Implementation of Social Studies 2004–2011: ERLC Survey Results
During the fall of 2010, the Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium took the lead in designing a survey to gather reflections from social studies teachers about the process of implementing the new social studies curriculum. This survey was developed in consultation with Alberta Education, the Alberta Teachers Association and social studies leaders in other consortia. The survey was distributed by all consortia to stakeholders in their region. A total of 1, 071 responses was collected province wide including 367 responses from the ERLC region. In general, the survey asked for feedback and reflection on what worked, what didn’t and what changed as a result of the work done to support implementation of social studies. Raw data is available on request.
Participation and Change
Results indicated a relatively high level of engagement with the new curriculum and professional development. Nearly half of the respondents indicated that they had participated in more than five learning opportunities over the implementation period while only four percent indicated that they had not participated in any. This number may reflect the small number of teachers who responded that they were new to the profession or new to the subject. More importantly, however, 83% of respondents indicated that as a result of professional development their teaching practices had changed to some or a great extent. Of those, 35% indicated a significant change in their teaching practices.
Understanding and Working Knowledge of the New Social
- 94% of respondents indicated some or a great deal of working knowledge of grade level content.
- 93% indicated that level for citizenship and identity
- 90% results in inquiry based learning
- 90% as well for dimensions of thinking
- 89 % reported some or a great deal of working knowledge of multiple perspectives
- 88% results in the relationship and balance among the values and attitudes, knowledge and understanding, and skills and processes in the program of studies, and
- 82% showing some or a great deal of understanding of technology integration into social studies. Since this is by far the weakest area as reported, it certainly indicates and area for further growth. Technology integration for all subject areas is one area for ongoing consideration.
Assessment was an area that had been identified by the ERLC social studies advisory committee as a necessary area of focus during the implementation period. It was particularly interesting to note that 65% of respondents indicated that they incorporated formative assessment into their teaching practice frequently. Another 32% indicated that they occasionally incorporated formative assessment. Interestingly only 57% of respondents indicated that they used summative assessments frequently and 40% indicated they used it occasionally. It would seem that assessment for learning is gaining traction in the region. Another 94% of respondents indicated that they used performance based assessment occasionally or frequently.
Performance based/project based assessment
Formative (assessment for learning)
Summative (assessment of learning)
Categories of Professional Development
When asked to indicate all of the types of professional learning in social studies that they had participated in, respondents identified a very broad range of types of professional learning. This is representative of what we know about professional learning and that choice and variety of opportunities must be provided to meet the needs of a wide variety of learners and contexts.
- By far the greatest number of respondents indicated that they had participated in learning opportunities provided by their district (68.94%). Because of the work of the social studies regional team in the ERLC region this may also include ERLC supported opportunities but it is difficult to definitively ascertain this.
- This was followed closely by ATA Teachers Conventions (63.22%),
- Cohort/Collaborative Planning Groups (50.41%),
- Professional Reading (50.14%),
- Learning Opportunities provided by your local consortium in your region (47.96%),
- PLC in your school/district (38.96%) and
- Learning Opportunities provided by your local consortium in
your district (34.06%).
The role of the district and the ERLC are clearly highlighted
in these results.
All other categories were identified by fewer than 20% of respondents. However, it is also important to note the impact of a wide variety of organizations on implementation. Alberta Education summer institutes were noted by 11.72% of respondents as something they had participated in and 13.35% noted other Alberta Education led sessions. 18.8% indicated participation in the ATA specialist council conference, 16.61% in Alberta Assessment Consortium (AAC) opportunities, 14.17% in university classes and 11.99% in 2Learn led opportunities.
Other kinds of professional development listed frequently by respondents included:
- Alberta Education committee work, marking of diploma examinations, and piloting of curriculum/resources were listed by a number of respondents as being of great importance.
- Working with publishers to pilot new resources
- AISI projects with a focus on critical thinking, and
- Resources created by colleagues such as a social studies NING.
