C3 Instructional Shifts – Shift 3: Integrate Content and Skills Purposefully

There are few ways a student can insult a teacher’s assignment more than by calling it “busy work.”  If someone refers to my assignment as “too hard,” “too easy,” or “too boring,” etc., I take little offense.  But if a student dares refer to it as “busy work,” I lose my cool.  In fact, I have been known to launch into a diatribe from the mere mention of those two words.

To help my students avoid making the mistake of mislabeling anything we do in my class as such, I have begun asking them the purpose of any assignments we complete.

Overall, I think this is a good practice for all teachers.  Classrooms can sometimes degenerate into stale pedagogical practices, where we don’t even recognize the purpose of the assignment.  Continuing to do something just because that is the way it has always been done doesn’t hold up in other aspects of life, so why would we let it persist in teaching?

A conscientious effort to articulate the purpose in our assignments will not only cause students to see more value in them, it also causes us to better reflect on the skills we are trying to foster.  By doing this, we are strengthening our instruction in line with the third C3 Instructional Shift: “Integrate Content and Skills Purposefully.” This shift states that, “[t]he notion of content as separate from skills is an artificial distinction. Skills, particularly those in the disciplines, exist for the purpose of developing content knowledge.” Sometimes teachers feel the pressure to hurl information at students without considering the disciplinary skills they need to be learning.  As obvious as it may sound, we need to remember that learning history and learning historiographical skills should be one in the same, not treated as separate entities.

Though the stereotype persists, the social studies are not classes that revolve around a lecturer, or the “sage on the stage.”  Each discipline has a particular skillset that cannot be acquired by simply listening to a lecturer nor from rote memorization.  In history, if we are to truly understand historical processes, we must also acquire the appropriate historian toolkit.  The same applies to learning political science, economics, etc.

Overall, I think this will result in a new conceptual understanding of the social studies subjects – as classes revolving around developing skills and, of course, students ready to be active in the C3’s three Cs: college, career, and civic life.