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.


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.

Cornell Notes.jpg

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.


Representation Matters: The Need for Diverse Authors and Characters in English Language Arts Classrooms



“Exposure to other kinds of stories and storytellers will prepare them for the worlds they have yet to encounter, our children look toward a future in which they will be well versed in dealing across linguistic, cultural, and national boundaries or they will be left behind.” -Christopher Myers

“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength” – Maya Angelou

What is missing?

Diversity in all forms is greatly underrepresented in the current English language arts curriculum.  In classrooms of growing diversity, it becomes increasingly important that texts are relevant and that students can identify with and relate to the readings. “The A.P. Recommended Reading list, a compilation of all books that have appeared on A.P. Literature Exams since 1973, is primarily composed of realistic fiction books written by male authors who are white Americans or Western European” (Nakai & Rebitzer, 2015).  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of white students in American public schools has dropped to fifty percent and is expected to continue to decline.  At the same time, the numbers of minority groups have been increasing.   In other words, white students are no longer the majority and the student populations of our schools are only going to become more diverse in the future.  The National Center for Education Statistics expands on this finding; “Trends in immigration and birth rates indicate that soon there will be no majority racial or ethnic group in the United States—no one group that makes up more than fifty percent of the total population. Already almost one in ten U.S. counties has a population that is more than fifty percent minority”.  White students being the majority can no longer be used as a justification for the typical English language arts class reading list.  The NCES also reports that in 2014, the number of English language learners in American public schools was on the rise and comprised 9.3 percent of all students, or 4.5 million.  Additionally, the NCES has found that in the same year, 6.5 million students or thirteen percent of all students in U.S. public schools are receiving special education services.  What is being read in the classroom needs to adjusted to fit the needs of the changing student population.

Responding to Changes in Demographics

Based on the aforementioned statistics, it is clear that the classroom population is not predominantly white males, so it doesn’t make sense that our reading list is.  If teachers are only assigning works by and about white men, they are doing students a great disservice.  Learners are being deprived of other worldviews and perspectives such as those of people of color and women.  Exploring written works that include a variety of views, genres, and voices is an integral part of becoming a knowledgeable participant in society.  The first NCTE standard states that “Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works” (NCTE, 2012).  Furthermore, all students can benefit from reading about people and experiences that differ greatly from their own.    It fosters better understanding of narratives that are often overlooked and neglected in the English language arts classroom.  One of the guiding values of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is to prepare students “to participate fully as informed, productive members of society”.  Educators need to incorporate a variety of texts from the past and present written by and about diverse people into their teaching practice so that students can be well-rounded readers and ultimately informed citizens in a globalized world.

The Psychological Value of Reading Fiction

A social psychology study conducted in 2013 found that students become more empathetic through the reading of literary fiction.  “This psychological awareness carries over into the real world, which is full of complicated individuals whose inner lives are usually difficult to fathom…characters disrupt reader expectations, undermining prejudices and stereotypes. They support and teach us values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding those who are different from ourselves” (Chiaet, 2013).  These findings that confirm the social influence fiction can have on readers.  This concept has been used to justify reading programs in prisons and to help autistic children develop better communication and relationship-building skills.  Fiction can be used as a socialization tool in the classroom.

Fiction’s Impact on the Human Brain

A 2014 study conducted by neuroscientists found that when reading fiction, the same parts of the brain are activated as in a real-life experience.  At a neurobiological level, the reader is living vicariously through the character (Bergland, 2014).  Theory of Mind is the concept of cognitive processes in which individuals are aware of and comprehend the mental state, actions, motivations of themselves and others.  It is essentially a combination of empathy and metacognition.  The hope is that “The reader, hopefully, is drawn into the story and imagines herself in the shoes of the hero, taking on the main character’s gender, ethnicity, values, and quests” (Yokota, 2015).  When students take the time to consider where other individuals are coming from, they are better able to relate to them and have a positive, collaborative relationship with them.  Research on this topic has shown that “exposure to narrative fiction can improve theory of mind and someone’s ability to understand what other people are thinking, feeling, and doing” (Bergland).  This is a life skill that has applications outside of the classroom for students.  Seeking to understand others and embracing differences is part of having a positive culture in the classroom.

