Category Archives: 4 Content Knowledge

Pairing Theory and Practice: Course and Internship Reflection for EDU 6136 Content Methods

In EDU6136 Content Methods this quarter, I have had the great privilege of learning about the pedagogical theories in the educational field that address Program Standard 4, Content Knowledge. The Content Knowledge standard requires that teachers use their understanding of not only their content area and its learning objectives or standards, but also know how best to teach the content to achieve those standards. This requires that teachers learn about and practice the pedagogical processes and resources available to truly impact student learning. This course has exposed me to a wide range of pedagogical approaches, but my internship placement has allowed me to actually apply several of these theories – from assessing prior knowledge, scaffolding, and deepening understanding – to practice.

While I had read Dochy et al. (1999), and believed I fully understood the importance of assessing students’ prior knowledge, I learned quickly in my internship that I wasn’t doing enough to apply this in practice. I was teaching my AP U.S. History students about Eugene V. Debs and the American Socialist Party, and had wrongly assumed we could dig right into a speech of his entitled “Winning the World” about how socialism would ultimately overtake capitalism. Luckily, I did begin the lesson with a KWL chart and quickly picked up on my students’ misguided impressions of the political theory of socialism – I saw my students had conflated the definition of socialism with that of communism. I ditched the planned lesson in order to work with students on coming up with a working definition of socialism. Had I assessed prior learning about the subject earlier, I would certainly have planned a Concept Instruction lesson to help students grapple with the theory on their own with prepared resources. I certainly learned my lesson, and learned that the next time I read about something related to pedagogical practice, I better take note and apply it in my internship!

I was reminded of this again when I read about scaffolding in this course. De Pol et al (2010), for instance, summarize decades’ worth of research on scaffolding in saying, “In general, scaffolding is construed as support given by a teacher to a student when performing a task that the student might otherwise not be able to accomplish” (p. 274). As I thought about scaffolding, I wondered how often I actually gave students too much support, and failed to really challenge them within Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (De Pol, 272). I thought, for instance, how in my AP U.S. History class we give the students time to grapple with review questions before taking a weekly quiz on the contents of the textbook chapter they have just read, and how I often answer several questions without challenging my students to think critically on their own first. De Pol (2012) and others works reminded me that teachers are really just there to facilitate learning, not to give the answers away. With time, and trying to more intentionally apply theory to my practice in my internship placement, I have begun to challenge my students to look in the text themselves or ask each other before coming to me. What a difference that has already made!

Later, as I read the works of Caram and Davis (2005), Goldsmith (2013), and Roberts and Billings (2009) about the importance of asking high quality questions to deepen student understanding, and welcoming questions, conversation, and debate to encourage student engagement, I already knew a little better. My mentor teacher had stressed to me the importance of question asking from day one. She had modeled for me the turn-and-talk in pairs technique, which allows students to bounce thoughts about a given question off of each other before offering them up to the class. I saw how this technique facilitated more open and thoughtful conversation. When I read of this very technique called “Think, Pair, Share” in Goldsmith’s (2013, p.50) research, I recognized it immediately. Additionally when I read Roberts and Billings (2009) work on Socratic seminars and stimulating “conversations that teach” (p.83), I found again that I knew this practice well. In my AP U.S. History course we have hosted seminar discussions on topics from the Declaration of Independence to what it is that Jacob Riis’s work and The Gangs of New York can reveal about the Gilded Age. Currently, I am planning a Socratic Seminar for my students (see below for directions) in which they need to come in as Civil Rights Movement activists and stay in character for the whole of the open discussion – presenting and defending their position on the proper course of the movement.

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It is amazing how theory informs practice (and vice versa)! As I moved forward in the course, I recognized more and more of the strategies we studied, and more intentionally applied them in my internship classrooms. My Content Knowledge skills improved signficiantly as I learned and then practiced how best to teach the information in my classroom. By the time we got to talk about feedback at the end of the semester, for instance, I had already given my students in my AP Language and Composition class substantive comments on creative performance pieces they had presented for the entire class. I typed 1/3-page responses to each and every one of the students about their piece, encouraging them and challenging them with additional questions to grapple with. It took a very, very long time, but I was thrilled I had done it, and had again lined educational theory about skillful feedback to practice.

