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An inquirED Blog

New Standards, New Directions: When Your State Goes All-In for Inquiry

Updated: Oct 14, 2022

inquirED: States Go All in For Inquiry

States spend years crafting new inquiry-based social studies standards, but what happens after these standards are published? How are state and district leaders not only helping educators understand the ins and outs of inquiry-based social studies, but also helping them find the high-quality instructional materials they need? To discuss these questions, we were joined on our webinar by Asif Wilson (Assistant Professor, Curriculum & Instruction, the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign), Reuben Henriques (History and Social Science Content Lead, MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education), and Christine Brennan-Davis, Partnerships Executive at inquirED.


Trends in State Standards

The publication of the C3 Framework, and later on the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap, have proven to be watershed moments for social studies nationwide. They share the philosophy that knowledge and understanding arise from the inquiry process.

  • Creating and investigating questions

  • Gathering and evaluating sources

  • Developing claims, and supporting those claims with evidence and reasoning,

  • Communicating ideas and taking informed action

Impact of the C3 Framework

Christine Brennan-Davis, a Partnerships Executive at inquirED, shared an analysis of the trends in social studies standards adoption across the country. Not surprisingly these trends have been greatly influenced by the C3 Framework. “It's been about 9 years since the publication of the Framework,” Brennan-Davis shared, “and the impact is pretty tremendous.” According to a recent analysis, 36 states – with more to follow – have integrated inquiry principles into their social studies standards, setting the instructional priorities for over 30 million students.

Brennan-Davis also shared that in addition to a focus on inquiry, there has been a renewed focus and commitment to civics education. “I think this is really where the EAD Roadmap provides guidance both on history and civics,” she said, “and makes a real call for strengthening history and civic learning nationwide.”

According to Brennan-Davis, another trend across state standards is toward more inclusive and culturally responsive social studies.” In some cases, states are integrating ethnic studies into their social studies standards,” she shared, “and paying really particular attention to the inclusion of voices and perspectives from historically marginalized groups.”

It’s clear that there is a trend in state standards toward inclusive inquiry-based social studies. But how are these standards being translated into practice?

From Standards To Practice: Illinois

The extent to which inquiry-based standards shape the day-to-day experience of social studies depends in large part on whether or not classroom teachers receive the support they need to shift their instructional practice. Many teachers are unfamiliar with inquiry-based practices, and many more lack the high-quality instructional materials that they need to support them.

Asif Wilson, Assistant Professor of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, joined us to talk about efforts in Illinois to translate standards into practice through the I3 Professional Development Series. The I3 series is a five-part program for teachers with both live and asynchronous components. According to Wilson, during the I3 series, “teachers are learning from scholars and from practicing teachers demonstrating a transformative practice.”

Wilson and his team have also designed the series to “allow teachers to ask their own questions about inquiry and inclusion…and create space for teachers to dream and to reflect.”

While the I3 series seeks to support teachers in translating standards into practice, Wilson shared that the Illinois State Board of Education – in partnership with teachers and district leaders across the state – has developed a curriculum evaluation tool to help choose high-quality instructional materials. According to Wilson, it’s a tool that helps teachers ask important questions about curricular resources. “How is this curricular resource supporting students asking questions, students collecting information, and students taking action - this curriculum evaluation tool is something we're finding that is really important.”

From Standards To Practice: Massachusetts

While both Illinois and Massachusetts are in a similar place in regards to their efforts to translate standards into practice, Massachusetts has moved in a different direction, focusing on the evaluation and creation of curricular materials. “We've kind of leaned into those curriculum conversations,” shared Reuben Henriques, History and Social Science Content Lead, MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “There’s a tradition of history, teachers, making or cobbling together their own materials,” Henriques said, “but if we can give teachers really solid instructional materials as a foundation, they can do the work that they are best at, which is bringing them to life.”

To bring high-quality social studies instructional materials to teachers, Massachusetts developed a review tool, then convened a panel of teachers to conduct a review of both K-5 and eighth-grade curricular resources. In their landscape review, they found that 4 materials met their baseline expectations on the rubric for quality in either all areas or all but one area. “We tried to really make it obvious which criteria they met,” Henriques said, “and where they might need a little bit of adjustment or supplementation.”

Highly-rated elementary social studies

The next step for Massachusetts is to explore how to motivate schools, districts, and teachers to use the recommended resources. Massachusetts is also creating its own 5-8 curriculum called Investigating History. ”It's been like a pretty significant investment of time and energy on our part,” Henriques shared, “but it's really exciting, and it's been fun to see it start to come together.”


Watch the webinar below.

About inquirED

inquirED was founded by teachers with the mission of bringing inquiry-based social studies to every classroom. Inquiry Journeys, inquirED’s elementary social studies curriculum, is used in schools and districts across the country to help students develop deep social studies content knowledge and build the inquiry skills that are essential for a thriving democracy.

Panelist Bios

Asif Wilson is an Assistant Professor, Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His research broadly focuses on justice-centered pedagogies in P-20 educational contexts and has been featured in peer-reviewed publications like the Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, the Journal of Educational Foundations, and Rethinking Schools. He is leading the development, implementation, and evaluation of training in inclusive, inquiry-based instruction for K-12 social studies teachers throughout the state of Illinois. @asifwilson

Reuben Henriques is the History/Social Science Content Support Lead at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Previously, Reuben taught middle and high school history in the Boston area for six years. Through his work as a department chair and instructional coach, he emphasized integrating source work and historical thinking, supporting increased alignment, collaboration, and rigor across history courses. He has also written curriculum and delivered professional development for the KIPP Foundation as part of their effort to expand access to AP history courses. Reuben has a Master’s in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education with a focus on instructional leadership. @reubenhenriques

Christine Brennan Davis is a Partnership Executive at inquirED - throughout her career she has focused on helping teachers and students thrive. Most recently, before coming to inquirED she spent a decade at the National Center for Teacher Residencies leveraging the knowledge and skills she gained as an instructional coach and classroom teacher to transform teacher preparation. She is deeply committed to supporting schools in inquiry-based instruction, implementation of new standards, and culturally and linguistically sustaining education. @inquiredlearn


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