Social Education 57(2), 1993, pp. 69-69,
1993 National Council for the Social Studies

Primary Elementary Social Studies Instruction: A Status Report

Judith M. Finkelstein, Lynn E. Nielsen, and Thomas Switzer
Preventing failure in school is an issue that commands and deserves national attention. Current research, coupled with the collective wisdom of practitioners, suggests that successful early development is basic to a productive contributing citizenry (Poinsett 1988). Leaders in education warn that the demands of an increasingly interdependent world require preparation of today's children for participatory global citizenship.
Recently, the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education jointly wrote Guidelines for the Appropriate Curriculum Content and Assessment in Programs Serving Children Ages 3 through 8. In this document (1991, 27), they state:

These guidelines for curriculum and assessment reflect the theoretical perspective that the proper role of the schools is to prepare citizens for democracy and that the proper role of the schools is to prepare citizens for democracy and that such a goal dictates that schools emulate democratic communities.
The long term goal of American education is not only to help children develop personal integrity and fulfillment but also to enable them to think, reason, and make decisions necessary to participate fully as citizens of a democracy.
Social studies educators recognize this as John Dewey's theory and know that a strong social studies program in the early years can ensure that children will receive the preparation global citizenship will demand from them. Some groups (Bennett 1986) are calling for the social studies to limit their focus to civic literacy, historical literacy, and geographic literacy combined with a strong literature component. Other groups and most textbook publishers, however, continue to support the expanding-horizons approach with traditional textbook and workbook delivery. Recently, social studies textbook publishers have begun using classical literature and integrated approaches to literacy development in the materials they produce. At least one publishing company offers this approach as an alternative program for social studies teaching in kindergarten through 2d grade.

Child Development and Instruction
Professional organizations have recently published other documents that make specific recommendations for early childhood programming. Drawing upon current research and a strong consensus of professional opinion, these organizations have released guidelines for the development of exemplary early childhood programs. First, the National Association for the Education of Young Children document, Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 (Bredekamp 1987), calls for an investigation of primary grade social studies subject matter, offering rich background for unit or theme topics around which study can occur. This report recommends a radical shift of emphasis from a focus on content delivery to a focus on the child as a learner. In this context, the classroom is treated as a laboratory for social relationships where children investigate values and learn rules of social behavior while developing respect for individual diversity through firsthand experiences. Both this report and Albert Shanker's article in the Peabody Journal of Education (1988) call for providing a variety of ways of presenting material and structuring learning. Both of these ideas are supported in First Lessons (Bennett 1986).

Next, in Right from the Start (1988), the National Association of State Boards of Education calls for communities to establish separate schooling units for children ages four through eight. These units would focus on both educating children and serving the needs of families by facilitating communication with various community agencies. Specifically, it recommends a program that responds to individual differences among children, to cultural and linguistic diversity, to children's comprehensive needs for social and emotional support, and to language growth and cognitive development.

A third organization, National Council for the Social Studies, appointed a special task force to address the concept of developmentally appropriate instruction in the social studies. The task force produced a report on the characteristics of early childhood social studies programs based on sound principles of child development (National Council for the Social Studies 1989). It defines early childhood social studies instruction as foundational to a strong citizenship program and suggests that in a world that demands that independent problem solvers address a myriad of complex social problems, the social studies are as basic as reading and writing. Schooling of this type-that which places the social studies and citizenship education in the center of the curriculum-allows children to learn citizenship skills and subject matter in the same context.

Social Studies for the Twenty-first Century
In addition to the task force report, a joint project of the American Historical Association, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, National Council for the Social Studies, and the Organization of American Historians created a commission to examine social studies for the twenty-first century. The report of the Curriculum Task Force of the commission published a volume in 1989 titled Charting a Course: Social Studies for the 21st Century. The report suggests that social studies in the primary grades "set the tone and lay the foundation for social studies education that follows"(7). Topics studied through units or themes should be pertinent to the lives of children and help them to gain knowledge of themselves and the world around them. Teachers should present material through active, participatory modes whereby children learn of the many and varied roles they play and realize firsthand the importance of changing with circumstances. The report recognizes that children ages four, five, or six can grasp global information, understand multicultural aspects of society, and see things from another's point of view.

The report, in effect, supports and summarizes the findings of the other two previously mentioned reports when it stresses the importance of providing opportunities for children to contribute to and carry out decisions and rules as preparation for life in a democratic society. In addition, the report argues, good social studies for young children should include opportunities to develop understandings about the lives of people, past and present, worldwide, and in various environments through reading books, stories, and bibliographies, drawing, building, role playing, writing, and participating in activities with music. The report further states that an integrated, balanced, coherent sampling of aspects of life and human interactions make up the ideal social studies program. These should be woven into a matrix of time (history) and place (geography) while introducing children to maps, globes, and time lines.

