Understanding the Delaware History Standards for teachers in grades 6–8

HISTORY STANDARD FOUR: Students will develop historical knowledge of major events and phenomena in world, United States, and Delaware history [Content]

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HISTORY STANDARD FOUR: Students will develop historical knowledge of major events and phenomena in world, United States, and Delaware history [Content].

Students should know chronology in broad outlines and enough trends in history that they have a reservoir of information they can use to provide factual support and examples in their short, written responses. Students should have an understanding of trends and patterns in order to use that understanding as evidence when drawing conclusions or making inferences. For example, a student responding to a historian’s writing published in the 1950s should be aware that the 1950s came after the Second World War or during the Cold War or during the beginning of a Civil Rights movement. Consider these two sentences the student might write:

  1. He wrote this because Americans were angry at Russia.

  2. This historian was influenced by the Cold War then taking place between the United States and Russia.

Obviously the second sentence is much stronger and reflects more understanding.

Teachers should not be concerned as they examine the content descriptions in Standard Four for each grade cluster and think, “That’s too much. I could never do that in a school year.” Actually, it is too much to cover, and becomes more ponderous with each passing year. What teachers, schools, and districts must learn to do is selectively abandon certain topics in the course of history. Do not try to cover everything. It is impossible. Adopt an approach that could be called “post-holing.” Dig deeply into some topics rather than trying to “cover” everything. It is better for a student to clearly understand a concept and to be able to use something in history in an explanation than it is to have a limited understanding of a concept and know a lot of “somethings” in history. Students understand a standard when they can apply it in a new or different situation. The teacher does not have to “cover” every potential situation for the student to be prepared. The student who can apply understanding to a new situation is well equipped for any assessment of the Delaware History Standards and for life after school.

Social Studies content should be about:

  • Themes, broad historical trends, and topics that allow the four strands of the social studies to be integrated and provide a cultural context for the student;

  • Relevant and important contemporary issues;

  • Resources for education and not the scope and sequence contained in a textbook.

Select historical topics which are transferable, relevant, integrated, contemporary, and important. Students should study what resonates throughout history and prepares them for decisions they will face as adult citizens.

A student must know history; do not be fooled by Standard Four. The reason why specific people, laws, events, etc., are not listed is because no group of historians will ever agree on the essential and necessary facts that everyone should know. Remember, history does not exist until the historian looks at the sources and decides what is important and therefore what is history. This is why the initial History Standards committee decided not to produce a required list of people, laws, events, etc. Content in History Standard Four is left for each district or teacher to decide. The absence of a specific list does not mean students do not have to know anything. It means that a student is free to use whatever historical knowledge he or she gained in that classroom.

If students have a reservoir of historical knowledge and they understand the History Standards, they can do well on any assessment. If they lack either one—historical knowledge or an understanding of the standards—they will not do well. Make certain in your teaching that your students acquire an understanding of history and how it works as a discipline (Standards One, Two, and Three) and that they acquire knowledge of people, laws, and events and when these historical specifics fall chronologically (Standard Four).

It is hard to imagine a Social Studies, History, Economics, Geography, Civics, or Government course or program that ignores events from 1900 to the present. The History Standards do not dictate a curriculum, but they do require students to have courses that equip them to bring some knowledge of history and an understanding of the standards and how to apply the standards. If the students learn information they can use it. Any assessment of the Delaware History Standards is not one to which a student can simply apply common sense or street-level knowledge. He or she must bring knowledge and an understanding of the standards to it to do well.

A student should know historical chronology in such a way as to be able to place people, laws, and events. For example, from 1850 to 2000, there was a Civil War, Reconstruction in the South, the settlement of the West, the rise of industrialization and urbanization, imperialism, the rise of segregation, two world wars, a Cold War, the rise of the Third World, the end of colonialism, a Great Depression, a civil rights movement in America, a woman’s movement, a war in Vietnam, etc. Without knowing the exact years for an event, a student should still be able to place all these events within the chronology, 1850 to 2000, in their approximate place. In other words, students should know the major events and their approximate time. For example, they should know that the Great Depression occurred between the two world wars. It is not enough to minimally know these events in order to merely recognize one, as might happen for classroom multiple choice questions in which the correct answer is selected. In a standards-aligned short answer, a student needs to recall and use historical information as an explanation or evidence. Obviously, if he or she has little to recall (Standard Four), or if they do not understand history as a discipline (Standards One, Two Three), then he or she will have little to offer as a factually supported accurate and relevant explanation.

The following multiple choice question is an example.4 In order to answer this question a student must be aware of the chronology, impact, and consequences of industrialization and technology on agriculture over a long period, 1860 to 2000. The introduction of more and more mechanization greatly increased output. The long-term effect was to reduce the number of farmers needed to feed the rest of us.

his 11th grade assessment item uses a graph that shows the long-term decline in the farmers’ share of the national income. The correct response is option J. All four possible answers—immigration, global warfare, natural disasters, and industrialization—occurred within the dates for the graph, 1860-2000, but only industrialization explains this long-term decline in the farmers’ share of the national income, the shift from an agricultural-based economy to an industrial-based economy.

The four disciplines in the Delaware Social Studies Standards—Civics, Economics, Geography, and History—each offer distinct approaches and develop different skills. Unite them in your teaching. All four disciplines are present in the issues and challenges our students face every day in the classroom and those they will confront in the future, both in their personal lives and as voters and participants in our broader society. If a student masters the Delaware Social Studies Standards, he or she will be able to transfer their understanding into a lifetime of active citizenship.

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