Content Area Reading #12 – Social Studies Units

Singer, Social Studies for Secondary Schools, Chapter 7: How Do You Plan a Social Studies Unit?

I chose this chapter as we finish creating our own units. I thought it would be interesting to compare my experience to what Singer recommends. For the most part, I think that our unit creation process aligned very closely with that of Singer’s, as our template followed his same pattern and we had to reflect on many of the points and questions that he raised.

In this chapter (as indicated by its title) Singer outlines how social studies educators should create units. He begins by identifying important components of units: scope and time, concepts, essential questions, main ideas/understandings, common core standards, content, materials, and lesson design. He then goes on to describe how to address student differences in social studies units, including differences such as academic level, cultural diversity and gender. To end, he goes into length explaining how document-based units and theme-based units work and how teachers should plan them.

3 things to remember:
• 1. Document-based unit –“The educational principle underlying this type of unit is that, as students examine the documents, they become historians who understand broader concepts, draw connections between events, and formulate explanations (hypotheses). Academic and social skills and social studies content are learned while students examine documents and answer questions.” (114)
• 2. Singer’s recommended length for a social studies unit: 2-3 weeks, 8-15 lessons
• 3. Unit planning can (and probably should be) done in a collaborative setting: “When teachers work together, old-timers benefit from new insights and perspectives and rookies do not have to discover every document for themselves and reinvent every teaching strategy […] new teachers should not be afraid to borrow.” (109)

2 controversial things/disagreements:
• 1. Where to start with unit planning – there is debate about this as there are many different entry points from where teachers could possibly start. Singer acknowledges that many teachers use a textbook to plan their units, “following its organization of the subject and emphasizing its concept, main idea, content, and skill choices” (107). I disagree with this method, as it easily allows teachers to simply teach by the textbook and not really reflect on what students should know and be able to do as a result of their learning. I agree with Singer when he says that teachers should instead start by asking the following questions: “what is important to know about this topic? Why is it important to know? How will I make the concepts and content accessible to the students in my classes?” (107). However, I would urge Singer to not just use the word “topic” here, but instead look at concepts, themes, and issues.
• 2. When discussing accommodations for differing academic levels, Singer outwardly opposes academic tracking. I understand that it can “stigmatize students in the lower tracks, encourages competition for grades rather than learning” (111), but I personally think it does have some benefits. In high school I was able to experience tracking for a singular unit in my English class, and as part of the higher track I got to experience Romeo and Juliet much more in depth that I would have in a heterogenous class. Us students got to choose what track to be in, and I would confidently say that the students in the upper track chose to go there because they wanted to learn more, not just for the grades. I recognize my bias, so I cannot speak on behalf of the students in the lower track, but I do know some of those students did so because they weren’t interested in the topic and believed it had little relevance to their lives. This is based on my personal experience, but I’m sure there is data to back up Singer’s point.

1 question:
• 1. What do you do if you want to plan a thematic unit, but your school traditionally teaches social studies chronologically? At what point are you able to break off from common practice?

Content Area Reading #12 – Social Studies Units

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