Secondary teachers must have the ability to effectively teach in their content area. The courses in the graduate program at William and Mary provided instruction on teaching skills related to social studies, and I learned several types of lessons specific to the social studies. Also, my actual experiences in the classroom have helpful in developing this competency. Teachers must be able to demonstrate a variety of teaching skills in order to be successful in providing the highest quality instruction.

During student teaching, I found that having a good lesson plan is essential to the success of a lesson. However, it is also important to be flexible because what happens in the classroom can never fully be predicted. Designing a good lesson can also help a teacher to provide for individual differences in the classroom as well. Motivational strategies and engagement should be thought of ahead of time as well. If students can be actively engaged in a lesson, there is more of a chance that they will learn something from the lesson. Also, lessons should be designed so that students use their critical thinking skills.

Using motivational strategies and engaging students actively in learning:

I have been able to identify topics or techniques that students will find engaging. During a unit on the Renaissance, students were interested to hear about when I saw some of the paintings in person. I recounted details that I learned about the Sistine Chapel on a trip there. Hearing interesting details about Michelangelo and his work drew them in. Even just giving the students a sense of the sheer size of some of the paintings (like Botticelli’s Allegory of Spring) pulls them in. When we studied the Black Death, I knew that some of the gory details would hook students and help them to remember important information.

Interesting primary sources can be found even for topics that students are not naturally interested in. I found accounts of the interactions of people during the Crusades, such as a Muslim medical doctor’s perspective on Western style medicine. When we studied Japan’s geography, I asked students if they remembered the tsunami from March 2011. They had, and they were particularly interested in hearing about how this type of disaster has global effects today.

I have used a variety of hooks to engage students as well. Aside from the Renaissance paintings, I used a few other images as well. See my inquiry lesson for an example. For a lesson on WWII, I gave the students the staggering death statistics for the war and certain battles. For the cold war, I showed students a .gif map of North Korea that depicting the push back and forth of the opposing sides. I have found that visuals work really well to pull students in and maintain their interest in certain topics.

For a lesson on society during the Second Industrial Revolution, I asked student to create a drawing that expressed the underlying tension that was rising to the surface in the 1890s. They came up with an impressive array of drawings, and they were interested in seeing where I was going with this particularly because AP students do not typically draw in class. After they were done, I showed them Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1893) which expresses the tension of the time period.

Teaching based on planned lessons

Providing for individual differences
  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL) – http://www.udlcenter.org/ UDL is centered on the idea that a lesson should be accessible by all students. Rather than retrofitting lessons for students who need accommodations, the lesson should be designed from the beginning to work for everyone. This also means presenting information in multiple ways to take into account for different learning styles including auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.
  • Magna Carta Lesson – see accommodations section
  • During a lesson the Battle of Agincourt, I had two students come to the board to draw the English with longbows and the French with crossbows. When they were finished, they returned to their seats and I could explain the battle with a nice visual. Having two students do the drawing engaged all the students in the room because they wanted to see where it was going. Of course, the real reason that I chose those two students was that they seem to have a need to move around occasionally. They have not been diagnosed with any specific condition, to my knowledge, but they are active ninth grade boys. Instead of constantly fighting them to sit down, I figured I would harness the energy towards a useful and purposeful activity. It worked pretty well. The class enjoyed it and the boys sat still for the rest of class after that.

Using a variety of effective teaching strategies appropriate for social studies.
  • I use various styles of lessons.
  • See the Assessment page for a description of my graduate project on writing.
  • I use discussion in class, either planned or spontaneous if there is a relevant topic that students bring up to explore. See my Seminar lesson and Unit Plan for examples of discussions.
  • I use primary sources in class at least a couple of times a week. Sometimes they are short pieces, like a poem from Petrarch, section from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, or a quote from Pope Urban’s speech to the Crusaders. Sometimes they are longer like Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech, George Kennan’s long telegram, or sections from Machiavelli’s The Prince.

Promote critical thinking skills.
  • Magna Carta / U.S. Bill of Rights lesson
  • Seminar Lesson
  • Unit Plan – See the discussion questions on the Churchill speech and Kennan’s long telegram
  • Creation Stories activity – During a unit that included African kingdoms, Japan, and the American civilizations, I had the students read different creation stories from each of these areas of the world plus the Christian creation story which most of them knew. They worked in groups of four, with each member reading a different story. Then they came together to talk about the stories and answer a few questions.