The Top Three Factors
Respondents were asked to identify the top three factors that positively affected their ability to implement the new social studies program from a list of eleven items. They were also invited to list any factors that were not listed but that had a major impact on their ability to implement. Respondents chose the following factors in order of importance to their implementation:
- 224 of the respondents chose Learning Through Personal Experience as you Implemented the Curriculum as one of the top three factors.
- 189 chose Collaborative Planning with other teachers including PLC groups.
- 144 chose Time to Work Independently on Planning for Implementation.
- Learning Opportunities Provided by Local Consortia (workshops and in-services) was chosen by 134 respondents as one of their top three factors.
- In-district Learning Opportunities by 129.
- New Resources by 110.
- Online/LearnAlberta by 85.
- Working with Mentors by 74.
- ATA workshops and Conferences by 72.
- Ongoing Support Provided and Sustained Over Time by 56.
- Use of Wikis or Moodle to share information/planning by 26.
In looking at the list it is clear that time and opportunity to work with colleagues is one of the biggest factors in implementation followed by a variety of professional development supports and resources.
It is interesting to note what other factors were frequently mentioned
as being important to selected groups of respondents. The responses
tended to fall into the following categories:
- Alberta Education summer institutes and committee work were listed by a number of people. Comments included:The Alberta Education Summer Institute was amazing. It put me in the right mind frame for implementing the new curriculum.
- University courses: I graduated University in 2005 and have only worked with the new SS curriculum. So, I have learned a lot about the curriculum in my university education.
- Benchmarks of Historical Thinking: The program that made the biggest impact on me was the Benchmarks of Historical Thinking that was offered and facilitated by Dr. Carla Peck.
Barriers to Implementation
From the list provided, respondents chose the following as barriers to successful implementation:
- Competing priorities (244)
- Limited access to PD funds (122)
- Limited interest in what was offered (88)
- Distance from sessions (58)
- Availability of substitute teachers (41)
- Other (35)
- Inability to access technology (25)
The comments in the “other” section reinforce the factors listed
above and fall into three general categories:
- Time and timeframes: Time constraints continue
to be frequently listed as one of the major barriers to many
kinds of change not just implementation of the social studies
curriculum. The identification of competing priorities as the
number one barrier is certainly in line with the fact that classrooms
are busy places and that there are many ongoing and various demands
on teachers and time available. The comments included the need
for extended periods of support at all grade levels: Limited
PD available when it is needed (timeframes). The 10-1/2 course
is a couple of years old now, but being new to it I wanted PD
. . . not around anymore. And Not enough PD on the new
Social 20 and 30 levels. . . . There has to be ongoing collaboration
with colleagues. There has to be the time, the resources and
the will to make it happen . . . .
- Language: The Social Studies PD that is offered is often in English and I teach in French Immersion. Although I get some good ideas, the literature and website suggestions (among other things) are often not available in French; therefore they are of little use to my students and me.
- Awareness: Often as a classroom teacher, we are not always aware of the opportunities available to us.
Respondents were asked to respond to an open ended question that asked, As you consider implementation of the social studies curriculum over the past six years: What worked or supported you in implementing this program?
One respondent summarized it very well and identified the major themes that emerged in the responses by noting that what worked well for them was: Working with the approved resources, professional development offered by our district, ERLC, conventions and collaborating with colleagues.
Collaboration with colleagues was one of the major themes that
emerged. Many of the comments made reference to the importance
of working together with colleagues:
- Having time to get together with other teachers at my grade level to compare notes and to develop lessons and/or projects.
- Collaboration with colleagues within my school was the most effective. Pd opportunities were available but I was not always able to attend.
- Sharing community of teachers. Online sharing of resources and ideas.
- Conversations with colleagues about best practices and collaborative planning. Use of Distributed Learning Resources to plan lessons and the resources provided on disk.
District and consortium support for implementation was also frequently
- The ERLC sessions were great. They focused on relevant issues within social studies
- Initial immersion into philosophy changes in the social studies curriculum. Delving into the inquiry and learning processes. Work, investigation, and implementation into the assessment strategies across the curriculums. All of these topics offered and supported at the consortia level via sessions and workshops that were offered and attended by teachers. AISI project support and work on inquiry learning and assessment. School division support and sessions, social studies consultants availability, that were provided to staff.
