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					Aligning Curriculum and Instruction:
     A Social Science Perspective

                Heather Boyd
      EPPL 534: Instructional Leadership
                  May 2008
       The College of William and Mary
The Purpose of Curriculum and Instruction Alignment

        Standards are the desired skills or knowledge that students must achieve. They are a necessary

tool to measure what society deems important in educating children. Standards have come about due to

an intense global pressure for American students to achieve better than or at least at the same level as

other high achieving countries.

        Standards drive curriculum creation. They are the “umbrella” over curriculum. Curriculums are

developed by state and local divisions and further specify the content and skills students will learn and be

assessed. Curriculum alignment fuses state standards with district curriculum which in turn is delivered

through instruction.

        Curriculum aligns itself to instructional strategies in the classroom. In creating the curriculum, a

district decides the specific knowledge or skills that teachers should incorporate into class lessons in order

to help students achieve the overall standards. A district’s primary focus is to align curriculum,

instruction and assessment so students master the knowledge and abilities embedded in the documented

state standards.

        However, curriculums do not provide teachers with specific strategies for delivering the content,

but there are many avenues a teacher can explore to deliver curriculum in an interesting and novel way.

Teachers should not feel constrained by archaic strategies to deliver knowledge. Instead teachers should

take advantage of the opportunity of the freedom they hold when aligning curriculum with instruction.

The Curriculum

        Social Studies are an integral part of the school curriculum and a central focus when analyzing

the overall aims of public education. How this country has emerged and what events have occurred to

shape its current state is critical for student awareness in order to be prepared for civic responsibility. The

History Standards of Learning (SOL) for Virginia cover a broad span of the social sciences. US History,

World History, Virginia History, Civics and Government, Geography, primary grade, and secondary
school history courses are encompassed within the history standards. Because the Virginia Department of

Education has created a broad view of the social sciences, each component can reach a certain amount of

depth based on grade level or subject matter.

        When analyzing school curriculum and standards, one has to question the public school’s overall

aims for its students. The aim asks the question, “Why do public schools exist?” Williamsburg-James

City County (WJCC) Public Schools has created a mission statement of what they hope to instill in their

students. “We are committed to providing an excellent education, in partnership with families and

community, so that each and every student is prepared for lifelong learning, independent thinking, and

responsible citizenship” (Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools, p.1). The Virginia History

Standards of Learning, located on the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) website reiterate

WJCC’s mission. The History standard’s state, “The study of history and social science is vital in a

democratic society…. in order to become informed participants in shaping our nation’s future

and…prepare students for informed and responsible citizenship” (History and Social Science Standards of

Learning, 2001, p. 9). Lifelong learning, independent thinking and responsible citizenship seem to be a

recurring theme in the aims of education.

        If the overall aim of public schools and curriculum standards focus on citizenship and life-long

learning, then it would be prudent to analyze what the SOL history goals are to achieve the aims of

education. The US History SOL’s bring to attention their goals at the beginning of the document.

                Students will use skills of historical and geographical analysis to explore the early history

        of the United States….They also will study documents and speeches that laid the foundation of

        American ideals… and will examine the everyday life of people at different times in the country’s

        history through the use of primary and secondary sources. The study of history must emphasize

        the intellectual skills required for responsible citizenship (p. 22).

The goals of the US History standards focus on analysis of people, ideas and events, key concepts, and

interpretation of primary source documents. These goals, if incorporated correctly, will aid in achieving
the aims of education. Studying history should develop the skills needed in order to be a responsible


           Although there is not a specific grade level listed for the US History standards, it is generally

taught in the intermediate and middle school level. The US History SOL’s have been divided into two

sections based on a natural chronological break marked at the end of the Civil War in 1865. The specific

SOL chosen for this project was located in the US History to 1865 SOL’s and is usually taught in fifth or

sixth grade. It specifically focuses on life in Colonial America. The standard is listed as USI.5 on the

Virginia Department of Education website and reads as follows:

                   Exploration to Revolution: Pre-Columbian Times to the 1770s

           USI.5 The student will demonstrate knowledge of the factors that shaped colonial America by:
           a) describing the religious and economic events and conditions that led to the colonization of
           b) describing life in the New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Southern colonies,
           with emphasis on how people interacted with their environment to produce goods and services,
           including examples of specialization and interdependence.
           c) describing colonial life in America from the perspectives of large landowners, farmers,
           artisans, women, African-Americans, indentured servants, and enslaved African-Americans;
           d) identifying the political and economic relationships between the colonies and Great Britain.
           (History and Social Science Standards of Learning Curriculum Framework, 2008, p. 17-23).

