Author Archives: Brett Cease

Summary of “Teaching writing to high school students: A national survey.”

Even though effective writing remains one of the most important skills students can develop for future success, many students do not develop these skills in their classes. In order to get to the heart of why this occurs, Kiuhara, S.A., Graham, S. and Hawken, L.S. developed a national survey that they distributed to schools and teachers in many settings (language arts vs. social studies vs. science, rural vs. urban, teachers with B.A.’s vs. M.A’s, school size) and compiled the results.  Their findings helped confirmed that teachers felt that writing was a critical skill for life beyond high school, yet teachers were not as prepared to teach writing as they could be.  Surprisingly, in spite of the evidence for the need for continual improvements in the field of teaching writing across courses, there are very few efforts being made to reform. The researchers cited several other studies done in the past (Applebee, Cooper, Bazerman) as well as the National Commission on Writing as key voices in the field for more reform needed in our schools. The key areas for reform are to make sure that students are having the chance to write out longer responses and essay-length products in preparation for life beyond school.

The study also pointed out the importance of continuing to make remediation and improvement skills available and a priority for struggling students.  As teachers, we are responsible for ensuring the equal education for all of students, not just the ones who are good at writing immediately. In addition, student writing improvement has been shown to be directly related to how well their teachers have been trained to write, yet there remains a lack of research into the most effective ways of teaching teachers writing skills. This paper recommended that teachers not only continue to convey the importance of writing within their own discipline to students, but to continue to take on-going training and writing workshops as well as advocating for more content-related writing courses taught to incoming teachers.

I chose this article specifically because it comprehensively addressed teaching writing, a topic that I have been preparing lessons within.  I know that my own understanding and exposure has room for improvement and given the national concern for teaching our students how to write, I thought that a national study examining current practices and recommending improvements would be a wonderful study to benefit from.  Specifically, this article has helped my future teaching practices by empowering me to see the benefits of assigning longer writing projects to my students (with the appropriate support) and to be aware of the importance of connecting writing skills to different facets within the social studies field.


Kiuhara, S.A., Graham, S. and Hawken, L.S.  (2009). Teaching writing to high school students: A national survey. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101, 1. Pp. 136 – 160


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Summary of “Student reasoning about ill-structured social problems in a multimedia-supported learning environment.”

In spite of a great deal of writing and study being done on the utilization of problem-based learning (PBL) across the field of education, not much specific study has been done examining the role of PBL within Social Studies.  In this study, findings highlighted that social studies students respond enthusiastically to and feel more investment in problem-centered, technology supported instruction when compared with teacher-centered, more traditional instruction of social studies concepts.  In support, following the lesson his class learned taught from a PBL perspective, one student said, ““You can learn more, maybe, in…a book, but will you want to know more? I mean…next year will I remember what I read in this book?…Even though you don’t learn more facts, just the facts that you learn more about real things, and, like, actuality itself—that just sticks in your mind more than facts” (Saye & Brush, 12).

Teachers unused to teaching in problem-centered, technology supported settings can still succeed with their students within their first semester of trying and with ongoing improvement beyond. In Saye and Brush’s study, the main teacher had minimal experience implementing PBL lessons within her classroom beforehand and received minimal training leading up to the comparative study.  The students in her experimental classroom still thrived in spite of challenges at times with direction and access to their teacher immediately. Nevertheless, problem-centered, technology supported instruction lead to more factual recall and higher-level reasoning skills (persuasive and dialectical) as demonstrated by comparative essay skills and tests. For example 35% of the PBL learning students demonstrated argument framing that met the expectations for the test when compared with only 8% of non PBL-taught students (10).  This information stresses the importance of incorporating more student-centered learning activities in all Social Studies lessons as well as for all Social Studies to improve their content delivery given the overall low rate of standards being met by student work.

This article ties directly into our chapter coverage of problem-based learning and the importance of connecting students with opportunities with authentic, creative expressions. Students deeply connected with and felt motivated to understand content information that was closer to home when they were involved in digging into determining multiple perspectives on certain historical issues that did not have clear, definitive answers (2). This article also directly relates to my own unit planning for Assignment Two, as I am teaching a unit on local government to sixth grade students.  This article’s findings confirmed the importance of teaching government concepts using PBL lesson formats and enriching the student experience with technology as often as possible.  Both of these approaches I plan on instituting in my own lessons.


Saye, J.W. & Brush, T.  (1999). Student reasoning about ill-structured social problems in a multimedia-supported learning environment. Annual Meeting of the National Council for the Social Studies, p. 1-20.

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Summary of “Using the Storypath to Make Local Government More Understandable.”

Even though they have great importance, teaching lessons on local government can be a challenge for many teachers, especially to student populations that are not proportionately represented in most traditional governments. Research has highlighted that students begin significantly forming their self-conception relating to their role in government as early as the age of 9 (McGuire & Cole, 85). In addition, many students in the classroom given their family background and socioeconomic status do not have the same connections and buy-in to positions of leadership in government that other students might with higher income backgrounds.  Given the challenge of making government relevant to all learners, a teaching approach known as Storypath has emerged to engage particularly middle-school aged students and younger in learning. Storypath is a specific narrative-centered, inquiry-based teaching approach and effectively helps empower students to take an active role in learning about government. Students create characters in a community and are eventually assigned roles to represent these characters in local government scenarios (88). Teachers play an intentional and key role in facilitating the learning experience in an inquiry-based approach like Storypath. Overall, I learned through the reading that not only do they need to help establish and clarify roles as students learn the setup, but still intentionally associate vocabulary and concepts with the role-playing scenario to help bind the understanding together in student’s minds and experiences (89.)