Stories as an Educational Tool

Stories are often used as a tool for teaching children values, morals, and manners.  This concept can be applied to secondary students with more groundbreaking concepts.  Educators want to provide an inclusive education to students and provide a safe learning environment in which everyone feels valued.  Books are a means of learning about others.  They also inspire personal reflection and introspection.  Stories have the ability to challenge negative stereotypes and lead readers to develop deeper understanding, awareness and acceptance of differences, diversity, and disabilities (Gilmore & Howard, 2016).  Students in classrooms today will be a part of the future.  They will be expected to collaborate with diverse individuals in larger society as adults.  It is in their best interest to become comfortable with and accepting of diversity in all its forms; racial, ethnic, religious, ability, sexuality, gender identity, and countless others.

Why is Representation Important?

The writers and texts read in class should reflect the diversity of our student population.  Representation is very important, especially to impressionable youth who are in the process of developing their own identities in every sense of the word.  When students are exposed to only one type of book in their public-school education, it is easy for them to believe that these limited selections are representative of literature as a whole.  If readers have no connection with an author or character, they are less likely to enjoy reading or to identify themselves as readers.  In contrast, if students are introduced to a wide variety of stories, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated.  Researcher David Denby studied English classrooms in several public high schools and found that those reading literature of diverse authors with diverse characters experience great gains in student achievement as well as positive learning outcomes.  “Students became passionately involved through creative assignments and fiery classroom debates. Books, one of our oldest technologies, helped connect them to different experiences, cultures and ideas with greater depth” (America, 2016).  This best practice is part of culturally responsive teaching (Griner & Stewart, 2012).  Providing diverse reading selections and choices in the classroom will promote greater student interest and involvement.   “Our interest in diverse forms of storytelling and content can be thought of as an essential component of creating a sense of global citizenship” (Yokota).  Exploration of diverse narratives in the classroom will promote a sense of community and interconnectivity.  The classroom can be a safe place to discuss cultural pluralism and issues concerning social justice.

Authentic Representation

            It is important to note that it is important to not just simply have the presence of diversity, but to have authentic representation of diversity.  Poorly executed representation can do more harm than good.  Teachers do not want to select texts that perpetuate negative stereotypes.  This is why incorporating the works of diverse authors is so important—who better to tell stories than those of a similar background and experiences.  Students will be able to recognize faithful representation of individuals they relate to.

Fear Not, this is Not a Call to Abandon Beloved Classics

This is not to say that we should remove the beloved classics such as Don Quixote, The Odyssey or Beowulf from the classroom, only that we should also strive to diversify our course readings.  It is true that students are free to seek out books that are representative of their culture and ethnicity in their free time.  That being said, when we exclude certain writers and stories from the curriculum, we are prioritizing select voices over others.  Including diverse authors and stories prevents students from being led to believe that literary works of non-Western writers are insignificant or irrelevant.  If only works from the distant past are read, it implies to students that contemporary works have no value.  Allowing students to read young adult fiction or analyze autobiographical music lyrics makes narratives fresh and relevant to kids.

Armed with This Knowledge, Educators Can Make a Positive Impact on Students

It is clear that reading literary fiction has great power and potential to profoundly impact students.  This necessitates that teachers armed with this knowledge ensure what they read in their classrooms promotes inclusivity, social justice, and a positive learning environment where everyone feels valued and represented.

Implications for Future Lessons and Our Narrative Unit

I propose that in upcoming units, we are more mindful of our population and of representing them in the texts we choose.  As part of my classroom’s narrative unit we will be exploring works of authors and stories of characters who reflect our community.  There will be a list of books that honor the diversity in the classroom that students can choose from.  The unit will conclude with students writing their own personal narratives in their authentic voices.  The goal of the unit is for students to not only understand narratives but to feel empowered and develop empathy and understanding of others.