This SOL contains four components giving further insight and detail into colonial American life. These

are the minimum standards students should achieve in regards to colonial America.

           The US History to 1865 curriculum framework provides an in-depth look at the essential

understandings, questions, knowledge, and skills students should attain from each numbered standard of

learning. Each “essential” provides a deeper insight into the standard and the minimum understandings

students should learn and be assessed on. For instance, the curriculum framework furnishes a chart with

different sub-headings for USI.5b to give students specific details on the regional colonies, their resources

and political/social climate. Because this is the first time that students would be learning and receiving

this information, there seems to be a reasonable amount of depth to this standard within the curriculum

framework. Many terms are introduced as well to give a deeper understanding of life in colonial times as

well as an analysis of life for different socio-economic groups of the era.
        Because the VDOE divided up the US history standards into two timeframes, it is possible for

schools and grade levels to delve a little deeper. Spotsylvania public schools has created and posted

curriculum maps on their division website to show time spent on instruction for the Virginia SOL’s.

Their fifth grade map gives an average of about 15 days for all four components of US History SOL

USI.5 (Spotsylvania County Schools Curriculum Map, 2008, p. 14-19).         Again, this is the first time that

this material has likely been introduced to students and this does give a teacher ample time to create

instruction with considerable content explaining the formation of the colonies. On the other hand, the

Spotsylvania 11th grade curriculum map includes this standard briefly and with less time and emphasis.

The map displays that the first nine weeks are devoted to early American history up to the Civil War. The

primary grades devote an entire school year to this time frame. Presumably Spotsylvania high schools

have to do this because they have one year devoted to American history in its entirety and cannot spend as

much time. In addition, since it has already been introduced to students in primary grades, students

should have a good overview of the material by the time they reach high school.

        US History standard USI.5 is tested on the annual state achievement tests administered in the

spring. The Standards of Learning test is comprised of 50 questions. According to the US History test

blueprint, most of standard’s 4 and 5 are found under the area, “Exploration to Revolution.” This

section of the test has six questions. It would be safe to assume that probably about 3 questions are asked

in regards to USI.5. USI.5b is found in the geography section that has eight total questions. This section

also covers parts of USI.4. Again it would be safe to assume that maybe one to two questions would be

asked in regards to USI.5. While this may not seem like a great deal of testing on this particular standard,

it is prudent to remember that the entire 50 question test must encompass all US History to 1865. That is

200 years of history to test. The fact that it is tested illustrates that USI.5 has been deemed an important

part of the curriculum.

        The content of USI.5 pertains to religious and economic reasons for the development of the

original American colonies with a focus on interdependence and specialization. Obviously, these terms

would be analyzed with students as well as other terms relating to colonization. In addition, the colonies
would be divided up by region, incorporating geography skills, and analyzed by what they produced and

what the culture included. In order to understand the culture, USI.5 has also given special focus to the

inhabitants and their roles in the successes and failures of the colonies. Finally, the SOL ties the content

to the next USI.6 by re-introducing the colonial relationship to Great Britain.

        The cognitive level of USI.5 is based on an analysis of Bloom’s Taxonomy. When analyzing

SOL USI.5, particular verbs are listed that indicate the cognitive level of the standard. USI.5 has

emphasized that students will demonstrate, describe, identify, analyze, interpret, and list sequentially.

Most of these fall within two cognitive categories. Demonstrating, describing, identifying, interpreting,

and sequencing can be found within Bloom’s cognitive levels of comprehension and knowledge. These

would be considered the simpler cognitive abilities in Bloom’s taxonomy. Because this standard

introduces students to colonial America and is covered generally at the fifth-sixth grade level, it would be

prudent for the cognitive abilities to be simpler in nature. There are some verbs, though, in USI.5 that

attempt to develop a fifth grader’s cognitive abilities. The verb, demonstrating, can also be found in

Bloom’s level of application, while analyze would be found under Bloom’s level of analysis. This does

give teachers the ability to implement some strategies that are higher order in nature while still keeping

the material at the appropriate grade level.

