Instructional Practices of Elementary Social Studies Teachers in North and South Carolina

Journal of Social Studies Research 38 (1):15-31 (2014)
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Abstract

Using data from the Survey of the Status of Social Studies ( S4), this article describes the instructional decisions and practices of elementary teachers in two neighboring states, one where social studies is tested and another where it is not. We define students’ opportunity to learn within these states as a composite of three variables: time allocations for social studies (teacher reported instructional time), methods for teaching social studies (teacher reported instructional strategies), and content focus (teacher reported content emphases and state-mandated curriculum standards). Our guiding research question for this study was: To what extent do teachers’ perceptions of elementary school social studies instructional practices and content vary between two states with different testing policies for social studies? Initial findings revealed notable differences that could not be explained by testing policies alone. Therefore, we conducted an exploratory content analysis of the elementary social studies curricula in these neighboring states. We uncovered curricular differences that suggest that state standards influence teachers’ decisions in both what and how they choose to teach social studies. However, there were curriculum differences that did not align with S4 instructional methods and content focus output. Thus, we concluded that other factors apart from the curriculum guide teachers’ decision-making. Results provided evidence that students have different opportunities to learn based on (1) state testing policies in social studies, (2) curriculum content, (3) how social studies is delivered (e.g., stand-alone versus integration), and (4) time allocated to social studies. We concluded that these variables constrict or expand students’ opportunity to learn social studies and may influence teachers’ pedagogical and content choices in elementary social studies.

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