Bergland, C. (2014). Can Reading a Fictional Story Make You More Empathetic? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201412/can-reading-fictional-story-make-you-more-empathetic.

Chiaet , J. (2013). Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/novel-finding-reading-literary-fiction-improves-empathy/.

Gilmore, L., & Howard, G. (2016). Children’s Books that Promote Understanding of Difference, Diversity and Disability. Journal of Psychologists & Counsellors in Schools26(2), 218-251. doi:10.1017/jgc.2016.26

Griner, A. C., & Stewart, M. L. (2013). Addressing the Achievement Gap and Disproportionality Through the Use of Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices. Urban Education48(4), 585-621. doi:10.1177/0042085912456847

Nakai, A., & Rebitzer, E. (2015). To Kill a Love of Reading: English Reading Lists Need More Diversity. Verde Magazine. Retrieved from http://verdemagazine.com/to-kill-a-love-of-reading-english-reading-lists-need-more-diversity

Yokota, J. (2015). WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN?. Reading Today32(6), 18-21.

(2016, September 12). Reading, a Social Good. America. p. 5.


Suggested Narratives

Theme for English B  by Langston Hughes

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

March: Book 1 by Andrew Aydin and John Lewis




How do we meet the needs of all our students in a diverse classroom?

A single classroom will likely have a combination of general education, ELL, exceptional, and SE students all together.  This means there are many different learners with diverse needs.  This can be addressed through the use of research-based instructional practices.  In other words, utilizing methods and tools that have proven successful.  The wide range of student abilities necessitates the use of scaffolding and differentiation.  Teachers ultimately want to be as effective as possible.  Meeting this goal requires changing and adapting instruction to best meet the needs of students.  Educators should aim to have classrooms that are learner centered.  Instructors need to make it a priority to create a positive learning community in their classrooms where all students feel safe taking academic risks.  If students are not comfortable making mistakes, they will not learn and grow.  There are many instructional strategies teachers can make use of to meet the needs of all their students.

When introducing new information, teachers need to segment or chunk the content into smaller pieces to make it easier for students to understand.  The teacher should model procedures, expectations, and strategies for their students so they are set up for success.  Students need opportunities for independent practice.  Additionally, teachers need to include frequent reviews throughout their units and the entire school year.

One method teachers can employ is the use of personalized agendas.  Each student is given an agenda, a list of tasks they need to complete within a certain amount of time.  Every student will not have the exact same tasks as they are modified to fit the student.  The student has the freedom to choose what order they will do the work in, and the teacher can monitor and circulate around the room conducting informal assessments along the way.  It is important for teachers to check student understanding on a regular basis.   Assessments are an essential component of effective teaching practices.  Teachers need to make their tests learner-friendly and incorporate a chance for students to revise and improve their thinking.  For example, after grading the test the teacher may allow students to do test corrections for partial credit.  Teachers should use different kinds of assessments, such as written, verbal, projects, and presentations.  Assessments should be used to inform their instruction and lesson planning.  Another method is orbital studies.  In this strategy, the students investigate a topic they select themselves independently.  The topics come from the curriculum.  The teacher provides guidance and coaching.  Tiered activities are another form of differentiation.  Figure one explains the process of creating a tiered activity.  It allows for all students to learn the essential knowledge and skills.  It is a way of helping students who are struggling and students who are excelling simultaneously.  This helps ensure that all students are learning and are getting the right amount of challenge.  In addition to individual learning, cooperative can also be beneficial.  Students will encounter diversity in their adult lives, so working with their peers prepares them for their futures.  They will have to cooperate with their team and come up with solutions as a group.

Tiered Activity

Figure 1

Having a diverse classroom should be viewed as an asset rather than a burden.  With so many different minds in one classroom there is ample opportunity for sharing and learning from each other.