I specifically chose this article because my focus for my unit planning in Assignment Two is on teaching sixth graders the basics of local government.  I knew that I wanted to engage them in a role-playing, problem-based scenario, but wasn’t sure exactly how to go about setting the lesson sequence up.  As a result, I researched articles about teaching local government to younger students in problem-based centered approaches and this one seemed to provide the most insight and help.   Specific takeaways for me include the importance of getting student buy-in through creating avenues for their own unique and spontaneous creativity in creating community members that have lives they imagine.  Another exciting highlight of the article was its uplift of a young man in the classroom who in spite of not fitting in socially with his classmates often, found uplift and support for his ideas in Storypath. He suggested the importance of having a humane society center in the community and was well received, to the point of everyone wanting him to be mayor. I appreciate that with Storypath, in addition to students being invested in discovering the importance of civic engagement through their own creations, students who traditionally struggle with having a voice can become uplifted and socially engaged.


 McGuire, M.E. and Cole, B. (2008). Using the storypath approach to make local government understandable. The Social Studies, March/April. p 85-90.


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Summary of “Capitalizing on Web 2.0 in the Social Studies Context”

After being involved with BSU’s PEDL program for the past two semesters, I have come to deeply appreciate the importance  and effectiveness of integrating Web 2.0 technologies into my future classroom.  For more ideas about how to apply these resources specifically into the social studies setting, I found a wonderful research article devoted specifically to that topic, TechTrend’s “Capitalizing on Web 2.0 in the Social Studies Context.”

Holcomb and Beal provide an articulate set of reasons why Web 2.0 has become an important part of any social studies educator toolbox.  They contend that through Web 2.0 the classroom no longer needs to be a place where students simply show up to only consume information, but rather can be involved as creators and contributors in a collaborative setting much easier.  As a result, Web 2.0 involvement is wonderful news for anyone with constructivist and problem-based learning passions. They also mention that Web 2.0 technologies can be great democratizing forces, leveling many disadvantages that traditional barriers like race, culture and class can unfortunately carry for students.  As long as access to technology is available equally for all students, these technologies provide all students a chance to have a voice and be listened to regardless of their background. Lastly, they also emphasize how Web 2.0 technologies, with their collaborative environments help boost students abilities to encounter and process different perspectives.  The importance of perspective taking is one of the main learning priorities in social studies and Web 2.o technology’s frequent delivery of global voices on any particular issue or topic can catalyze this ability development for students.

This article also provided hands-on examples and rationale for using four main Web 2.0 technologies in the classroom: VoiceThread, Gliffy, CommunityWalk, and Footnote. I learned that VoiceThread has a specific component just for educators called VoiceThread Ed, that helps filter content specifically for the classroom. Having never hear of Gliffy, I was impressed with the resource’s ability to not only provide mind-mapping, but other tools like Venn Diagrams and Organizational Charts in very stream-lined and visually appealing designs.   CommunityWalk was also new to me as another Web 2.0 technology and I am impressed with the chance to not only integrate interactive maps–historical through the modern era–into lesson plans activities, but also the student’s ability to review, add and comment on each other’s projects.  Lastly, Footnote was also highlighted as not only a wonderful repository of a vast collection of primary source documents, but as a forum for annotating and bringing students into sharing their analysis and commentary on specific writings and photographs.

To conclude, I also appreciated the article’s discussion regarding  important limitations and considerations to keep in mind for teachers interested in Web 2.0. Holcomb and Beal’s concern of site reliability was new to me.  As technology continues to grow and expand, certain Web 2.0 tools have already become outdated or no longer are supported with technical assistance and upkeep. As an educator, it will be important for me to be aware of building my lessons around tools that I know I can count on and will remain relevant throughout my student’s use of them. I also appreciate the reminder that as teachers, we are responsible to provide safe learning atmospheres for students to learn within and controlling content can be a challenge with many of these tools.  While Web 2.0 is a wonderful gift in that it opens student work and projects much more broadly to the outside world, as educators we need to be mindful of how we can facilitate the outside world responding back in support of our students.


Holcomb, L.B. and Beal,C.M. (2010). Capitalizing on web 2.0 in the social studies context TechTrends, 54, 4. pp. 28-32.

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Introductory Posts

Hello Pedagogy Graduate Friends,

I am excited about the possibility of this blog, for both the sharing and learning I will receive from all of your research and thoughts, but also because this is another great way to go hands-on and learn about another Web 2.0 technology–blogging!

Since I am pursuing a 5-12 Social Studies license, my main research interests revolve around effective teaching and incorporation of research that motivates/inspires students in the realm of SS curriculum. For me, my specific passions include incorporating constructivist principles, hands-on, expeditionary-style learning, and other social justice and environmental approaches into the classroom.

I cannot wait to begin to pass on all I have learned and want to share with students. With the inspirational teaching I have received from so many in life, I look forward to giving back and in turn empowering the next generation to be thoughtful, informed, compassionate citizens of the world!

And lastly, here’s a great resource that I found online of late through my work with MN Green Corps about a support system for schools interested in moving in sustainable directions called Eco Schools…check it out and see if you might be interested in bringing its programs and tools to your schools!

With much to learn,


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