To what extent do these kinds of social studies programs exist in schools today? Past reports by Gross (1977) and Hahn (1985) indicate that on average teachers spend only one hour per week on social studies. This would hardly lend itself to such a comprehensive offering. Further, an Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development study (Cawelti and Adkisson 1985, 3) indicated that time formerly allocated to social studies was being redirected into language development and math teaching. Atwood and Finkelstein (1987) conducted a study on the status of social studies in the kindergarten, concluding that the success of the kindergarten social studies program is directly related to the teacher's commitment. Although teachers were interested, for the most part, in teaching social studies, concept development was limited. If this is true in the kindergarten, is the status of social studies teaching in the primary grades any more substantive?

We undertook a study of primary (grades 1-3) teachers' methods of teaching social studies to see if they followed similar practices. We selected seven midwestern states for the survey because of their proximity to Iowa and the possibility for duplication in other regional areas throughout the country. Monetary constraints prevented a broader survey. We recognize the limitations for making generalizations.

We surveyed three thousand early childhood teachers (grades 1-3) in seven midwestern states (Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri). We mailed a twenty-nine-item questionnaire to the teachers and provided return envelopes. We received 1,262 responses-424 (33.6 percent) from 1st grade teachers, 417 (33.0 percent) from 2d grade teachers, and 421 (33.4 percent) from 3d grade teachers. A number of teachers failed to respond to some questions; thus, the total number of responses is fewer than 1,262 for some questions. The size of school districts represented varied widely. Nearly one-third of the respondents (30.7 percent) were from school districts with more than three thousand students enrolled whereas more than half (64.4 percent) were from school districts of less than three thousand students.

Most respondents to the survey were women (96.4 percent). Age of respondents ranged from 22 to 69, with a mean age of 41 years.

Years of previous teaching experience ranged from 0 to 47 with a mean of 15.3 years; 73.5 percent of the teachers had 10 or more years of previous teaching experience.

Nearly all teachers (99.5 percent) held at least a baccalaureate; 12.5 percent held an M.A., and 18.5 held an M.A. and had undertaken additional graduate work.

In terms of professional preparation, more than three-fourths of the respondents (78.7 percent) had taken a social studies methods course at the undergraduate level; one-fourth (25.5 percent) had taken a graduate level course in social studies methods. Less than 1 percent reported membership in National Council for the Social Studies and slightly more than 1 percent reported membership in their state council for the social studies.

The preparation of teachers is a topic frequently debated. Should teacher education include extensive content background and little emphasis on methods of teaching? Or, should there be a basis of general education courses capped with a two-year professional sequence and student teaching? Our interest, for this survey, was to determine if primary grade teacher preparation included a social studies methods course and if this qualitatively or quantitatively affected the methods used for teaching social studies in the primary grade classroom.

Results of the Study
The objective of this study was to define the characteristics of social studies programs at the early childhood level, grades 1-3. In that regard, we addressed five specific program characteristics: time devoted to social studies, integration of the social studies in the curriculum, materials used for teaching social studies, instructional strategies used when teaching the social studies, and barriers to effective social studies instruction.

Time Devoted to Social Studies
Table 1 reports data regarding district mandates for instructional time in the social studies. More than half of the respondents (56.6 percent) indicated that their district requires a specified amount of time. About one-third (32.4 percent) indicated that their district does not require a specified amount of time. The remaining 11.0 percent did not know whether the district mandates time for social studies.

Table 2 indicates the number of minutes mandated for social studies in those districts requiring a specific amount of time. Using 150 minutes per week (30 minutes each day) as a bench mark, 88 percent require no more than 150 minutes each week for social studies. That is, only 12 percent require more than 150 minutes each week for social studies.

Table 3 shows the number of minutes actually devoted to social studies instruction each week. Again, using 150 minutes per week as a bench mark, 91.4 percent spend no more than 150 minutes each week for social studies. That is, only 8.6 percent devote more than 150 minutes per week to social studies.

Table 4 shows data regarding the amount of time teachers would ideally wish to allocate for social studies at grades 1-3. Again, using 150 minutes per week as a bench mark, 86.4 percent would prefer no more than 150 minutes per week for social studies. That is, only 13.6 percent would choose more than 150 minutes per week for social studies under ideal circumstances.

Integration of the Social Studies in the Curriculum
Table 5 illustrates data regarding the degree to which teachers integrate social studies into the total curriculum for grades 1-3. More than three-fourths (80.3 percent) of the respondents reported teaching social studies separate from the rest of the curriculum. Only 16.2 percent indicated that social studies was integrated into the total curriculum at that level and 10.5 percent responded that social studies was taught only irregularly. Clearly, the prevailing instructional pattern at grades 1-3 is to teach social studies as a separate subject when there is time left after teaching subjects that have higher priority.

Materials Used in Teaching Social Studies
More than three-fourths (79.6 percent) of the respondents reported that a textbook was available for instruction with slightly fewer (74.9 percent) reporting a district requirement to use it in the classroom. Regarding selection of the textbook, 88 percent reported that a teacher committee made the selection.