The Teacher’s Toolkit

EDU 6526 Survey of Instructional Strategies – Course Meta-Reflection

It is important for educators to be equipped with a variety of tools to most effectively teach.  These tools can take many forms including strategies, instructional models, and techniques.  Teachers have many methods at their disposal from many different resources such as their teacher preparation program content, their coworkers, and the vast amount of literature that exists on teaching.  Following a teaching model may seem limiting, but exemplary educators are able to make them their own while still maintaining the essence of what makes the model effective.  They are also able to enlist an assortment of approaches so that both the teacher and their students stay active and engaged.  We know there is no one-size-fits-all in education, and within any model an instructor uses there will be accommodations and modifications when appropriate.

Student-centered approaches are a particularly potent device in the teacher’s arsenal.  This tactic takes into account the diverse needs of students.  Essentially the teacher personalizes and tailors instruction to accommodate student needs, level of ability and skills, and areas of interest. In today’s classrooms that include ELL, SE, SA and students with IEPs alongside general education students, this is especially relevant This approach involves scaffolding and differentiation content and support so that all students are learning and growing.  This method is characterized by equity, students all get what they need to achieve learning outcomes.  Teachers empower their students to take ownership of their learning and advocate for themselves.  An illustration showing this method can be found in figure one.


Figure 1

A fundamental question teachers must frequently ask themselves is “are students learning?”.  If the answer is not clearly affirmative, then the teacher should use this opportunity to delve into their tool box and try something different.   Sometimes learning is happening but not at the level we were hoping to achieve.  In this situation it is important to consider Bloom’s taxonomy of learning.  We as teachers need to evaluate where students fall so that we can help facilitate deeper, lasting learning.  It can also be helpful with older students to ask them to self-evaluate where they are.  A visual representation of Bloom’s ideology can be found in figure two.


Figure 2

Teachers should not waste their own time or their students time.  This means that educators should give meaningful assignments and then provide detailed feedback.  There is no point in giving students “busy work” which will not assist any learning.  By the same token, if you are not willing to provide responses to student work, then the student will not know what they did well and what they need to work on.  Ultimately, a grade with no explanation is not helpful to learners.  This means more work for teachers, but also student growth and progress.

In a similar fashion, any type of assessment should be strategic.  The students should be able to look at their score on a test and see what they did well on and what they need to work on.  Teachers should look at their students test scores as a whole as their own form of self-evaluation.  If a lot of students missed the same question, then that is a sign that the teacher needs to re-teach that specific piece of content.   Perhaps this means the teacher will also decide to change their approach since their initial attempt was not effective.  Some strategies we looked at over the course of this quarter included asking students questions, making a distinction between concepts and facts, and using advance organizers.  All of these can be incorporated into a unit of study.

Teachers understand  the value of educating the whole student, in other words not only meeting their academic needs but also their emotional needs.  Teachers must help students develop good citizenship and the ability to work effectively with others.  We want our students to be equipped with important life skills for their futures.  Good teachers recognize and take into consideration the different personalities, intelligences and abilities that coexist within their classrooms.  They foster a sense of community and make their rooms a safe and inclusive place of learning for everyone.

This course caused me to reflect upon my experiences as a student, both good and bad.  I thought about teachers I have had that I want to be like and some others that serve as examples of what I do not want to be.   This class has given me yet another lens to examine effective educators.


Dean, C. B., Pitler, H., Stone, B., & Hubbell, E. R. (2012). Classroom Instruction That Works Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, Dean, Ceri B.; Hubbell, Elizabeth Ross; Pitler, Howard; Stone, Bj (2012-01-05). Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (2nd ed.). McREL.

Joyce, B., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of teaching (9th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Students at the Center: Teaching and Learning in the Era of the Common Core. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.studentsatthecenter.org/about

Using a Learning Taxonomy to Align Your Course. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ucdenver.edu/faculty_staff/faculty/center-for-faculty-development/Documents/Tutorials/Assessment/module2/index.htm

Meeting the Diverse Needs of our Students

How can a teacher foster student self-esteem?