In going forward, I know I will more intentionally recognize and apply these content method techniques in my internship classrooms in order to further impact student learning. As they say, we learn as we go. In this program I have realized that I learn through both theory and practice, and this course has given me the opportunity to think critically about how best to pair the two.



Billings, L. & Roberts, T. (2009). Speak up and listen. Kappan Magazine, October 2009 ed., pp. 81-85.

Caram, C & Davis, P. (2005). Inviting student engagement with questioning. Kappa Delti Pi Record, Fall 2005 ed., 19-23.

De Pol, J., Volman, M., and Beishusen, J. (2010). Scaffolding in teacher-student interaction: A decade of research. Educational Psychology Review. 22, pp. 271-296. DOI 10.1007/x10648-101-9127-6.

Dochy, Filip, et al. (1999). The relation between assessment practices and outcomes of studies: The case of research on prior knowledge. Review of Educational Research, Summer 1999, Vol. 69, No. 2, pp. 145-186.

Goldsmith, W. (2013). Enhancing classroom conversation for all students. Kappan Magazine, April 2013 ed., pp. 48-52.


Learn by Doing: Using Historical Databases in the History Classroom

In my AP U.S. History course, we have begun to discuss the concept of Historiography. Students are now reading secondary sources with a critical eye — analyzing them for argument and evidence and spotting what has been left out of the secondary source all together. Students are starting to see that History is written by mere humans, humans with biases, slants, and opinions just like the rest of us.

They have had fun with this realization. Just last week we read two differing perspectives on why the U.S. entered World War I, and students assessed both of these historians’ arguments and realized that both had failed to mention the Zimmermann Telegram, a pretty integral part of the story in their view. Why hadn’t either historian mentioned that, they asked? What evidence did these two historians offer? How did they differ? How did they support their arguments?

After ample practice with this, I’d like to see my students move a step further. Dr Bates explains that in the digital age within which we now find ourselves, “the key shift is towards greater emphasis on skills, particularly knowledge management, and less on memorising content.” He continues, “We need teaching methods for teaching and learning that lead to the development of the skills needed in a digital age.”

In my course, I am trying to teach students the skills of real life historians and am trying to get them to use digital resources to do so. I like to get them investigating and drawing their own conclusions. I, of course, do provide them with enough information, or scaffolding, on a given topic (usually through interactive lectures) that they feel equipped to investigate it more on their own. Ultimately it is the students who are assessing the primary documents and analyzing the historical arguments, however; they are the true historians in my classroom.

Unsurprisingly, I was compelled by Bates’s description of Ralph Goodyear’s  HIST 305 Historiography course at an unnamed public university in the central U.S., in which students are expected, for the last third of their course, to engage in their own research projects about city histories and present their research to the rest of the class. According to Bates, Goodyear was delighted by the quality of the work and reported “What I liked was that the students weren’t learning about history; they were doing it.”

In order to get my students thinking like historians, I need to get them to do history.  I need to prepare them to do historical research first and foremost; they need to know what digital research tools and databases are available to them that will allow them to engage in archival research within the school building and even in the comforts of their own homes.

I have already found several historical research databases I intend to show my students to get them started in independent, historical research. Some of these digital archives are local in nature — including and the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project — and some national — including the Library of Congress’s online resources.

One database I have found particularly comprehensive is Fordham University’s Internet History Sourcebooks Project: The website offers a variety of historical sourcebooks, organized by time period and space, or historical topic. Students can click around such historical topics to find primary documents through which to sift. The website founders have already organized the sourcebooks to ensure that all documents and external websites are of high quality.

Importantly, the website also includes a “Studying History” tab that offer students guidance on how to best use primary sources, engage in historiography, and write effective research essays. All of these tools are intended to help students critically evaluate the historical information they are gathering through this site and others.  See these additional tools at:

I foresee suggesting that students begin their research with a database such as this, and let it lead them to additional resources along the way. Hopefully this will allow them to piece together the history they are researching in their own way, which will allow them to read secondary sources with a more critical and independent thinking eye!

The best way to learn history is to do it. As an educator, I plan to use online databases to help students do history. They’ll investigate sources, conduct research, and make their own judgements as to how all of the pieces fit together. They’ll be the historical detectives of their own studies, and they’ll get to decide what it is that makes history history.