- The school district offered a number of information/PD and sharing sessions for teachers in social studies.
- The Social Studies Consultant in my board – and collaborative planning.
- ERLC Benchmarks of Historical Thinking sessions.
Resources and LearnAlberta in particular were frequently mentioned
as examples of what worked:
- Availability of many sessions meant that I could pick and choose to meet my needs. Also, the resources in the Online Guide (now in LearnAlberta) that correspond to the front matter components really helped me wrap my head around the shift in pedagogy, AND the critical thinking challenges and overarching critical inquiries in Learn Alberta are a tremendous support in helping teach ALL the outcomes within a critical inquiry focus.
- The LearnAlberta website with its amazing critical challenges and resources. The 2Learn website, coac.
Support from Alberta Education was also frequently noted as one
of the elements that worked in implementation of the social studies
- Sessions by Dwayne Girard and others about the diploma exam (format, expectations, etc.) made the biggest difference to my understanding of the end goals of the program.
- Collaboration with members of the Curriculum Branch, Learning and Teaching Resources Branch, and Learner Assessment Branch of Alberta Education.
- The Summer Institutes offered over the years prior to implementation at each grade level.
What Didn’t Work?
Although a significant number of comments were received, no major themes emerged regarding what didn’t work. Rather comments often seemed to be reflective of an individual’s specific context. Some of the areas that received comments:
Resources were identified by a number of respondents as not meeting
the needs of teachers and students, however, at the same time LearnAlberta
was listed as a resource that has had a very positive impact.
The dissatisfaction with resources seems to have been limited to
the text resources:
- Far more effective resources could have been developed: the textbooks are poorly organized in regard to themes and dependable/consistent content, and in regard to the cognitive developmental abilities of students. The students view the text chapters/themes to be poorly organized and the reading content to be inconsistent in regards to reading challenge and substantive material. We teachers also need a TRM similar to the last curriculum whereby a variety of teaching strategies/methods and BLM/Notebook-SMARTboard materials would be readily available for teachers to access if deemed necessary and appropriate. . . .
- More student friendly texts, written at a more appropriate reading level considering the diverse needs in Alberta classrooms.
- Resources (textbooks, teacher guides) need to be ready in the spring prior to implementation.
Assessment is an ongoing area of concern and interest:
- Having the Gr. 9 PAT change format, and then change back in the same year was of great detriment. This undermined the great PD on the written portion of the PAT.
- More testing resources created for teachers to use as assessment. Creating good exams is time consuming and difficult. Standard exams would be useful.
Sustainability issues were identified:
- Where are the “it’s new to you” sessions for teachers who are being reassigned?
- Continuous support for new teachers coming into the profession.
Limited support in some areas:
- I still feel the need for support in geographic literacy, and ongoing support for FNMI understanding.
- I would have loved to have more French resources/activities to support the curriculum . . . .
- More PD specifically on the Social 20 and 30 issues.
Implementation models were not always seen as effective:
- Lead teacher model didn’t work, the PD didn’t get passed on due to non-instructional time allocated, no funding at the District level, limited training for the Lead teacher.
- All teachers should be required to participate in PD sessions. Teachers who have not participated in PD have not adopted the shift in pedagogy into their teaching.
- More time!
- TIME TIME TIME
Respondents were asked, What changed in your teaching practice in Social Studies as a result of this support? They were asked to provide examples and impact that they had observed in their own classrooms. In responding to the question, many spoke about increased student engagement, the greater use of inquiry in their classrooms and more critical thinking on the part of students. Respondents talked about understanding concepts rather than having students memorize facts and they talked about greater use of formative assessment in their teaching. Some representative examples of comments around the major themes noted include:
Use of Critical Thinking and Inquiry
- Since all units and chapters start with a question I now use this “deductive” approach to learning – rather than a heavy stress on content. As well, my students receive far more critical thinking assignments than in the past.