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who was interested in figuring out what motivates people.  He conducted a lot of research in his life about human potential as well as mental health.  He came up with a hierarchy of human needs.  You can see an illustration of this concept in figure one.  The needs are arranged with the most basic at the base all the way up to the peak, which is self-actualization and meeting one’s full potential.  Individuals cannot progress to the next stage before having their needs met at the previous level.


figure 1

The very first level of needs is physiological. These are basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and clothing.  Unfortunately not all of our students get these needs fully met, but when they come to school they can get breakfast and lunch, and will be in a warm building.  The school also has resources and counseling available for students and their families that are struggling to get these base needs met.

The next level is safety and security.  Teachers want school to be a safe and stable place for all students.  This is why school and student safety is such a high priority for educators and administrators.  We want all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or socio-economic status to be able to come to school without fear.  Teachers want their schools to have a positive climate for all students and to be a welcoming place for all learners.  This is why so many schools have put anti-bullying campaigns into action and have worked on PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports) lessons that aim to make the school and inclusive place.  Through PBIS, they emphasize the importance of all students being respectful, responsible, and safe.  At my school, we give students golden tickets (they can be entered into a raffle for rewards/prizes) for good behavior, which includes helping others and being good citizens.  My school also periodically gives something called Second Step lessons which were designed by the Committee for Children.  These lessons contain information about stress management, coping skills, bullying, staying in control, disagreeing respectfully, giving and receiving support, working well with others, identifying future goals, and prejudice.  Key components of these valuable lessons are posted around the school on posters, and example of one such poster can be found in figure two.

Second Step Poster

figure 2

The third level is love and belonging.  We want all students to feel like they are a meaningful part of the larger school community.  Teachers want students to make friends, and have kind interactions with their peers.  Teachers can ensure that their classrooms are a positive learning environment that has a positive learning community.

The fourth level is self-esteem.  As teachers, we want to foster feelings of self-worth among our students.  This level is so important because it is absolutely necessary for reaching the final level—self-actualization.  “The important message is that students can learn not only academic content and social skills, but how to become integrated selves that reach out into the world and reciprocally contribute to and profit from their transactions with it” (Joyce, p.301).  Educators understand the importance of going beyond content and curriculum, of educating the whole child.  This means meeting their emotional needs and teaching them skills that are not purely academic.

Students need to gain independence and strong self-concepts.  This is accomplished through self-actualizing behavior.  In practice, this is the act of reaching out to the environment with confidence that there will be a fruitful interaction.  A person who is self-actualized seeks out opportunities for growth and ultimately helps others develop as well.  They have strong coping skills, and are not focused on merely surviving.  They feel good about themselves and about their lives.  It is important that we as teachers make it a priority to lead by example for our students.  “If we model activity and reaching out toward the world, we encourage active states” (Joyce, p.310).  I personally make a great effort to encourage my students, and also to show them how I am working on improving myself.  I share my love of reading and learning with them.  I talk about higher education, and my experiences in college.  I want them to feel empowered to accomplish great things, and meet their full potential.  Positive relationship building and sharing our excitement for self-growth will encourage students to seek self-improvement as well.  “In general, positive human relations are related to positive human behaviors” (Rogers).  Teachers displaying empathy and asking students for feedback are ways they can make their classrooms positive learning environments for everyone.  Studies have found that “for students identified as having learning difficulties, the teacher’s level of interpersonal facilitation was the single most important contributor to the amount of gain on all outcome measures” (Rogers).  This means that teachers have a great deal of influence upon their students and their achievement levels.  When students feel valued by their teachers, and have an affirmative relationship with them, they do much better academically.

It is clear that Maslow’s work is very relevant to educators and students, and something we should be mindful of in our practice.


Joyce, B., Weil M., & Calhoun, E. (2014). Models of Teaching. 9th Ed. Allyn & Bacon.

