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Social Studies Statement

One of the leading development theorists, Lev Vygotsky, believed that development

cannot be separated from its social and cultural context (Shabani, Khatib & Ebadi, 2010). This

makes it very important for learners to discover the history and meaning of everything around

them, starting with themselves and their family, then making connections to the larger

community, the state, the country, and the rest of the world. Social Studies is structured in the

same way in the curriculum, so that students start with smaller scale experiences and ideas, and

teachers use those existing concepts to broaden the learners’ awareness of the world and create a

schematic base of understanding for other people’s cultures and their traditions.

I replicate this structure of learning development in my classroom by personalizing

historical experiences and making the information more relevant to students. For example, when

teaching about the soldier encampment at Valley Forge, I asked the students to imagine

themselves in the soldier’s shoes and write a letter home, telling about their experience in the

war. This required students to use their personal schemas and critical thinking in order to connect

themselves to and truly comprehend the material. Using conceptual and practical tools from

reading comprehension strategies such as close reading, sourcing, evaluating, summarizing,

contextualizing, applying knowledge and connecting information sources can enhance the

instruction of social studies (Bauml, 2016). My students really connected with the material in

their letters by showing a high level of compassion and empathy for the soldiers.

Vygotsky also stated that cultural artifacts, or the unique things we grow up with

depending on where we are in the world - traditions, beliefs, art – and the way we have learned

to interact with them, can be the most important part of a learner’s psychological development

(Shabani, et. al., 2010). In order to connect to the authentic cultural voice of my lesson, I use

primary sources whenever possible so that my students can have a closer connection to our

culture and to the people which make our history. In my lesson about Forge Valley the students

read excerpts from letters by George Washington to his wife and to the Congress, which exposed

them to the first-hand telling of the experience and made a deep impact. When the students

processed this information and applied their knowledge in writing their “letters home” I was able

to see the product of their thinking and use them as an effective informal assessment to my

instruction. Assessments can be as simple as a class discussion which raises many questions and

allows students to voice what they are thinking; we can ask for written responses, confer with

groups or individuals, listen in on conversations and observe behavior, or record students’

comments and questions (Harvey & Goudvis, 2007). My lesson on the Valley Forge allowed for

all of the above examples of informal assessment, which can often be more effective than a

structured quiz since the students are interacting without the stigma of a formal test.

By inviting my students to participate in discussions with one another about how they

think the soldiers at Valley Forge were affected, what they felt, and asking them to explore the

cultural diversity among the troops, I am able to enrich the students’ understanding of the

concept of culture, and social studies as a science in itself. We grow as humans and open our

minds to new possibilities and answers when we are exposed to new opinions (Caleb, 2014).

Each student has their own unique socioeconomic, gender, race, and cultural background (Caleb,

2014), which means all students have a unique contribution to the discussion, so our

understanding of a topic can only grow deeper when we share our insights.


Bauml, M. (2016). Is it cute or does it count? Learning to teach for meaningful social studies in

elementary grades. Journal Of Social Studies Research, 40(1), 55-69.


Caleb, P. (2014). How Diversity Works. Scientific American, 311(4), 43-47.

Harvey, S., Goudvis, A. (2007). Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for

Understanding and Engagement.(2nd ed.) Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Shabani, K., Khatib, M., & Ebadi, S. (2010). Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development:

Instructional Implications and Teachers' Professional Development. English Language

Teaching, 3(4), 237-248.