Here’s an activity with life-changing, earth-shaking power – Empathy in Action Bingo:
It’s easy to forget what the “social” in social studies means – that is, people relating to each other. Teaching middle school, I suffer no illusions that many of the basic facts I teach my students – about the wondrous achievements of the Inca, the five pillars of Islam, or the grotesque netherworld of Potosi – will be long forgotten by adulthood.
What I do hope to impart, aside from a basic curiosity about the world and our place in it, are the kind of skills that make happy, healthy, meaningful, and engaged citizens later in life.
That’s why, when educator Caroline Foster recently shared her original approach to social studies with Openendedsocialstudies.org, I was immediately taken.
Ms. Foster writes:
Our district has talked about adopting a curriculum to teach social emotional skills, but we haven’t quite reached that point yet. Thus, a group of our National Board Certified Teachers met regularly for a year to research best practices and come up with some sort of tool for explicitly teaching and assessing those skills. We mapped out beliefs, behaviors, and a rubric for growth mindset, resolve, integrity, and tenacity (GRIT: because in teaching, everything’s an acronym!) and consideration, appreciation, responsibility, and empathy (CARE). We also created a document that left a space for evidence collection, and then considered it ready for piloting.
As a 6th grade social studies teacher, I open the first lesson of the year with, “okay: this is the class in which you’re going to study people being social (hence the name) and how that’s worked out (or not) for them throughout all of history. And we’re also going to practice social emotional skills so you can figure out how to have a happy, healthy life when things are going well. And when they’re not going well, you’re going to have 1) the support and resources you need to get through it, and 2) the knowledge and skills to find out how other people all through space and time have gotten through similar situations in the best way possible.”
And then I explain to them that their homework is going to feel very, very weird. I let go of worksheet-style homework in favor of social-emotional homework using the rubrics as a guide. Every Monday, I introduce one of the beliefs or behaviors of one of the skills; yes, I keep it really simple and to the point. I teach the vocabulary (“solicit means to ask for”) and then explain the homework assignment for the week, examples of which are attached. Their goals don’t have to be school-based academic, just anything that makes their brains or bodies stronger. On Friday, they turn in evidence of the practice and then record the evidence in the proper box. Each of them has an individual Google Doc for both GRIT and CARE so it’s personalized and easy to maintain. Around conference times, I have them rate themselves using the rubrics and put the date and an emoji of their choice in the proper boxes of the rubric. The dates are important so they can track growth over time. I’ve attached a screenshot of one of my students’ evidence trackers from last fall so you can see an example.
I have the kids share these at conferences, partially so I can explain to parents the rationale behind the non-traditional weirdness of the homework and then get their thoughts on it. So far (two conferences with two different groups of kids logged) they have been very supportive, some even enthusiastic. I’ll be sending a parent survey later this year to get some more data and can pass that long when I get results. The students love it. They feel like they’re doing personalized assignments that are useful and productive without being emotionally taxing. They appreciate that schools take seriously the importance of developing and maintaining their simultaneous places in many communities. They like that they can challenge themselves and learn how to set and achieve goals with goals that are actually important to them instead of dictated by a teacher.
It’s a work in progress but I have been very happy with it so far! I actually hold myself to doing the same homework every week that I expect from them, so I model it all as we cornily embark on this journey together. It sometimes feels nutty, but there’s a ton of excellent research behind it, so forward we move.
Explore these powerful resources below and empower your students to be the best possible versions of themselves – for life.