The following interview with Kathy Swan, SG Grant, and John Lee by Rozella Clyde was previously published in the 2021 November/December edition of Social Education

Q. What were your original goals when you began working on the C3 Framework?

A. When we first started working on the C3 Framework 10 years ago, we were responding to the successive tides of No Child Left Behind and the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core was especially hard on social studies teachers: by 2011, 44 states had adopted the English Language Arts and Mathematics standards, and social studies teachers were left in their wake. Although the Common Core English Language Arts (ELA) standards reaffirmed social studies as a core subject that assisted literacy instruction in grades K-12, many in the social studies community feared that these new standards would further marginalize and dilute the key purpose of social studies—to educate students for democratic citizenship. Fear was a great mobilizer, and we saw an opportunity to bring a community of social studies educators together to assert the value of social studies through the C3 Framework. Published in 2013, the framework provides guidance to states on upgrading their social studies standards around inquiry-based practices in the core disciplines of social studies. Our goals were three-fold: (1) create a powerful and compelling case for inquiry within the social studies, (2) articulate the role of key disciplinary ideas and practices (e.g., historical thinking, geographic reasoning) within inquiry, and (3) demonstrate the importance of a meaningful civic education. Ultimately, we were making the argument for social studies as a stand-alone, vital part of a well-rounded K-12 education.

Q. Has the work that is now being done around the country met or exceeded your original vision?

A. Use of the C3 Framework in upgrading state social studies standards has met our expectations. We have seen states like Vermont (2017) and Hawaii (2018) adopt the document almost whole cloth. Other states like Connecticut (2015), Illinois (2016), Iowa (2017), Michigan (2019), and Kentucky (2019) wove a version of the C3 Inquiry Arc into the fabric of their state standards. Other states like New York (2014) and California (2016) explicitly acknowledged the Inquiry Arc as a way to explore disciplinary content and skills. Although there are differences in its use, we are delighted that the document has been such a useful resource to states and that inquiry is making its way into policy conversations about meaningful social studies. If the C3 Framework has met its original mission as a standards document, it has exceeded our expectations for classroom practice. Teachers, regardless of their state standards, have mobilized around the C3 Inquiry Arc and have flocked to the Inquiry Design Model (IDM). We created IDM as a way for teachers to enact the four dimensions of the Inquiry Arc within the contexts of their classrooms. IDM has allowed the three of us to continue to tinker with inquiry in a way that directly impacts students and teachers.

Q. Looking back, how would you describe the impact of the C3 Framework and IDM on social studies education?

A. Based on the four dimensions of the C3 Framework Inquiry Arc, we developed the Inquiry Design Model (IDM). Standards are helpful as they offer teachers curricular guideposts—the key markers that students need to hit. But standards are not the same thing as curriculum. So, we created IDM as a way for teachers to craft curriculum inquiries that promote inquiry-based teaching and learning. Oriented around questions (compelling and supporting), tasks (formative and summative), and sources (primary and secondary), IDM reflects the central components of classroom inquiry. One impact of this approach is to offer a common vocabulary and a common architecture that teachers, teacher educators, and curriculum developers of all types can employ. Doing so offers these different groups opportunities to talk with one another rather than by one another. One other major impact can be seen through the Taking Informed Action element of the IDM. The questions-tasks-sources components speak to the first three dimensions of the Inquiry Arc; the Taking Informed Action piece speaks directly to Dimension 4. And it is this notion of enabling students to become civically involved that ultimately may be the most impactful element of the C3 Framework and of IDM. Social studies educators have long advocated for civic action. By making Taking Informed Action an integral part of the IDM blueprint, social studies educators can realize that goal.

Q. Looking ahead, what future uses of the C3 Framework and IDM in social studies do you envision?

A. We think the future is bright for inquiry, the C3 Framework, and the Inquiry Design Model. With the publication of the C3 Framework, we launched the C3 Teachers network to activate and energize teachers around inquiry. What started in 2013 with 10 teachers blogging their impressions of the C3 Framework has grown to a network of 15,000 teachers designing and teaching inquiry. So, what’s next? We think the next 10 years should focus on classroom implementation. Teachers have been kicking the tires of the C3 Framework and IDM trying to figure out how many inquiries they should do in a year, how to reconcile the content versus skills debate, and ways to assess inquiry. These efforts define the frontier in the inquiry revolution. Now at the C3 Teachers studios, we are working to create resources and tools that help teachers visualize inquiry in the classroom. We continue to innovate the IDM model with new design approaches and a focus on assessment. We are researching inquiry implementation to learn from those who know best, our C3 Teachers. We are working on a documentary project that illustrates the qualities of an inquiry ecosystem based in the collaborative efforts of teachers, students, and administrators. And, as always, we are listening to teachers about what works and where we need new approaches. Our hope is that, in another 10 years, inquiry will have made its way into every social studies state standards document, curriculum map, classroom, and assessment system. It is a bold dream, but the C3 Framework project faced incredible odds when it started back in 2010, so we have learned to take a chance on bold!

See A Revolution in Inquiry: The C3 Framework and the Inquiry Design Model in Social Education’s November/December issue.