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Effective Teaching of Content in the Era of the Common Core

Published on Sun, 04/28/2013

Triangle shows components of professional development

Balancing Three Vital Components in Professional Development


The Common Core will be a game-changer in the teaching of content and in the skills of verbal-oral and visual literacy, including writing. Teaching ELA teachers should incorporate thinking about science, history, and other disciplines as well as literature. At the same time, social studies and science teachers must convey not just content knowledge, but the skills to analyze texts, data, images – anything really – and to write well about them: explanations, descriptions, arguments, and research studies.


Every Emerging America workshop therefore connects three components:

  1. Critical Thinking about Historical Content – which could be on any topic from patterns of Native American settlement or the Emancipation Proclamation to the history and science of flight.
  2. Practice in the analysis of a particular body of primary sources, including the very local (such as a series of studies of the local mills) to the national (featuring work with the 30 million items in the Library of Congress online collections).
  3. Focus on a small number of Common Core standards, usually one from reading and one from writing. Every workshop also helps teachers learn to match appropriate primary sources to each standard.

During each workshop, teachers practice multiple times with tools of analysis, featuring approaches from each of the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the Stanford History Education Group. Teachers incorporate the three components in the writing of a lesson. In more substantial workshops, they teach the lesson, and then they bring student work and observations for discussion on how to improve instruction.

Topics, grade levels and subject areas, scholar interest, site, and other factors shift the balance of time, sources, and particular skills in any given workshop.


Rich Cairn

Civics and Social Studies Curriculum and Instruction Specialist, Collaborative for Educational Services
Rich Cairn founded Emerging America in 2006, which features the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program at the Collaborative for Educational Services, and the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History program, "Forge of Innovation: The Springfield Armory and the Genesis of American Industry." The Accessing Inquiry clearinghouse, supported by the Library of Congress TPS program promotes full inclusion of students with disabilities and English Learners in civics and social studies education.