Elementary Social Studies Teaching and Learning in a Standards-Based Multi-Age Classroom

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0002-6256-8430
Cornett, Ariel, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
van Hover, Stephanie, CU-Curr Instr & Sp Ed, University of Virginia

This dissertation study explored the interaction between elementary teachers’ instructional practices and how students experience and learn social studies in one multi-age classroom within a standards-based setting in a tested state. The participants in this qualitative multiple case study (Yin, 2017) included three multi-age co-teachers and six focal students of various ages (eight-, nine-, and ten-year olds), who are representative of one elementary school within one large, county school division in Virginia. Data collection occurred during a social studies standards-based unit on Jamestown and included classroom observations, document analysis, teacher interviews, and student interviews.

Analysis indicated that despite an emphasis on teamwork and collaboration, the three co-teachers employed a “divide and conquer” approach to planning for the unit’s instruction and assessments, which led to unclear aims and content objectives for the unit as well as uncertainty surrounding who would be responsible for teaching what content. A number of the three co-teachers’ instructional practices (format, teacher actions, materials) reflected elements of best practice in social studies (e.g., Anderson, 2014; Holloway & Chiodo, 2009; McCall, 2006; NCSS, 2009, 2017) to varying extents, but only some of their teacher actions and none of their materials reflected best practice in history education (Levstik & Barton, 2005). Second, the focal students experienced the same instruction (even when in grade-leveled rotations), yet answered in different ways when asked to talk aloud about why they chose specific answers on the unit test (Fitzpatrick, van Hover, Cornett, & Hicks, 2019) and they each incorporated differing Virginia substandards into their Minecraft performance assessments. The focal students demonstrated content knowledge on the two assessments, but they primarily focused on facts rather than conceptual understandings or historical thinking skills. Lastly, there was little overlap between the three co-teachers’ instructional practices and how students experienced and learned social studies during the unit. Only a few formats, teacher actions, and materials were effective in regards to both teaching and learning social studies. These findings have potential implications for research (elementary social studies education and multi-age education), theory development (Cultural-Historical Activity Theory; Engeström, 2001), and practice (elementary teachers and teacher educators).

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Social Studies , Elementary School, Multi-Age Education, Instructional Practices, Student Learning, Qualitative, Case Study
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