        Some vertical and horizontal articulation can be found within USI.5 and the Social Science

standards. Vertical articulation is particularly obvious due to the fact that Social Studies is chronological

and builds on key ideas and themes. USI.4c focuses on African nations and their relationship to trade

with Europe. This is a direct correlation to USI.5c’s focus on slavery and the slave trade. In addition,

USI.5d introduces the relationship between the colonies and Great Britain. This is pertinent knowledge

for students to gain as USI.6 targets the issues that led to the Revolution and the dissatisfaction that

colonists felt with Great Britain.

        Virginia Studies is a component highlighted in the Virginia Social Science SOL’s and includes

standards based on American colonization. VS.3 and VS.4 discuss reasons for colonization and the first
English colony at Jamestown. Both VS.3 and VS.4 also give focus to the people who settled the colonies

including African slaves. Although Virginia Studies gives a greater focus solely to Virginia, it does show

vertical articulation with its content on American colonization. In addition, the secondary courses

covered under the social science standards also focus on colonization. VUS.2 and VUS.3 delve into how

colonization impacted European and African cultures. These standards also focus on the economies of

the colonies and how they shaped the cultural values in regards to slavery. Although the standards are

scaled back compared with the primary grade social science standards, it should again be noted that

secondary courses cannot be as in-depth with basic terms and content, as they focus on broader historical

trends and themes.

        Horizontal articulation can be specifically found in the US History to 1865 curriculum

framework. Under the USI.5 Essential Skills category, some US History standards are highlighted to

demonstrate how students can incorporate previously learned skills. These skills could easily be applied

to other subjects such as Language Arts or Reading. USI.1a has students “identify and interpret primary

and secondary source documents” (US History to 1865 Curriculum Framework, 2008, p17). This could

be applied to any grade level and some subjects, not just US History. In addition, the Essential Skills also

incorporates USI.1c and USI.1d which involve sequencing and interpreting ideas and events. Again, this

could be done at any grade level and across curriculums.

Aligned Instructional Strategies

        A plethora of instructional strategies has emerged over the last century in order to promote and

enhance student learning and achievement especially in the realm of social studies. Direct Instruction, for

example, has helped in student attainment of key concepts and ideas in subject matter. And while direct

instruction is a worthwhile strategy when used effectively, it is not the end-all-be-all for student

achievement. Hope states, “…too many are yoked to the textbook, captive to chalk and talk, unable or

unwilling to connect objectives with the real world” (1996, p. 2). When teachers are bound to simple
strategies, they lose the instructional link to real time applications. According to Johnson, et al (as cited

in Spinelli, 1998), “Research clearly supports the fact that students are more likely to internalize,

understand, and remember material learned when they are actively engaged in the learning process and

when material is introduced through a variety of modes” (p. 12). It is past time to create a more

innovative and meaningful approach to social studies education. And so new strategies for class

instruction have been researched, analyzed and implemented to study which have the best impact on

student learning and contribute to the overall aims of public education.

        Since the Virginia Social Science Standards of Learning’s aim is to produce life-long learners that

will be productive members of society, it is important to note philosophers who expounded on those

democratic ideals. Active learning and producing civic-minded individuals has emerged as an integral

component of a theory by philosopher John Dewey in the early 20th century. According to Field (2007),

“Democratic habits…Dewey argues in School and Society and Democracy and Education, must begin in

the earliest years of a child's educational experience.” Dewey believed that the aims of schools should be

imbedded in classroom instruction. Teachers should also abandon strategies that simply present

knowledge for memorization with no purpose. Instead, teachers should deliver content in a way that

emphasizes real-world application. Field summarizes, “It is by a process of self-directed learning, guided

by the cultural resources provided by teachers, that Dewey believed a child is best prepared for the

demands of responsible membership within the democratic community.” Dewey argued for students to

learn and become civic-minded through strategies that initiate active learning.

        Another study further discusses what Dewey theorized. Hildreth (2004) states, “Dewey’s

emphasis on action, meaning, learning, and cooperation establishes the beginning grounds for

thinking about the intimate and inter-connected relationship between experience and civic

engagement.” (p. 6). Two verbs stand out in Hildreth’s quote. These verbs link directly to

Virginia Social Science standard USI.5 and would certainly promote student achievement and
the aims of education: action and cooperation. It is through active learning that students gain a

deeper focus and insight into history, thus creating a foundation for civic responsibilities. Not

only does this emphasize the broader aims of schools but it also shows the tacit curriculum as

well. The tacit or hidden curriculum is a never-ending learning process in school. Even when

students are not learning the formal curriculum, teachers are attempting to engender civic-

mindedness in their students through daily interactions.