Rogers, Carl. 1970. Teacher Effects Research on Student Self-Concept.





Allowing Students to Grow

How practical are multiple intelligence activities?

Teachers have a tendency to focus on the educational and intellectual needs of their students, but it is also necessary to take students feelings and emotions into account.  This is one reason why relationship building with students is so important.  There are certain feelings that can negatively impact student learning.  A perfect example of this is stress which is detrimental to short term memory.  According to Medina,  “Stressed people don’t do math very well. They don’t process language very efficiently. They have poorer memories, both short and long forms. Stressed people do not generalize or adapt old pieces of information to new scenarios as well as non-stressed individuals. They can’t concentrate. In almost every way it can be tested, chronic stress hurts our ability to learn” (Medina, p.65).  Clearly, emotions are something teachers need to consider to ensure their students are acquiring knowledge.

Teaching is commonly thought of as teachers broadcasting information and students receiving it.  However, if all teachers did was lecture and talk at the students there would be very little learning occurring.  It is essential that students be active participants in their own learning.

In non-directive teaching approaches the teacher takes on the role of a learning facilitator, rather than decision-maker.   They cultivate an ideal learning environment and provide guidance.  This type of teaching lets students know that teachers are not the only one with answers, and that everyone has something of value to contribute.  This model is designed to help students become more effective, better at self-evaluation, and to achieve greater personal integration.  The teacher gives students the freedom to come up with their own problems and solutions.  This self-directed learning process can be very effective.

Joyce describes four components of this teaching model.  The first aspect involves the teacher.  The educator must exhibit genuine interest in the students, and be friendly and responsive.  Secondly, the teacher should maintain neutrality and not criticize or judge the students’ feelings.  the third component is that students can freely express their feelings within reason.  The fourth component is that the teacher does not pressure or coerce the students in any way.  They avoid indicating any personal bias.  In this way, students have the chance to grow.

The five phases of this model are:

  1. Defining and helping the situation
  2. Exploring the problem
  3. Developing insight
  4. Planning and decision making
  5. Integration


Gardner came up with the groundbreaking theory of multiple intelligences.  They are visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic, and logical-mathematical.  He emphasizes the importance of teaching content in a variety of ways.  An image illustrating the components of his theory can be found in figure one.  Everyone has different strengths which can be best utilized in specific  ways.  That being said, it is good for students to get accustomed to challenges and improve in the process.  Gardner says ” When children are young, we should encourage well roundedness. As they grow older, it becomes more important to discover and cultivate areas of strength. Livelihood and happiness are more likely to emerge under those circumstances”.  In non-directive teaching, students are encouraged to pursue their interests and ask questions.  This can serve as a tool to improve areas of strength as well as weakness.  They are also required to evaluate what they know and what they do not know, which informs their own inquiry and investigation.


Figure 1

Everyone has different learning preferences and it would be impossible for a teacher to simultaneously cater to all the diverse wants of their entire classroom in a single lesson.  There is also evidence that suggest this is not best practice even if it were reasonable.  “When instructional style matches the nature of the content, all learners learn better, regardless of their differing preferences for how the material is taught” (Brown, p.146).While teachers may choose to alternate between different teaching styles that suit the various learning styles and material, students possess the lion’s share of the responsibility for their own learning.  It is important that students take charge of their own learning.  Being able to identify the knowledge you need and to independently pursue it is a valuable life skill.  Teachers need to allow students to struggle and make mistakes.  Deeper learning occurs when the students expend effort trying to puzzle it out themselves instead of having it spoon fed to them by the teacher.  Mistakes teach us significant lessons and are opportunities for learning.  Students need to take responsibility and learn to advocate for themselves.



Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Joyce, B., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching (9th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Medina, J. (2014). Brain rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.

