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Exemplary Elementary Social Studies: Case Studies in Practice

reviewed by Tiffany Dolder-Holland & Prentice T. Chandler - March 10, 2016

coverTitle: Exemplary Elementary Social Studies: Case Studies in Practice
Author(s): Andrea S. Libresco, Janet Alleman, Sherry L. Field, and Jeff Passe
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623965985, Pages: 164, Year: 2014
Search for book at Amazon.com

Exemplary Elementary Social Studies: Case Studies in Practice is a compilation of social studies classroom practices in case study form that descend in grade level order from 6K. Editors Andrea S. Libresco, Janet Alleman, Sherry L. Field, and Jeff Passe present their case studies as reflective pieces that exemplify the importance of social studies in the formal curriculum. The authentic practices in this volume fulfill National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and general research-based principles, and best practice guidelines (Passe, Good, & Libresco, 2014). Collectively these case studies exemplify how powerful social studies (NCSS, 2008) is alive and well in our nations schools.

The book provides resources for those who may be frustrated with the current testing regime and want to keep social studies at the forefront of teaching and learning. Elementary teachers can examine cases according to grade level to find resources and examples of best practices to use professionally. Readers can also develop an understanding of social studies knowledge and skills at different grade levels by building a toolkit of ideas and strategies for practicing powerful social studies. The cases illustrate a wide span of grade levels and provide readers with options to expand their skills such as building a community of learners, using essential questions or document-based instruction, supporting multiple intelligences, and facilitating service learning. The cases frequently present these skills and tools to provide multiple perspectives on them and their educational outcomes. The authors specify how social studies teaching aligns with state and national standards to show that creativity can exist in an environment of structured accountability.

In the first case study, Libresco showcases how a sixth grade teacher focuses on skill sets allowing students to construct knowledge of global citizenship. Civic skill sets are fostered by using essential questions, cooperative groups, investigations, and discussions of controversial issues. The author highlights how this example of powerful instruction helps teachers model and scaffold both listening and thinking skills in ways that potentially transform student civic identities.

In the second case, Roi Kawai, Stephanie Serriere, and Dana Mitra explore a fifth grade teachers attempt to disrupt social behavior by using civic zinesstudent created magazines. The zine model asks students to make a difference in their community and understand their civic capabilities by creating a current events magazine. Meaningful research is paired with authentic writing, action, and reflection in this inquiry unit. Students become more familiar with their spheres of existence through the process of creating a zine by asking questions, finding data, and providing evidence to create a purpose for their findings. Understanding the meaning of place in both global and local communities pushed democratic thinking and action in this case.

In the third case, Libresco follows a first-year fourth grade teacher examining the meaning of teamwork in social studies education. This case highlights the importance of staff development and effective use of assessments as catalysts for teaching. The teacher is supported by two lead teachers in the development of critical thinking processes, and opportunities to construct knowledge on concepts and big ideas. Essential questions are rooted in document-based instruction that stems from a teacher-constructed test. The focus of instruction is on thinking processes, and students are given the opportunity to conduct research, ask questions of collected data, and re-evaluate their judgmentsall skills measured on the assessment. This assessment is a form of backwards design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) and becomes a place for a grade level team to begin discussing the skills students should develop during units of study. The case demonstrates the importance of professional development models and their educational outcomes on student learning.

The fourth case by Karon LeCompte and Kristine Kruczek Mains reinforces the theme of teaching beyond the test and focuses on using multiple intelligences to empower student social studies learning. The third grade teacher who is profiled is a veteran lead instructor who focuses on student exploration of new content in various ways. The case is a constructivist model as the teacher places value on social settings and student motivation through project-based learning. Students are provided with centers of activities prompting them to ask questions, and create ways to demonstrate and monitor their learning. This case emphasizes the value of personal motivation and the many talents one can bring to the community.

In the fifth case, Serriere examines service learning in a second grade classroom. The first-year teacher profiled chose this method to support student exploration of purposes and roles in a democratic society. By incorporating service learning, the teacher merges civic, social, and academic learning within integrated subjects, and fosters empathy and reflection within their classroom community. Students identify a problem, investigate it, research possible solutions before implementation, and evaluate and reflect on the process. This social studies strategy asks second graders to actively participate in their community as a democratic collective in authentic ways.