- Students are highly engaged in the inquiry process and readily practice skills rather than drill and practice/textbook learning.
- I have discovered that the text book is better used as a resource for information and that teaching through inquiry in social studies has a greater and lasting impact.
- Use of critical inquiry successfully, my ability and confidence in creating assessment materials such as rubrics, my ability to design critical challenges has increased; aligning classroom assignments and projects with curricular objectives has increased.
Developing Understanding over Memorization
- More flexibility in the 10 and 20 levels has resulted in more time for activities. What I have noticed in students and in feedback from parents is an understanding that they are working with concepts instead of memorizing discrete facts, and that is useful to them in the long run.
- I started teaching as the new curriculum was introduced, but I have noticed that the new curriculum has been a challenge to students who have learned to do well in social studies by memorizing lists of rote information. Under the new curriculum this is no longer the case, as the focus has shifted to critical thinking, i.e. “what can you do with the information,” not “can you memorize these facts.”
- Skills and processes focus rather than the knowledge has raised the bar and engaged more student participation. Performance tasks make it possible for students to be able to provide their understanding and display their understanding; adaptations and accommodations are possible using the same tasks. The skills/processes are the driving force rather than the “memorization of knowledge”.
Changing Assessment Practices:
- Use less summative and more formative evaluation. Students have more practice. They discuss more in class. Character is more a focus when looking at historical figures.
- Use of formative assessment activities – it’s still going to take some time to get the kids used to the idea of formative assessment but I believe this will come, in time.
- Much more Assessment for Learning and more focus on general themes rather than memorization of facts/dates.
Greater Student Engagement:
- Knowing how to teach the content through skills; not treating the skills as a separate entity, but as an important part of the program. Using a critical inquiry approach. As outlined in the critical challenges really engages students in learning. One teacher who I work with reported that since he started using the critical challenges, his students no longer ask, ”When is Phys Ed?” They now as, “When is Social Studies?”
- I think I have focused more on classroom discussion. Students have a lot to offer and by modifying what we do as we go I have found they have provided good learning for peers and myself. For example, we discuss what a culture of peace might look like every year and the engagement of students in amazing.
- Projects that are more related to real life and always include critical thinking – my students have the ability to present and defend an educated opinion about current issues in a variety of forms, including debates, presentation with visuals, written texts and political cartoons. They have become more interested in these issues. They care.
- I think the activities that I choose now are more interesting and engaging for students. Before I was an “old school” teacher because that is how I was taught to teach. PD in the new curriculum opened my eyes to a whole new way to teach. Kids show that they are more interested in the projects and activities than they were when it was all about worksheets.
Comments or Suggestions about Professional Development
Consortia and/or other Social Studies Implementation Supports
In responding to this question, a significant number of people commented on the value of opportunities provided by regional consortia as well as Alberta Education, the Alberta Assessment Consortium and the ATA. Suggestions and comments were offered that indicated a desire for practical, grade level learning opportunities as well as support for ongoing support of social studies, more French resources, and more technology.
Value of PD providers:
- The Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium was fantastic. There was so much support with people working in the background to provide relevant resources. The summer institute for grade 4 and 7 was amazing. It gave us teachers firsthand experience with Francophone and Aboriginal perspectives.
- I was involved with many sessions at the ERLC as a Lead Teacher for my division. The support was excellent, however, for the average teacher; there was not enough sub time available to take part in more than a few sessions.
- The ideas and supports provided at the Specialist Conferences were terrific as were those offered by the Alberta Assessment Consortium.
Need for practical and specific learning opportunities:
- Sometimes the workshops I went to spent most of the time on the theory of the new social. Most of us wanted tangible ideas and lessons that we could start with and then expand as we taught.
- To have grade specific sessions are often of value more than a broad, general session.
Need for continued support:
- The support needs to continue. The issues of teaching this new curriculum have not disappeared. More resources are needed for teaching perspectives, especially Aboriginal and Francophone ones.
