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AustraliaSocial Studies, English, Humanities, and Inquiry

The area of social studies involves human interactions.

According to Barbara Stripling in Curriculum Connections through the Library (2003, p. 25), "the focus is on values and behavior rather than the 'truth.' Inquiry in social studies tends to ask, 'Why?' 'Who?' 'Where?' 'How good or bad?' and 'What consequences?' In math and science the same set of circumstances lead to the same results; in historical inquiry, the same set of circumstances seen through a different point of view or from a different cultural perspective might lead to widely divergent interpretations. Instead of searching for one truth, social scientists search for truths interpreted through multiple perspectives."

Similar standards for student performance are common in documents from state education agencies, local school corporations and national associations. Application of the Scientific Method and information inquiry as a student of information science are also found in the social science portions of curriculum outlines.

A number of national organizations represent these areas. Explore the following online resources to learn more about each area:

Inquiry should not be considered an “add on” to the curriculum, but always a clear basic expectation that enriches the learning experience and takes both teaching and learning to levels that are beyond simply memorizing facts, names and events.


History and Social Sciences

Stripling (2003, p. 25-26) describes ten ways teachers and librarians can support social science inquiry:

  1. Background Information. Every individual and group is influenced by the context, so background information is essential to understand different points of view.
  2. Misconceptions. Students' prior knowledge must be activated. Students must confront assumptions and understandings.
  3. Resource Evaluation. Students must be able to assess the value of a source using criteria such as authority, comprehensiveness, organization and clarity, and quality of information.
  4. Primary Sources. Children must be taught to observe and draw valid interpretations of artifacts, ephemera, images, maps, and personal accounts.
  5. Evidence. Distinguishing fact from opinion, identifying different perspectives, and finding degrees of bias are all important in exploring evidence.
  6. Critical Evaluation. Students must learn to critically evaluate information to support conclusions.
  7. Visual Literacy. Graphics organizers and other graphic representations can be used to take notes and organize information.
  8. Reflection. Students need to monitor their comprehension, connections to prior knowledge, recognition of point or view, questioning, and interpretation of the evidence.
  9. Text Structures. Patterns such as chronological order, main idea and details, cause and effect, and compare/contrast are all important for social studies learning and inquiry.
  10. Materials Access. Guided access to materials that offer varied formats, multiple perspectives, varied reading levels, in-depth information and sources are important for learners.

Mary Dalbotten’s organization of student performance skills across the curriculum is a valuable tool to relate national learning standards to critical and creative thinking for inquiry.

Dalbotten states that historical thinking skill enables students to differentiate past, present, and future times; raise questions; seek and evaluate evidence; compare and analyze historical stories, illustrations, and records from the past; interpret the historical record; and construct historical narratives of their own.

She notes that real historical understanding requires that students have opportunity to create historical narratives and arguments of their own. Such narratives and arguments may take many forms – essays, debates, and editorials, for instance. They can be initiated in a variety of ways. None, however, more powerfully initiates historical thinking than those issues, past and present, that challenge students to enter knowledgeably into the historical record and to bring sound historical perspectives to bear in the analysis of a problem.

On contemporary issues across the full range of social science studies, students should practice skills that focus on relevant local and global issues in which they use information to identify, describe, explain, explain a position, take a position, and defend a position. An example is for the student to evaluate historical and contemporary political communications using such criteria as logical validity, factual accuracy, emotional appeal, distorted evidence, appeals to bias or prejudice and establishing criteria for judging information sources in light of such manipulation of communication. Another common example, this time relevant to simulating what political scientists do, is evaluate, take, and defend positions on the influence of the media on American political life.

Language Arts and Humanities

Language arts is generally more process than content-focused. Stripling (2003, p. 28-29) describes four ways teachers and librarians can support language arts inquiry:

  1. Thinking Skills. Questioning, finding main ideas and details, summarizing, interpreting, making inferences, determining the importance of ideas, identifying the author's purpose, and synthesizing are all embedded in inquiry.
  2. Process. Educators may not emphasize every step of the inquiry process in all activities. Instead, students might be provided with scaffolds for some aspects while spending time focusing on particular areas.
  3. Text Structures. Students need to recognize and derive meaning from text structures such as main idea and details, opinions supported by evidence, comparison/contrast, cause/effect, sequential or chronological order, opposing viewpoints, and topics and subtopics.
  4. Visual Literacy. Graphic representations are an information part of information access and communication.

Mary Dalbotten’s suggests that educators in the language arts and humanities focus on the following areas.

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