Peter H. Martorella’s (2001) Teaching Social Studies in Middle
and Secondary Schools follows a similar pattern. Neither the phrase “direct instruction” nor the word “lecture” appears in the index. Little attention is given to how such teacher-centered instruction might work or what research might support such an approach. Even a short section on expository approaches turns out to supply scant advice on what such instruction might entail.
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• In Thomas L. Dynneson and Richard E. Gross’s (1999) Designing Effective Instruction for Secondary Social Studies, neither the phrase “direct instruction” nor the word “lecture” appears in the index. Nearly every sort of instruction is described, including sug- gestions for using technology, motivating students, and teaching about values. A single paragraph is devoted to giving a lecture.
• In Walter C. Parker’s (2001) Social Studies in Elementary
Education, neither the phrase “direct instruction” nor the word “lec- ture” appears in the index. By contrast, cooperative learning, cur- riculum integration, and literacy have whole chapters of their own.
• George W. Maxim’s (2003) Dynamic Social Studies for Elementary
Classrooms is the exception. He includes a chapter called “direct instruction.” While constructivism and other incongruencies are also included in this chapter, Maxim is clear about the important role of instruction wherein the teacher presents lessons to the whole class, provides immediate feedback, and monitors student performance. He is also clear that teachers need a deep under- standing of factual information if they are to be successful direct instruction teachers.
These examples clearly illustrate that teaching methods text- books in social studies are nearly silent on how to develop teacher led, teacher-centered instruction. The authors of these books are deeply influenced by the progressive legacy of student-centered instruction and they allow this influence to misrepresent social studies classrooms as student-centered, when in reality classroom observation suggests otherwise.
IS THE FAILURE TO PROMOTE TEACHER-CENTERED INSTRUCTION A PROBLEM?
Does the social studies establishment’s attachment to student- centered approaches and the rejection of teacher-centered instruc- tion cause problems? Yes, especially for beginning teachers. First- year teachers arrive each year in their classrooms ill prepared to teach. They know a few tricks. They know how to write an objective. If they are lucky, they know some of the state’s social studies stan- dards. They might understand Piaget’s stages of cognitive develop- ment and Bloom’s Taxonomy.
WHERE DID SOCIAL STUDIES GO WRONG? 104
But it soon dawns on the fledging teachers that their students come to class every day, five days a week. High school teachers often see over 100 students each day. New teachers are often assigned the most difficult students. And deportment varies greatly. Some stu- dents won’t stay in their seats. Others won’t participate in groups— especially when the teacher assigns the group members. Some stu- dents become unruly. Fights break out. Other students sit quietly, using social studies time to finish their math assignments. Many won’t work at all. Yet all look to the teacher for classroom leader- ship, subject knowledge, and classroom order—precisely the things for which most social studies teachers are not well trained. The methods they have been taught at the university—the vast majori- ty of which are the student-centered approaches stressed in the col- lege textbooks—are simply not equal to the task of real world teaching.
Where should first-year teachers turn for help? The culture of many high schools is like the TV show “Survivor.” Experienced teachers, the very teachers who could help out the beginners, often resent sharing their experiences. After all, they learned how to teach the hard way. They struggled at first. It took them several years to discover what works. Why shouldn’t today’s newcomers do the same? The rookies should be “first off the island.”
What are first-year teachers to do when the approaches taught by their professors of education fail them? For those who want to survive, the answer is simple. The new teachers have to train them- selves—often by relying on trial and error—to find methods that truly work. Many will discover the benefits of teacher-centered instruction on their own. This perhaps is the best that we could hope for, despite the fact that they will do many students little good in the first years of teaching.
