“EVERY single thing you have on flies in the face of rule #22 … Are you telling me you haven’t read our Code of Conduct?” the ruthless Principal Dwight tells middle schooler Rafe Khatchadorian in the hilarious comedy Middle School the Worst Years of My Life, based on James Patterson’s best selling book. There is a little of that Principal Dwight mentality in all of us. After all, that mindset is made for Middle School. Most of us were raised by and praised for strictly abiding by the rules, but at some point we began to realize that rules were meant to be, well refined.

As educators we can learn so much from the enduring mind of the middle schooler, with all of its complexities and shape-shifting ideologies that promise to both intrigue and challenge us along the way. And then, there is that word NO. “No Loitering, move it people! No Talking, No Laughing, No going to the bathroom“… Don’t you see Rafe, my school my rules! ” jokes the trailer for Middle School, but in truth No is probably the most communicated word associated being a middle schooler. No can be an empowering word, but in the mind of a middle schooler its sole purpose is to set limits and establish parameters. And so, our friend RAFE decides Rules Aren’t For Everyone and this is where their dull, lifeless existence ends and our fun begins.

Though young people may rebel against some of these restrictions, establishing parameters to their analytical thinking, instead of providing them free reign, helps empower students to think intentionally and deeply within and outside the classroom. For teachers, we need to think creatively about the guidelines we use in order to promote rigorous student thinking and, ultimately, empower them with a structure they can apply to interpreting their world.

Reference Table for Enduring Issues in Social Studies

The National Social Studies and the C3 Framework present unique opportunities for all educators to revive their current teaching practices, reflect on prior curricular initiatives, and infuse new creativity. What every modern educator needs is to take on standardization by reinvigorating creativity. We all teach the same content, that’s what makes it the “Common Core”, but our unique approach is what keeps things fresh and is what keeps our students interested. Creativity and inquiry-based education go hand in hand.

The National Council of the Social Studies advocates teachers cultivate learning experiences that meet performance expectations while also focusing on student needs. They also recommend that teachers build their individual classroom practice utilizing the standards-based criteria from the ten themes and social studies disciplines as their guide. Using all of these standards in concert with one another allows educators to give adequate attention to both integrated and single discipline configurations.” (NCSS, Ten Themes).

When I designed the Reference Table for Enduring Issues in Social Studies, I saw it as a concerto integrating content and skills within classroom practices. Its goal is to help students, while also guiding teacher instruction as to how to think about themes and disciplines of social studies education. In this way, it turns task-based learning into an organized historical inquiry investigation.

The Reference Table for Enduring Issues in Social Studies was designed to present both formulaic and scientific approaches to social studies concepts through establishing thought parameters. It looks strikingly scientific in nature, (but then again, social studies is a social science, right?). The reference table contains a guide of basic enduring issues categories, document analysis and writing process formulas, and smart acronyms for content dissection. The guide was designed to capture all the focal points of NCSS’ C3 Framework in one easy-to use tool. Its natural flexibility allows students to easily engage with content and fine-tune essential social studies skills. The reference table was designed to provide students with a valuable resource, as they learn how to think and how to analyze, evaluate and categorize various aspects, documents and sources in history.

Here’s how it works:

Students are given the Reference Table for Enduring Issues in Social Studies to prepare to analyze a document or set of documents.

Step 1: Table A of the reference table contains several categories of “Enduring Issues” in social studies. As a class, we discuss the three components that make an enduring issue so enduring.

  1.  Lasts a long time (multiple eras/decades in history)
  2. People (Americans) often struggle with it
  3. No easy solution (something Americans struggle with, as ideas or situation continues to evolve

Then, students are introduced to Enduring Issues in social studies through the general categories that the Reference Table for Enduring Issues in Social Studies provides. Students don’t need to memorize it, but rather become familiar.

Step 2: In order to determine the enduring issue of the document, students are given an “analysis formula,” which provides them parameters for the document analysis. Each part of the equation has associated questions to help students analyze and understand the document(s) (See Box 1: Hacking Historical Thinking). This structure also allows students to begin practicing self-questioning.

S1 + SB2 + DPM = Enduring Issue


Have students ask themselves: S1 + SB2 + DPM = EI

S1 = First, what do I SEE?

SB2 = Second, who or what is the Source? And, is there any Bias?

DPM = Third, what do I think the DeePer Meaning might be, based on the above?

EI = What are some possible Enduring Issues brought up by this document

The analysis equation provides room for students to compare sources, as well. For example:

Students are given a document set; An Iroquois Longhouse and The Bison Hunt (see photos)

  • First describe what they see (S1),
    • A long house; Iroquois live in the Northeast, made out of trees; adapted to environment
    • A Native American hunting (shooting) a poor, defenseless Bison (Bison is crying); PLAINS Indian; savage
  • Who or what is the source of the information and identify any potential bias (SB2)
    • Source Unknown to Iroquois Longhouse, no bias; informational
    • George Catlin, an American Artist, painter and settler in Bison Hunt. There is bias because in 1830 settlers coveted the land of the Natives, so painting them like savages was to their settler’s advantage
  • Look for deeper meaning (DPM)
    • The Longhouse seeks to give us information about the culture and lifestyle of the Iroquois; perspective piece and objective viewpoint
    • The Native Americans are painted as savages in the Bison Hunt. It justifies the white settler’s westward expansion in the 1830’s and all the consequences Natives were forced to endure as a result of the US government taking their land.

Step 3: After walking through the document analysis formula, students use the Social Studies Reference Table to choose the enduring issues (EI) best supported by evidence from the documents set:

  • For our Native American example, students may choose: “Human Interaction with the Environment,” “Conflict,” and “Tensions between Traditional and Modern Culture.” Students can also create their own enduring issue.

Students then complete their evidence collection procedure with teacher-guided scaffolding questions. These questions are designed to reinforce the analytical thinking introduced in the Document Analysis Formula. Eventually, approaching and thinking about documents through this historical thinking framework becomes second nature for students.

Within the first few days of school, I am already introducing the reference table and its contents to students. Their new historical thinking techniques are easily defined and relatable. The ease of the relationship created allows for better classroom practice. Students are then given a document set on a particular topic and asked that they write their document analysis formula at the top of every document. This process sets up their thinking process before they even begin working. For the struggling learner or for your emerging learners, this routine will be essential to their success. The structured practice this process provides students when working with historical documents will help increase student confidence and produce stronger products in the end.

Buildable tools create bridges and relationships between students and the curriculum. The Reference Table for Enduring Issues in Social Studies appeals to all learners with its visual simplicity thereby helping students to establish a familiarity with content initiatives. Many students, such as one eighth grader, who have difficulty with essay writing “would recommend it (the Social Studied Reference Table) to teachers, it has helped me tremendously. It makes it easy to understand EI’s (Enduring Issues). The formulas also have helped me because I am very math minded …”.

Once middle school teachers and students are familiar with the design, they can benefit from its simple approach that accomplishes the basics: being relatable, content relevant, creating familiarity, and establishing a foundation that can be expanded upon.

In my next post, I’ll talk about another way to hack historical thinking in middle school.  Stay tuned…