Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Effect of Eliminating Social Studies and Science Classes

"Who knows about the Titanic disaster?" I eagerly asked my 7th graders. I had selected this story because I was sure that they would have quite a bit of background knowledge about this tragedy from 1912. I was wrong. A few students raised their hands, and the extent of their knowledge was that there was a ship that sank.

Sadly, I find this to be the case quite often as I select passages for my students to read. They are lacking in background knowledge, which makes it more challenging for them to make inferences and understand what they are reading. They are unable to make connections to information that they don't know. I certainly don't blame the students. I don't blame the teachers. I don't blame the administrators. I blame this system that wants to test kids to death, grade schools on the test results, and threaten the jobs of the hard working teachers and administrators if the scores aren't up to par. Up until now, the school grades have been based on student performance in language arts and math. Therefore, time in social studies and science has been drastically reduced so that students can focus on these "critical" subject areas. But now, teachers are faced with a dilemma:

So in the long run, has anyone really benefited from the reduced time in social studies and science? I contend that they have not.

As I was reading about the new Common Core PAARC assessments, I noticed that the authors reiterated that the passages would not only test students' knowledge of the reading and writing standards, it would also test their understanding of social studies and science related material. However, THIS IS STILL UNDER THE LANGUAGE ARTS TESTING UMBRELLA! Oh joy. So all of those days/months/years of reduced social studies and science curriculum will now effect student performance on the new assessment.

So what are we going to do to combat this issue? As Kristina Smekens has stated, "We have to stuff their background knowledge bag with information." So that is just what I do with my units. I will no longer expect students to have the background knowledge needed to understand the text. I will plan to take a day or two to teach the historical or scientific context behind a story so that they are able to grasp the text.

Before we read about the Titanic, I took students on a video field trip with National Geographic.

Video Field Trip: A free resource in my TpT store. 

This provided them with the background knowledge they needed to understand our story. They moved through my unit on the Titanic beautifully, and by the end, they were able to analyze the individual factors that contributed to the sinking of the ship AND use details from the video field trip and the story to make a judgement about who to blame for the disaster.

A student analyzes the text in order to understand the chronological text structure of our story
A student analyzes the factors that contributed to the sinking of the Titanic

Now, more than ever, we HAVE to provide students with lots of opportunities to add social studies and science related information to their background knowledge bag. This is the only way to bridge some of the gaps that are an effect of eliminating these subject areas.

        My entire unit on the Titanic; available now in my TpT store!