Unfortunately, when the student-centered methods these teachers were taught fail, if teachers are not prepared to use the more rigorous and reliable teacher-centered methods, many begin- ning teachers will discover that they can manage a classroom bet- ter with “noninstruction.” To be sure, these teachers will monitor students, assign seatwork and homework, but ultimately they will not impart much substantive knowledge and they will not challenge
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students to learn the content found in the readings, worksheets, and homework they assign. These teachers essentially give up on either teacher or student-centered instruction and merely “keep school.” Noninstruction, after all, often leads to an orderly and tranquil classroom. It is a low-challenge environment to which many students and administrators would not object. If this hap- pens, noninstruction may go unchallenged for years. Few incentives exist for principals to weed out poor teachers who actually manage their classrooms relatively well. Either way—whether beginning teachers discover teacher-centered instruction or noninstruction— the training these teachers received at colleges and universities failed them. They are left to train themselves.
THE COVER-UP: REMEDIAL TEACHER EDUCATION Up until now, we have somehow managed to avoid the worst
consequences of failing to train teachers to use direct instruction. We have done so in part by expensive, stopgap measures: reducing class size to allow ill-trained teachers to more easily organize their classrooms so that more learning can eventually take place; assign- ing peer mentors to new teachers to pick up the slack for the edu- cation schools and train them in more effective teacher-centered instruction techniques. (Many large urban school districts have launched large-scale peer mentoring programs as a way to com- pensate for failures in teacher education.)
How long can the cover-up continue? Not forever. Most states are facing huge budget deficits and their ability to fully fund such policies as reduced class size and peer-mentoring programs may be severely limited. Moreover, by focusing on results rather than the- ories, the new accountability requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act make it difficult for colleges and universities as well as the public schools to cling to the failed approaches of the past. The widespread failure of teacher education is being exposed.
RESULTS SHOULD MATTER By holding schools and districts accountable for results, the fed-
eral No Child Left Behind Act shifts the education debate from an argument over which theory is better to an argument over what
WHERE DID SOCIAL STUDIES GO WRONG? 106
works. Unfortunately, this law currently only holds schools account- able for results in reading, math, and eventually science. Education leaders should extend these principles to social studies and should consider:
• Specifying academic levels of success for individual schools. Levels should include reference to student performance on state content tests and should take into account the value-added approaches used in some states. So, for example, high schools where 80 percent of the students are proficient or advanced in social studies at grade 8 might be classified as successful.
• Defining schools that have failed social studies programs in terms of specific student test results. So, for example, high schools where less than 80 percent of the students are proficient or advanced might be classified as failing.
• Offering financial incentives to assist failing schools that are willing to make changes. Principals and teachers in failing schools should be invited to study the programs at successful schools to see what these schools are doing right. They should imitate the schools that have been successful rather than set out in some new, experi- mental direction. If these formerly failing schools become success- ful, then they too should be eligible for additional funding to expand their programs. The cost of failure should be high. If schools fail after some specified period of time (e.g., two years?), they should be closed, reconstituted, or turned over to a charter school operator.
CONCLUSION Teacher-centered instruction is supported by a strong set of
empirical results conducted over several decades. And yet, these approaches are ignored by the leaders of the profession, as evi- denced by the content in textbooks used to train teachers and in authoritative reviews of research. To discuss teacher-centered instruction is not even considered polite conversation. Nevertheless, now is the time for social studies leaders as well as legislators and parents to acknowledge the obvious weaknesses of student-centered approaches and begin to correct the excesses. We should acknowledge that poor teaching and learning do indeed
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exist in this field and, just as important, that it is not because of teacher-led, content-focused instruction. Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress have shown repeatedly that U.S. students have scant understanding of history, geography, and civics. It is likely that this dismal state of affairs is the result of a century of ignoring content and promoting instructional practices with little chance of classroom success. The failure to improve aca- demic achievement should be placed at the doorstep of the pro- gressive theorists who brought us here and, just as important, are almost certainly incapable of leading us in a new direction. Perhaps an emphasis on results-oriented reforms can create a new energy in social studies to help us focus our attention on academic achieve- ment rather than prolonging the endless debate between the advo- cates of teacher-centered and student-centered approaches in social studies.
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