        Experiential learning is a student centered strategy which focuses on the process of

learning and not the product (Instructional Strategies Online, 2008). In experiential learning,

students participate in an activity, share and analyze. It is active learning with a focus on

application to the real world. Smart and Csapo believe “learning by doing involves active

participation in a planned event, an analysis of and reflection on what’s experienced, and the

application and principles learned to school, work, and life situations” (2007, p. 452). The

intention of experiential learning is to apply the activity to the student’s world and prepare them

for life in society.

        One specific strategy teachers can use within the realm of experiential learning is role

play. This strategy is particularly useful in social science instruction. The Virginia US History

standards, particularly USI.5, are filled with prominent people and important events that could be

given greater understanding and depth with role playing. Role play allows for students to

actively engage in recreating a person’s life or experience in a hypothetical situation. It allows

students to act, feel, speak and move as a historical person. According to Instructional Strategies

Online, role play, “…can help them understand the range of concerns, values, and positions held by other

people” (2008). This is of particular importance in social studies where it is imperative that students

relate past events to current trends. Role play can be effective at any grade level. One study discussed
how teachers at a school in Texas used role play with their first graders in simulating a trip to Washington

D.C. Morris stated, “When engaging in play and playful experiences, primary students learn social

studies content, skills and attributes” (2003, p. 265). Even at this young age, students can benefit from

role play and capture the essence of the content. Cherryholmes (as cited in Morris) continues, “Through

play they can examine issues regarding what is right or fair and make good judgments based on real-life

experiences” (p. 268). At any age level, role play helps students reflect on life and experience from a

different perspective. “Students in the middle grades have many abilities to perform first-person

historical presentations and demonstrate few inhibitions” (Morris, 2001, p. 2). It seems all students could

benefit and would most likely participate in role play if given the opportunity.

        Role play is highlighted in Howard Gardner’s Theory on Multiple Intelligences. Gardner

believed that students learn in eight possible different ways. Although Gardner’s theory stated that people

were born with these intelligences, others have since theorized that these intelligences can be learned in

nature as well. Solomon states, “Intelligence is a complex characteristic that is influenced by some

inherited traits but also profoundly subject to the influence of environmental experience” (2003, p. 63).

What Gardner’s intelligence categories do is help define types of learning that occur in the classroom and

how teachers can create effective lessons that incorporate many if not all the categories. Role play falls

under one multiple intelligence category: bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Within this category, students

learn to “bridge the gap between mind and body” (Golubtchik, n.d.) through interaction with the

environment. Role play allows for movement and mind manipulation.

        Movement within role play is also related to Bloom’s psychomotor behaviors. Bloom’s affective

domain is also incorporated in role play because students may experience personal enjoyment with this

strategy. In addition, a deeper emotional insight could be realized when students reflect on how they felt

about the role play and how it relates to the bigger picture of society. Role play would be incorporated

into the application and analysis cognitive levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Role play is applying what a
student has learned about a particular person or event and then recreating, dramatizing and analyzing that


        Role play would be particularly effective with US History to 1865 standard USI.5. USI.5c targets

the people that were inhabitants of the colonies and their cultural influences. The standard clearly states

that students will describe colonial life from the different perspectives of the inhabitants. The curriculum

framework’s essential skills call for students to interpret ideas and events from different perspectives.

Interpretation is a verb used with Bloom’s Taxonomy at the evaluation level. A student must apply and

evaluate knowledge in order to gain a perspective of a person. The students could easily role play

indentured servants, women, slave owners, enslaved Africans, farmers and artisans in order to gain that

deeper perspective. This would give the student greater insight into life as one of these people and take

this standard beyond merely a comprehension cognitive level. Students would gain a sense of

understanding of the hardships many faced. Through his own role play action research, Carl Savich

determined much the same thing. He states, “The…results demonstrated that role play simulation

activities and assignments gave students a better understanding of historical events by allowing for greater

empathy and sympathy and greater internalization” (2008, p. 20). Instead of lecturing to students about

these social groups, students act out the information and form their own insights into life in colonial

America. Savich continues by stating, “The action research showed that students who engaged in role

play…. learned to appreciate the complexities, uncertainties, and ambiguities, in historical issues and

problems” (p. 20). This appreciation resulted in better critical-thinking skills for students. Additional

action research has been done by McCarthy and Anderson who experimented with active learning versus

traditional teaching. They found that, “Role-playing history students participated more in class and did

better on the exam by nearly a whole letter grade than their peers engaged in the teacher-centered

discussions” (2000, p. 290). It is apparent that students achieve greater insight and better assessment

scores through the use of experiential learning, specifically role play.
        Another strategy closely related to experiential learning is interactive learning. Again, John