The digital age, and its varied online resources, can help us as educators entrust our students with the responsibility of their own learning, and instruct that our students learn by doing.


Bates, A.W. (n.d.). Fundamental change in education. In Teaching in a digital age (4). Retrieved from

Telling (Digital) Stories of our Nation’s Past: Using Film Technology in the U.S. History Classroom

The technological revolution has knocked on our classroom door, and it is asking to come in. Proponents of using technology in the classroom insist that it allows students to investigate learning in new and individualized ways. Teachers must focus on the skills students need in our rapidly advancing world while still maintaining the integrity of intellectual and independent learning.

Dr. Tony Bates purports that we are living in a “knowledge-based society,” or a society dependent on its 21st century skills so I began this week by questioning how I could better incorporate the tech-skills needed for this same society into the Social Studies classroom. I asked what types of tech-driven projects have been used in the History classroom that have allowed student to demonstrate creativity while constructing genuine experiential knowledge? What innovative ideas were out there and what technological products and processes were best for students to engage fully in exploration-based projects?

I began answering this question by reading up on digital storytelling. History, after all, is our world’s narrative; it’s a compilation of stories – biased, tainted, epic, and tragic. Bob Dillan (2014) writes of the power of digital storytelling and promises it is “now both easy to produce and simple to publish [and is] an ideal way to energize learning and engage students at a deeper level.” The digital storytelling model allows students to showcase their learning not only for their peers and teacher, but also for a public beyond the school building.

I have found that telling stories, particularly through film (with its important visual aids and historical reenactments), really brings History alive for students. My mentor teacher and I have been discussing developing a project in which our AP U.S. History students create a digital story through a historical film reel. We plan to introduce a little bit of film history to the course — i.e. when it was that the reel was first invented and what early filmmakers did with it — and ask that students channel the storytelling skills of those early filmmakers and document something of that time in a short film sketch. Dillan’s work assured me that there was a lot out there. Students can use tools such as WeVideo, Youtube, and iMovie to craft and edit short films to better tell their digital stories of the past.

Further investigation brought me to, a website with incredible resources for Social Studies teachers, full of ideas for best practices and suggested teaching materials. I stumbled upon an article about integrating technology in the classroom, which referred to the Reel American History Project (see, a film project created by Lehigh University students which offers a list of independent and historically significant films, and explains how best to use them in the classroom. Each film helps students construct a deeper understanding of history. The project also encourages students to submit their work to its archive so they can be shown in other classes throughout the country. also described Digital Storyteller (see a web-based tool used for creating short digital movies using text, images, and narration. “The goal,” states, “is to guide students in effectively using, interpreting, and integrating primary sources” (n.d.). Teachers can even create a classroom account and select and annotate resources students may use to create their 1-3 minute movies.

Students are always more engaged in their learning when they are asked to produce something creative, original, and uniquely their own. Short film reels will allow them to do just that, and to tell their own digital stories through independent renderings of the past.

Is it just me or is technology’s knocking on the classroom door getting even louder? We better let it in, invite it to stay, and see what it can do! At the very least it can help us tell pretty great visual stories of times long past.


Bates, A.W. (n.d.). Fundamental change in education. In Teaching in a digital age (1). Retrieved from

Dillon, Bob (2014). The power of the digital story. Retrieved from National History Education Clearinghouse (2016). Integrating technology in the history classroom. Retrieved from



Practice Makes Perfect: Course Reflection on Lesson Planning Theory and Practice in General Inquiry, Teaching, and Assessment

Program standard number 4, Content Knowledge, sets the expectation that we teachers in training know how to design and carry out effective curricula and instruction in our preferred content areas. Such lesson plans must also address some or many content-area state or national standards, so they are coherent and sequential. In order to design appropriate units and lessons, teachers must learn how to plan in organized and methodological ways. Our pedagogical creativity, of course, must also surface out of these well-organized lesson plans, appearing out of our constructivist and innovative ideas for lesson instruction.