Ostwald-Kowald, T. (n.d.). Understanding Your Student’s Learning Style: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Retrieved from http://www.connectionsacademy.com/blog/posts/2013-01-18/Understanding-Your-Student-s-Learning-Style-The-Theory-of-Multiple-Intelligences.aspx

Edwards, O. (n.d.). An interview with Howard Gardner, Father of Multiple Intelligence.

Cooperative Learning as a Means of Socially Constructing Knowledge

What is meant by “knowledge is socially constructed”?

As teachers, we cannot control all the outside factors that influence students and their learning.  However, we can control what happens within the walls of our classrooms.  Educators have the power to cultivate a safe learning environment and foster a positive community of learners.  They can ensure their classroom is characterized by respect and compassion, and that everyone is comfortable sharing ideas.

Incorporating cooperative learning into your lesson plans may seem daunting, but can be done in a number of ways.  Some differences between a typical classroom and one with cooperative learning is illustrated in figure one.


Figure 1

This may result in a significant culture change in your classroom, but with the certain gains in student learning it is worth the effort.  One of the goals of education is to facilitate the growth of students who ideally will someday become active contributing members of society.  Dewey argues that school experiences should more accurately reflect real life.  “In the layers of a complex world, the students of today need to possess not only intellectual capabilities but also the ability to function effectively in an environment that requires working with others to accomplish a variety of tasks” (Dean).  It is important for kids to learn how to work and play well with others because when they enter the real world as working adults they will be expected to collaborate and problem-solve with others.  This is why there was been a push in recent years to include non general education students (such as English language learners and students receiving special education services) within the classrooms alongside their peers.  Students who are not a part of the general education population often experience feelings of isolation and alienation as a result of being seperated from the rest of the school.  It is also a disservice to the general education students because as an adult they will need to posses the knowledge and skills to have fruitful and constructive interactions with others regardless of their differing development or abilities.  It is mutually beneficial for all students to work with others who are different and to build positive relationships with them.  Having everyone together as much as possible, in the least restrictive environment, increases the sense of community among the students.  Figure two shows some concrete ways in which instruction changes in this type of learning process.


Figure 2

Studies have found that cooperative learning techniques consistently cause great gains in student achievement.  Cooperative learning is a practice backed by data.


Figure 3

Figure three shows the difference in achievement in a traditional classroom compared to a cooperative learning classroom structure.  It leads to gains in both white and African American students.  The gains are even more substantial for African American students.  Utilizing cooperative learning can be one way of working towards closing the achievement gap among students.

Cooperative learning allows students to learn from and help one another.  Working as part of team in the classroom setting helps kids develop problem-solving and social skills that are fundamental to their futures.  Tasks that are completed cooperatively tend to motivate students more than solo assignments, while still holding all group members accountable. “Interacting with one another produces cognitive as well as social complexity, creating more intellectual activity that increases learning when contrasted with solitary study” (Joyce, p. 234).  This shows that cooperative learning results in higher-quality learning.  Figure four shows some  additional aspects of the cooperative learning model.

Cooperative Learning

Figure 4

The statement that knowledge is socially constructed is connected to this idea of cooperative learning.  Learning is a very social process, which is why cooperative learning can be a great tool for educators.  Social progress has roots in schools where social order is maintained.  Learning relies heavily on social interaction with others.  Students are a culmination of many outside influences inside and outside their schools.  They have ideas and thoughts of value to contribute.  Students can have useful insights that the teacher did not consider.  When the focus shifts from the teacher to the students, everyone, including the educator, learns together.


Dean, C. B., Pitler, H., Stone, B., & Hubbell, E. R. (2012). Classroom Instruction That Works Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, Dean, Ceri B.; Hubbell, Elizabeth Ross; Pitler, Howard; Stone, Bj (2012-01-05). Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (2nd ed.). McREL.

Joyce, B., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of teaching (9th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Kagan, S., & Kagan, M. (2009). Kagan Cooperative Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing

Social Constructivism. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://gsi.berkeley.edu/gsi-guide-contents/learning-theory-research/social-constructivism/