When questioned about their textbook preferences, 64.2 percent responded that they would choose to use a textbook for social studies instruction. Table 6 shows the percentage of instructional time devoted to the textbook. Clearly, half or more of instructional time is typically devoted to using the textbook.

Table 7 indicates the percentage of teachers using district units, commercial units, and teacher-planned units. When the textbook constituted less than 100 percent of the instructional time, the next most prevalent source of instructional plans was teacher-planned instructional units.

Regarding the use of a curriculum guide for instruction, 75.8 percent of the respondents reported having a guide for their building or district. Of those teachers having a guide, 75.3 percent reported using it for instruction and 90.1 percent reported that it was developed by a teacher committee.

Instructional Strategies Used When Teaching the Social Studies
Selection of instructional strategies is basic to the creation of a classroom that values student participation. To assess the value teachers place on student participation, we asked respondents to rank three classroom settings. In each setting, the grade level, the subject, and the teacher remained constant. The teaching strategies varied according to the following three levels of inquiry identified by Massialas and Sprague (1974):

Expository: The teacher guides students toward correct answers and functions as a giver of information. Although students have the opportunity to discuss answers to questions, they would seldom have the opportunity to participate actively through offering a personal opinion or judgment.

Opinioning: Teachers encourage students to add their ideas to discussion but seldom encourage them to search for data to support their opinions or to consider alternative courses of action.

Inquiry: The teacher initiates discussion of a problem situation that the teacher and class explore cooperatively. The teacher's role is that of motivator and stimulator as students participate actively through considering and suggesting alternatives in a problem situation.

Table 8 illustrates the teachers' ranking of each instructional setting. More than 50 percent of the respondents ranked Inquiry Style highest. Slightly more than 50 percent ranked Opinioning Style in the middle. Nearly 45 percent ranked Expository Style lowest. These results suggest that the majority of teachers value student participation in the learning process.

Table 9 indicates the frequency with which teachers use various teaching materials. Resources such as books, worksheets, maps, globes, films, and filmstrips were cited as regularly or frequently used. Materials with high potential for firsthand student participation such as games, field trips, guest speakers, and learning centers were frequently cited as seldom or never used for instruction. This data suggests that although teachers theoretically value high student participation, passive participation in learning is dominant over active participation in daily practice. Social studies in the primary grades, as reported by the teachers in this study, is both qualitatively and quantitatively weak. The results of the kindergarten study (Atwood and Finkelstein 1987) indicate the same findings.

Barriers to Effective Social Studies Instruction
We asked respondents to rank various barriers to effective social studies instruction on a five-point scale: 1 = low barrier and 5 = high barrier. Table 10 shows the results of this item. From an examination of the data on table 10, it is clear that "Higher priority of other curriculum areas" stands in contrast to all other potential barriers with 32.4 percent marking this as a high barrier to good social studies instruction. In the case of all other barriers, the highest percentage of responses were found on the low barrier end of the scale. Clearly, social studies is not a high curricular priority at the primary level.

The following points summarize the results of the survey data:

What, then, can we do to foster developmentally appropriate social studies teaching in the primary grades, that is, social studies instruction characterized by curricular integration, substantive content topics, and stimulating learning experiences?

First, teachers and administrators must determine if they are, in fact, implementing their teaching philosophy. If no philosophy statement exists, one must be written. There will then be a basis for change. Teachers will be able to schedule blocks of time that allow integrated, in-depth thinking and project work to occur instead of the fragmented fifteen-minutes-for-this-twenty-five-minutes-for-that kind of scheduling.

Second, the implementation of a whole-language approach to teaching reading and the language arts can, and does, facilitate the integration of the curriculum around topics that stem from the social studies and promote content integration and higher-level thinking and application by the primary grade student. This study, like the kindergarten study, points to the necessity for reform in the way we build social studies programs for young learners. The reports of the National School Boards Association, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the National Commission on Social Studies in the Schools, and National Council for the Social Studies support an integrated approach to learning-that is, an approach where a strong social studies curriculum establishes the core for themes and units that build together to provide a successful early schooling experience for young children.

Third, schools must examine the ways teachers assess and share their students' progress with students and parents. Letter grades derived from end of unit or chapter tests are inappropriate measures of the complexity of emergent learning taking place during the primary grade years.

Finally, we can bring to teacher training and methods courses the new thinking on the importance and potential for the social studies in the early grades. Teachers in training need to see these kinds of classrooms in action and, whenever possible, to be part of them. They must recognize that the purpose of school is to teach children to be thinkers and problem solvers and that social studies content offers the greatest potential for integration of all learning around themes or teacher-developed units. Whether teachers have an extensive content background in the social studies disciplines, or have taken a social studies survey course or a social studies methods course, their preparation must focus on strengthening their ability to guide learning in areas where they are learners as well. It is the desire to discover information that motivates children to use and develop skills in reading, writing, and mathematics; teachers must be philosophically and pedagogically prepared to assist them.

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