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An inquirED Blog

Why High-Quality Instructional Materials Matter

Updated: Feb 17, 2022

Research shows that high-quality instructional materials have a significant impact on improving outcomes for students. What are the implications of this research for social studies teachers and leaders? Scroll to the bottom of this blog post for a link to the webinar recording. This blog post and the associated webinar are sponsored by the inquirED and the National Council for the Social Studies.


During a recent webinar, one of our attendees shared that she felt that she was "drowning in free resources" but still couldn't find what she needed for her daily social studies lessons. "It's all so disconnected," she posted in the chat, "and how do I know if it's accurate?"

She isn't alone. A recent RAND study found that most teachers reported that the materials they used for social studies instruction were ones they found themselves. And more than half reported a critical need for better civics instructional resources.

That's one of the reasons we decided to address high-quality instructional materials in our webinar. Shanti Elangovan, Founder and CEO of inquirED, discussed the importance of these materials with Dr. Tanji Reed Marshall (Ph.D., Director of P-12 Practice at The Education Trust) and Stefanie Wager (Education Partner Manager for the OER Project and President of the National Council for the Social Studies).

High-Quality Materials

Here's a not-so-revolutionary theory: Give teachers high-quality instructional materials that provide support down to the daily instructional level, and it will improve teacher practice and student outcomes. Study after study confirms that it's true.

And doesn't it just seem like common sense? It's like providing someone with a fantastic kitchen-tested recipe, high-quality ingredients, the tools and utensils they need, and detailed instructions. You'd be right to expect a pretty good meal.

Conversely, what if you pointed them towards an empty kitchen and wished them luck?

But that is just what we are doing to teachers. inquirED Founder and CEO Shanti Elangovan summed up the problem:

"In social studies, we seem to be putting the responsibility of creating instructional materials on the teacher. But it takes so much time to create instructional materials, to vet sources in order to think about the voices being represented, about the learning experiences around the sources. Do we really imagine that teachers have time for that?"

So what constitutes high-quality instructional materials? According to our webinar guest Dr. Tanji Reed Marshall, Ph.D., Director of P-12 Practice at The Education Trust, the essential questions to ask are:

  • Are the materials aligned to standards?

  • Can you prove it?

  • Are they asking students to engage with high-rigor tasks?

I'm struck by the deceptively simple question, "Can you prove it?" So often, we see materials that claim to be "standards-aligned." But Dr. Marshall isn't asking for a sticker pasted on a textbook. Instead, she's saying that anyone should be able to open a high-quality instructional material, look at the specific tasks within a lesson (and across a series of lessons), and see direct evidence of how those tasks are scaffolding and developing standards-based knowledge and skills. That's the kind of alignment that changes practice and improves outcomes.

Focusing on Social Studies

We asked Stefanie Wager, President of the National Council for the Social Studies, to get a little more specific about what high-quality materials might look like for social studies. Not surprisingly, her guiding questions had to do with inquiry:

  • How are the materials connected to more important questions?

  • Are the materials linked to high-quality primary and secondary sources?

  • How are students being asked to engage with and investigate those sources?

Inquiry is the common thread that links social studies guidelines like the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework and the new Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy. If we are going to build a definition for high-quality materials in social studies - then inquiry would be at the core.

Both of our webinar panelists called for materials with embedded supports for teachers. "For social studies instruction, we need dedicated time for professional development," Wager said, "so teachers can implement instructional materials effectively." Dr. Marshall commented explicitly on the teaching of "hard history." She pointed out that avoiding "hard history" is avoiding American History. "I think part of professional learning," she stated, "has to get to the underpinnings of why there's such an angst around teaching actual material when the material is the content that actually happened."


inquirED's Curriculum Review Guide: In consultation with our partner schools and districts, inquirED has created a Curriculum Review Guide to support instructional leaders as they develop and search for social studies curriculum.

OER Project: OER Project courses make sense of our world by connecting the past to the present with an eye toward the future. Everything is free, online, and adaptable to meet your students' individual need.

The Education Trust: Chock full of provocative data, analysis, and lessons from the field,

The Education Trust's publications aim to get to the core of closing gaps in opportunity and achievement.

View the recording of the webinar below.


About inquirED

inquirED has moved beyond the textbook, offering a customizable, digital curriculum that supports teachers in shifting to student-centered instruction. inquirED delivers year-long, student-centered curriculum and assessment with engaging content and activities for students and embedded professional learning for teachers. Inquiry Journeys is inquirED’s core elementary social studies curriculum. Inquiry Journeys is a comprehensive inquiry-based curriculum with embedded PD that helps teachers shift their practice to a more inquiry-based approach. Learn More.

About our Panelists and Hosts

Dr. Tanji Reed Marshall

Tanji Reed Marshall is the director of p-12 practice and leads The Education Trust’s Equity in Motion assignment analysis work. Prior to joining The Education Trust, Marshall worked in the Office of Academic Programs at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University to prepare the school of education’s accreditation with the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. Before that, she supported prospective secondary English teachers who were working to obtain licensure through the school of education. Before joining Virginia Tech, she worked as a district-level literacy specialist in Charlotte–Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina. Marshall holds a doctorate degree in curriculum and instruction, with an emphasis on teacher practice with high-achieving African American students, from Virginia Tech; a master’s degree in English education, with a focus on critical literacy, from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Boston College.

Stefanie Wager

Stefanie Wager is the Education Partner Manager for the OER Project. Prior to this role, she served at the Iowa Department of Education providing leadership and guidance at the state level for social studies education. She also taught high school social studies for Des Moines Public Schools and Dallas Center-Grimes Schools and worked at Instituto Thomas Jefferson in Naucalpan, Mexico. In addition, she formerly served as the coordinator of a Teaching American History Grant. She received both a Bachelors and Masters degree from Drake University in Des Moines, IA. Stefanie has been involved in the Iowa Council for the Social Studies since 2010, first serving as co-chair for the Annual Conference, then Vice-President, and now President. She is also currently serving on the National Council for the Social Studies Board of Directors. In that capacity Stefanie has worked on the Strategic Plan Committee, Executive Director Search Committee and the Associated Group Ad-Hoc Committee, among others. She is also a member of CS4. In 2011, Stefanie was named an Emerging Leader in Education by ASCD. Stefanie lives in Grimes, IA with her husband Jake, who is also a social studies teacher, and their two children, Lincoln and Grace.

Shanti Elangovan

After obtaining an M.Ed from Columbia University, Shanti Elangovan moved from classroom teacher to coach to curriculum director. Eager to help educational organizations scale their impact, she went on to earn an MBA. Shanti quickly put those skills to work by envisioning and implementing strategies to grow National Center for Teacher Residencies’ impact. In 2017 Shanti founded inquirED to scale the use and impact of inquiry-based learning, a powerful teaching pedagogy that prepares students for the 21st century.


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