls, letters/postcards home, and meetings in-person.  I will build positive relationships with the families of my students and actively communicate with them.  I want parents to know that together we are a team that want their student to be successful.  In my experience, parents were happy that I reached out and eager to work with me to address any challenges and to celebrate successes.  Research shows that family involvement increases student achievement and reduces dropout rates.  I make it a priority to be respectful to everyone I encounter, staff, parents, and students.  I flourish in positive work environments where everyone is treated with kindness and understanding.

In order for students to learn, they need to be in a positive learning environment that they feel safe taking academic risks in.  I will ensure that there is mutual respect between myself and the students, as well as among the students themselves.  I will not allow students to negatively impact the learning of others.  This is something I take very seriously and address immediately.  I am a strong supporter of inclusion when it is appropriate. In my own classroom, I utilize scaffolding and differentiation to meet the needs of students of all different ability levels.  I think it’s important for all students to work with peers of different ability levels to prepare them for the workplace, inclusion is mutually beneficial.  I also think that when there are SE and ELL students in gen ed classrooms they work harder.  It also allows other students to take on a leadership role when helping others.  Inclusion may not be appropriate for all students because there is no one size fits all in education, but if they can be successful in a gen ed classroom with supports in place and scaffolding and differentiation of content, I think it is a great placement.  This is part of honoring the least restrictive environment and providing educational equity.

My philosophy of student discipline is to work preemptively to correct issues before they happen. In my classroom, I clearly outline all expectations with my students before each activity so that students know how to be successful, rather than guessing what I expect. This communication with students is key to effective classroom management.  I strongly believe in fostering positive relationships with students at the start of the year and throughout the year.  I find that when you have good relationships with your students you have fewer disciplinary problems. However, if or when inappropriate behaviors escalate, I have a consistent system which I like to use with my students. Students are always given warnings before they receive discipline, this honors students ability to correct their mistakes. If a student receives three warnings within a class period, they receive a step, at this point I contact home and involve parents in the problem solving process.  I contact parents before I refer students to the office because often, the problem can be solved with a simple conversation. Parents appreciate hearing from the teacher before they hear from the principal. I contact home three times before I write a referral. Parents are always well aware of their student’s disciplinary issues before they are sent to administration.  I listen to student concerns and thoughts so they know that I value and respect them as individuals and that I do not hold grudges against students for their mistakes.  Each day is a fresh start as part of the growth mindset I aim to instill in my students.   I also make it a priority whenever possible to have private conversations with students rather than calling them out and embarrassing them in front of all their peers.  In summary, I have effective communication skills and will continue to pursue growth in this area.

Assessments and Data

In my student teaching internship, I assessed students in a variety of ways.  These included informal and low stakes assessments, formative and summative assessments.  I did a unit on the American Revolution with my seventh grade social studies classes.  The formal pre- and post-assessments align with the central focus and essential question of the whole lesson sequence (Students are identifying cause and effect relationships between the events leading to the American Revolution. Their essential question is “What caused each revolutionary moment, and what effect did that moment have on the road to revolution?”).  It also aligns with two Washington state grade level expectations for social studies; GLE Social Studies 4.2.1 “Understands and analyzes how individuals and movements have shaped Washington State or world history” as well as GLE Social Studies 4.3.2 “Analyzes multiple causal factors that shape major events in Washington State or world history”.  The assessment asks students to identify three causes and effects (of their choosing) that led to the American Revolution, and then asks them to identify the four key events that are the focus of the lesson sequence (Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, Lexington & Concord, and Sugar Act/Liberty Incident).

The following bar graph  shows the pre-assessment scores (blue) and the post-assessment scores (orange) for each student.  The pre-assessment was taken at the beginning of the lesson sequence (Lesson 1) and the same assessment was given as a post-assessment (end of lesson 5).  I was very transparent with the students and told them the pre-assessment is identical to the post-assessment.  I made it clear that I was not trying to trick or surprise them and instead wanted to set them up for success. This data shows that all students made significant gains.

Graph 1

The bar graph below shows the class average on the pre-assessment compared to the post-assessment.  The class average on the pre-test was 17.69%.  The class average on the post-test was 74.70%.  This is class growth of 57.01% between the pre-assessment and the post-assessment.

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All students scored highest on the Boston Massacre question and on their cause and effect question if they used the Boston Massacre as the event.  I believe this is due to Lesson 3 in which we spent a lot of time discussing the event in detail and then students did a blame ranking activity individually and in small groups.  This was followed up by a whole class discussion.  This was clearly effective in helping students remember the four groups involved in the Boston Massacre and in identifying the cause and effect relationship between events connected to it.  Students commonly confused the Sugar Act and the Boston Tea Party.  Both events involved taxes which caused students to get them mixed up.  I didn’t expect this because I thought the names made it obvious (Boston Tea Party involves a tax on Tea, Sugar Act was a tax on goods with sugar), but the data clearly shows that I did not effectively create a distinction between the two events in the minds of my students.  The whole class scored highest on the parts of assessment that involved the Boston Massacre.  This shows that the ranking activity in Lesson 3 was helpful to student understanding and knowledge of the event as well as the cause and effect within it.  This unit came at the end of my student teaching.  If I was there for longer, I would have used this data to inform future instruction.  It is clear that I need to clarify some of the content before moving on.

In my future classroom, I plan to collect and use data in the same way I did during my student teaching to best meet the needs of my students.