Developing Students’ Intrinsic Motivation to Write
Today, the Common Core standards in the United States call for an increased emphasis on student writing in multiple subject areas. Some students may welcome more writing opportunities at school, while other students may dismiss writing as frustrating and burdensome. In their article, “The Bright and Dark Side of Writing Motivation: Effects of Explicit Instruction and Peer Assistance,” authors Fien de Smedt et al. explain that student motivation to write plays an important part in students’ actual writing performance. Previous studies have shown that students who have stronger beliefs in their own writing abilities and who are motivated to write actually have better writing performance (1). In contrast, students who have weaker beliefs in their own writing abilities and who are less motivated to write often display a dislike of writing in school (1). The question for De Smedt et al., then, is: How do we increase students’ motivation to write, and thus help them become more willing and better writers?
Teaching Social Studies in the Era of “Alternative Facts”
In his article, “Fake News, Alternative Facts, and Trump: Teaching Social Studies in a Post-Truth Era,” Wayne Journell paints a clear picture of how the current government leadership and the American media have together birthed the era of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” It is in this era that American citizens can willingly “disregard verifiable facts as fake simply because they contradict their agenda” or their own worldview (8). It is in this era that American citizens can turn to media outlets of their choice to hear news and ideas that only reinforce their own viewpoints. It is in this era that Social Studies teachers are needed more than ever. Journell remarks that “both political thinking and media literacy are skills that need to be taught and practiced over time” (10). While teacher training and education research will continue to address these topics, Journell offers some guidance for Social Studies teachers in the meantime.
For elementary school teachers, developing students’ literacy is a primary goal. It is also no easy task. Studies have shown that helping struggling students become fluent readers becomes increasingly harder as students progress through the primary grades, and “children who do not learn to read effectively in primary grades are less likely to achieve full literacy” (Linder et al. 323). Moreover, in their paper, “Effects of an Animal-Assisted Intervention on Reading Skills and Attitudes in Second Grade Students,” authors Deborah Linder et al. explain that children who struggle with reading “often demonstrate negative feelings about reading at school,” exhibit less motivation to read, have low self-esteem, and often resist participating in classroom reading activities (323-324). In contrast, students with higher reading abilities have higher levels of academic success and more favorable attitudes about school (323).
For their study, Linder et al. investigated how partnering therapy dogs with second grade students affected those students’ literacy levels and attitudes about reading at school. They note that animal-assisted interventions have already been linked to numerous benefits for children, including “reducing anxiety, facilitating coping, and reducing discomfort in stressful situations” (324).
Vocabulary Instruction in High School Social Studies Classes: General Academic Terms are Overlooked
For the last 20 years, there has been almost no change in students’ measured achievement in the area of social studies in grades 4-12 (273). According to the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), only 45% of American 12th graders score at or above the basic level for social studies content, as they have for decades (273). In their paper, “An investigation of high school social studies teachers’ understandings of vocabulary teaching and learning,” authors Janis Harmon et al. explain that to address this issue of academic stagnation, education standards—especially Common Core—are now emphasizing “disciplinary literacy, that is a focus on the specific literacy demands unique to the various content areas and the sub disciplines within each area” (272).