- Keep the LearnAlberta site updated with new ideas and approaches to using the curriculum.
And the need for French, new teacher and technology resources:
- We need more SMART board ideas.
- We should have a Roundtable for those of us new to the system of the subject. More French resources!
- Sharing of best practices.
What professional learning supports will support and sustain
your ongoing work in Social Studies?
Respondents noted the importance of LearnAlberta and regional consortia, the need for ongoing collaboration and sharing and the need for continued professional development with a focus on practical topics such as assessment and technology as being of greatest importance.
- The LearnAlberta site has been the single most useful thing to me and I will continue to use it.
- To continue to learn about the components of the program that I haven’t yet totally grasped, I will continue to access the Social Studies resources on LearnAlberta, and access any pre-recorded webinars available through the PD consortia.
- The Online guide and provincial and regional sharing networks; marking diploma exams, ATA Social Studies teacher convention; annual teachers convention.
The need for collaboration and sharing:
- I’d love to see a central clearing house replete with resources, lesson plans, test items, etc. that all Alberta teachers could access and contribute to.
- More opportunities for collaboration and development with other teachers in similar subject areas. More exam multiple choice questions available that match or are accurate to the diploma exams.
- Best practices in social studies.
The need for ongoing professional learning was noted in a variety of ways:
- I believe that we will need to continue to in-service teachers. There is a core group that has what they need, however as staff turnover occurs, new teachers hired – they will require supports. One area that will still require support is the use of technology to support social studies outcomes.
- More sessions being offered and continued through my local consortium. A check in to see how it’s going and sharing of ideas.
- Continuing PD, perhaps around development of resources, common writing standards across the province to ensure continuity of what students are expected to be able to do within the program, speakers to help develop perspectives.
- Workshops on actual “teaching” of the course – lessons, assessments, projects.
As new teachers enter the profession, what will they need?
One of the comments received seemed to sum up may of the key points of all the respondents: They will need supportive administration, access to mentors and PLC’s, increased prep time, access to PD opportunities, a more balanced time-table (not the dog’s breakfast), and ways to better access the resources available online. They also need to know how to critically assess the curricular resource materials for bias.
Mentorship of new teachers was one of the strongest elements identified by respondents closely followed by understanding of the program, time to work on the program and supportive resources.
The need for mentorship:
- I am not a new teacher. I think that implementing a mentorship program not to just new teachers but also teachers who are new to teaching a particular grade level would benefit. The program is very deep and comprehensive and needs great support in understanding how to teach it. (This is certainly very much in line with the focus on collaboration and sharing noted in an earlier section)
- Mentors and mentorship (noted 10+ times)
The need for an understanding of the curriculum and resources:
- Must have in-services for all teachers new to social studies – understanding of the first 12 pages of the curriculum (big ideas), how to prepare report card comments based on these, how to differentiate and not burn yourself out, ready to go critical challenges, time and instruction to evaluate written responses as PAT no longer has this element included.
- Access to developed units, workshops, etc.
- More time and support in the classroom to prepare. The online resources are great but time to find what is needed is required. As well, we need to have time as administrators to learn more and be observing the classes with some knowledge. We are struggling with being overloaded with “busy work” in the offices instead of being curriculum leaders in the classrooms!
- Pursuing the importance of effective formative and summative assessment practices and critical thinking and inquiry based learning.
Who responded to the survey?
The respondents were almost equally divided among divisions K-12
with 20% of respondents from Division 1, 28% from Division 2, 23%
from Division 3 and 23% from Division 4. As well a small number
of school and central office based administrators also responded
representing approximately 4% of total respondents. Respondents
with the greatest amount of experience also represented the greatest
percentage of people submitting the survey. 32% of respondents
had more than 20 years of experience. As experience decreased so
did percentages of respondents with only 10% of respondents in
the 0 to 3 years of experience range. However, it should be noted
that 75% of respondents had 7 or more years of experience and would
therefore have participated in the entire implementation process
of the new social studies curriculum. The diverse and balanced
group represented by the demographic data should provide a great
deal of confidence in the results.