In the sixth case, Janet Alleman, Jere Brophy, and Barbara Knighton analyze a first grade classroom that utilizes cultural universals, narratives, and social mediation in a holistic approach to teach social studies concepts, standards, and benchmarks. The profiled teacher emphasizes the importance of building a strong learning community to set the stage for an interactive and responsive classroom. Cultural universals are situated as part of everyday living to both understand and compare societys human experiences in the past and present. Young learners use narratives as tools to gain new information and become part of interactive storytelling used in conjunction with universals. Inter-generational connections and out-of-school learning experiences help connect first grade student knowledge to new material in addition to the teacher presenting information. This first grade classroom establishes community roles and creates a microcosm of society in the classroom through the process of participating in the teachers pedagogical strategies and tools.

Finally in the seventh case, Passe describes how a kindergarten teacher weaves social studies into all aspects of classroom learning. Establishing a community of learners is key to making a meaningful learning environment much like many of the other cases. Class meetings with purposeful agendas help this veteran teacher direct responsibilities of self-regulation and decision-making to students. Learners set goals for success, talk through problems, and share accomplishments. Classroom meetings activate student voice and help them understand civic processes. Standards are a guide, but students drive the learning in this kindergarten classroom through play and activities. Activity centers cross disciplines and are labeled with objectives, concepts, and skills drawn from standards. This allows social studies content to be integrated into all classroom activities. The profiled teacher believes that student experiences are at the root of learning and their power comes from a teacher willing to support this ideal.

Each case in this text unfortunately describes only a limited background of the teacher and school where the social studies practices took place. However, while these descriptions are not ethnographically rich, they provide readers with comparative points to see how the strategies and lessons could transfer to different contexts. The books benefit is how it portrays a variety of strategies and techniques in different classrooms, while also showing common themes among strategies across grade levels to exemplify the value of social studies teaching and learning. Common practices are summarized in the final chapter. Lessons illustrated by these cases provide worthwhile points of reflection for classroom teachers, pre-service teachers, teacher educators, and school administrators whether glancing at a single chapter or engaging in sustained reading.

Exemplary Elementary Social Studies: Case Studies in Practice could be used in school-wide professional development or in pre-service social studies education to spark discussion regarding creating powerful learning environments that support active citizenship. The cases allow readers to evaluate the influence of the teacher, teacher support, and curricular materials used to teach social studies. Readers could ask themselves personal questions to connect to the case studies providedAm I in a similar situation or do I have the same background knowledge as this teacher? How could these practices fit into my school context? Do these teacher practices follow my education philosophy? What aspects do I value and could I incorporate them into my teaching or school community? Could there be a preferred scope and sequence to utilizing strategies and common practices? Finally, the diverse case examples prove the power of social studies in various teaching and learning environments. Readers can re-examine their understanding of the goals of social studies education and the tools that potentially support it in their classrooms.


National Council for the Social Studies. (2008). A vision of powerful teaching and learning in the

social studies: Building social understanding and civic efficacy. Retrieved from


Passe, J., Good, A., & Libresco, A. (2014). Social studies in the age of accountability: The two

are not mutually exclusive. In A. Libresco, J. Alleman, S. Field, & J. Passe (Eds.) Exemplary

elementary social studies: case studies in practice, (pp. 1-12). Charlotte, NC: Information Age

Publishing Inc.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 10, 2016
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 19568, Date Accessed: 1/16/2022 4:41:41 PM

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About the Author
  • Tiffany Dolder-Holland
    University of Cincinnati
    E-mail Author
    TIFFANY DOLDER-HOLLAND coordinates the pre-service course Introduction to Education at the University of Cincinnati. Her research interests revolve around community-school partnerships, civic engagement, service learning and teacher education.
  • Prentice Chandler
    University of Cincinnati
    E-mail Author
    PRENTICE T. CHANDLER is the Program Coordinator of Secondary Education and Associate Professor in the School of Education at the University of Cincinnati. He teaches courses in social studies education, diversity, and critical race theory and serves as the Secondary Social Studies Education program coordinator. His research interests are in social studies methods, critical race theory, academic freedom, authentic intellectual work, and flipped pedagogy. Some of his published work has appeared in Social Education, Social Studies Research and Practice, Teacher Education Quarterly, Educational Philosophy and Theory, and the Journal of Social Studies Research. His recent book, Doing Race in Social Studies: Critical Perspectives (IAP, 2015), examines Critical Race Theory (CRT) applications in social studies teaching and learning.
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