All quarter long in our General Inquiry, Teaching, and Assessment (EDU60162) class, we have been working with program standard 4 as a means to learn about the coherent instruction design described above (see also Element 4.4). We began our classroom discussion by learning about the all-important rule of lesson sequencing. Rosenshine (2012) and McTighe and Wiggins (2004) showed us that we must design our units and lessons backwards, thinking first about the Central Focus (CF) of a given unit and the Learning Target (LT) of each lesson. We learned, however, that when developing these central foci we need to think critically about aligning our lessons with state standards and objectives, which ensure that units are cohesive and lessons learned and skills obtained are roughly the same throughout the country (though, as we discussed in class, these lessons and skills will inevitably differ because of individual teacher’s personal touches and flair).

Next, Marzano (2007), and McTighe and Wiggins (2005) again, taught our class that after coming up with the central investigative idea for our lesson, we must design the formal and informal assessments we as instructors will use to ensure our students understand each element of the lesson’s LT. We importantly learned that it is essential to include at least two informal assessments each lesson (McTighe and Wiggins). Only then can we as instructors begin to plan our instructional activities that support the lesson’s LT, unit’s CF, and lesson’s assessments. Contrary to popular belief, then, instructional activity planning really comes last in the lesson planning process. All along the way, we were asked to research lesson plans online in our preferred content area and assess their central foci, assessments, and learning activities, which allowed us the fun opportunity to evaluate and critique without too much responsibility of our own.

This changed, however, once we were asked to write an Evaluation of Content Standards Paper. For this paper, we were responsible for becoming familiar with, analyzing, and writing about the state standards for our particular endorsement area. I personally came to the conclusion that the beauty of content standards is actually in their broadness and the liberty we have as teachers to use them as guiding principles rather than strict and rigid guidelines. Our responsibilities increased still when after a survey of effective instructional practices – which include engaging students in pre-existing knowledge and preconceptions, instructing them in both factual and conceptual frameworks, and leading students through metacognitive practices to check their own learning (reiteration, reiteration, reiteration isn’t a bad idea either!) (National Research Council, 2011) – we were asked to design our own lesson plan using all we had learned thus far. All that analysis we had done of other’s lesson plans online was put to good use, and we thought critically about what worked and didn’t in those plans in order to develop our own.

We focused intensively on these original lesson plans for the rest of the semester, incorporating academic language, student voice, and support for exceptional learners as we went. We used the lessons of the course to organize a clearly structured lesson plan, in which progression of activities was even and time appropriate (see Program Standard 4.4 Example). In class, we enjoyed the opportunity to peer edit each other’s lesson plans, and learned about how collaboration influences lesson design for the good. What we ultimately turned in as our final End-of-Quarter Lesson Plan was a well-polished, thoughtful lesson plan and analysis that addressed a state standard, CF, and LT and integrated formal and informal assessment, supportive learning activities, and opportunities for student voice and differentiated learners.

In sum, we learned a great deal this summer quarter about the theory of effective instructional planning, and by the end of the course got to use some of that knowledge to develop our very own lesson plan. Doing so allowed us to “use content area knowledge, learning standards, appropriate pedagogy and resources to design and deliver curricula and instruction” (Program Standard 4). The implications of this for student learning are profound. If teachers plan their lessons intentionally, carefully, and creatively, students are in for a world of deliberate discovery that will allow for structured, clear, and fun learning activities with explicit functions. If we employ student voice effectively, asking students to think metacognitively about their own learning, and run with their feedback as we should, students will most certainly feel an increased sense of ownership and agency in their own learning. Their voice will be directly incorporated into their curricula, and isn’t that exactly what students have long been asking for?

 As said, our cohort knows a great deal now about lesson planning theory and has practiced it through the development of one in-depth lesson plan. Now we must continue. We must plan for lesson segments, units, and year-long curricula! That is what is in store for us, after all. Now we have the tools to begin such further planning. The hope, of course, is that with enough practice this type of curriculum planning will become second nature and no longer will we have to take half of a quarter to design just one lesson plan. Instead, we’ll be able to plan a whole unit, heck maybe even a year-long curriculum in that same amount of time! I’m looking forward to planning more.


Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

McTighe, J. & Wiggins, G. (2004). Understanding by design. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

National Research Council (2011). How people learn: Bridging research and practice. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Rosenshine, B. (2012). Principles of instruction: Research-based strategies that all teachers should know. In The Education Digest. Ann Arbor, MI: Prakken Publications.