Social studies class used to mean memorizing a whole slew of historical dates and names. Students consumed facts only to try to regurgitate them when it came to test time.
The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards takes a different approach to social studies instruction. It addresses the universal goal of educators to create knowledgeable, thinking, and active citizens by setting forth a framework that enables students to pursue knowledge through the use of questions.
This framework is known as the Inquiry Arc, which has four dimensions:
By posing compelling questions, investigating them through evidence, and communicating their conclusions, students are no longer mere consumers of facts. They become critical thinkers with the ability to form opinions and state their case.
It makes sense then that writing is at the heart of the C3 Framework. Social studies teachers who employ the Inquiry Arc help students master the skills of summarizing, evaluation, analysis, and reflection. Not only will this build stronger writers, but students will also gain a deeper understanding of social studies content and skills.
In a civics unit, students might start with the following question: “How should the Bush vs. Gore presidential election have been decided?” Answering this question requires students to analyze primary sources like the majority and dissenting opinions in the Bush v. Gore US Supreme Court case and the articles of the US Constitution, as well as data in the form of election results. From there, they need to pull out relevant details, organize their thoughts, make a claim, and state relevant evidence. Through the process of strong argumentative writing, the student deepens their understanding of the social studies content.
With a strong emphasis on discussion in today’s classroom, rigorous writing sets students up to do the thinking needed for a meaningful exchange of ideas. Writing is evidence of thinking. Teaching students to organize their arguments on paper also allows them to digest the opinions of their peers in a more thoughtful way than perhaps quick statements of unsupported opinions. There is also a permanence to writing, and it allows students to share their claims with a wider audience.
While employing the Inquiry Arc in a classroom does require instruction on argumentative writing, it is important to note that social studies teachers need not grade their students’ writing as if they are English teachers. Instead, grade for substance of the topic, whether the writing is persuasive, and whether students interpret sources effectively.
A social studies classroom that is grounded in the C3 Framework and utilizes argumentative writing prepares students to thrive in college, career, and civic life.