Dewey’s theories of active learning for responsible citizenship align with the social science standards

aims. Interactive learning is different from experiential learning in that, interactive learning focuses on,

“…discussion and sharing among participants. Students can learn from peers and teachers to develop

social skills and abilities, to organize their thoughts, and to develop rational arguments” (Instructional

Strategies Online, 2008). A primary strategy that involves interaction and sharing among participants is

cooperative learning. Cooperative learning is defined as “students working together to achieve a common

goal” (Cooperative Learning in Social Studies Education, 1985, p. 3). This is not merely about placing

students in groups to complete a worksheet. Cooperative learning focuses on social interaction between

students but also increased achievement through collaboration with peers.

        Cooperative learning has its roots in not only Dewey’s work, but also in recent theory by Lev

Vygotsky. Vygotsky’s theories on cognitive development suggest that students develop in large part

because of their social environment. His particular focus was his creation of the Zone of Proximal

Development (ZPD). Solomon summarizes that the zone of proximal development is where, “The

adult…sets a learning environment…that stretches the child above his present knowledge level toward a

higher level” (2003, p. 56). In other words, a child is guided by a mediator towards the mastery of new

skills and a higher level of thinking. According to McLeod, “Vygotsky also views interaction with peers

as an effective way of developing skills and strategies. He suggests that teachers use cooperative learning

exercises where less competent children develop with help from more skilful peers - within the zone of

proximal development” (2007). Social development is at the core of Vygotsky’s theory and an integral

part of the cooperative learning instructional strategy.

        Cooperative learning requires ample planning for proper implementation. Margolis, McCabe and

Schwartz (as cited in Vocke) describe the features of cooperative learning:

        “Tasks are structured so that (1) students realize they are dependent upon one another for success,

        (2) success is contingent upon students’ strengths and abilities rather than weaknesses, (3)
        students are encouraged to cooperate with one another, and (4) students discern that they are

        responsible for each group member’s achievement” (1992, p. 2).

Cooperative learning has a definitive focus and is task-oriented. All members of the assigned group are

stakeholders in the learning process and assessment.

        Cooperative learning would be a beneficial strategy for standard USI.5. Because students learn

the content around the fifth grade level, this would be an opportune time to introduce the appropriate use

of cooperative learning. Students are just becoming more socially mature and could handle this type of

strategy. As long as accountability is present within the cooperative learning groups, students will be

motivated to work together to achieve completion of the task. This strategy would best be utilized with

USI.5b and USI.5c. USI.5b aims for students to describe life in the colonial regions. There is even a

detailed chart included in the curriculum framework. This would be a perfect activity in which students

could benefit from cooperative learning by dividing up the regions and studying their people, economies

and cultures. USI.5c aims for students to describe life in the colonies based on the inhabitants. Again,

with the use of primary sources, students could work together to analyze documents written by people

from the era. Cooperative learning is an important tool for teachers to utilize because it helps with the

overall social development of students. It teaches them to work cooperatively with others, a public school

aim for civic responsibility. “Cooperative learning activities….foster positive interdependence, face-to-

face positive interaction, individual accountability, social skills, group processing and development of

problem solving skills” (Spinelli, 1998, p. 4). These are important skills to be developed by students who

will most likely have to work cooperatively with others in the future.

        Because cooperative learning involves social skill development, Bloom’s affective domain is

prevalent. Students must respond to others and develop a value system and personal attitudes within

group activities. Although not as obvious, Bloom’s psychomotor domain is important because students

must be able to move and behave physically when working with others in groups. Cooperative learning is

linked to Bloom’s cognitive levels because students must develop problem-solving skills to work with

others on a task. Astin states (as cited in Spinelli), “Interactive learning activities promote cooperative
interaction with peers….This …interaction and encouragement is positively correlated with improved

critical thinking” (p. 5). Cooperative learning requires students to apply, analyze, synthesize or evaluate.

Although USI.5 deals more with the Bloom’s knowledge and comprehension levels, some of the skills,

like interpreting and analysis, of this particular standard are found within the analysis and evaluation

levels of the taxonomy.

        Unlike role play, cooperative learning could be utilized by any teacher in almost any curriculum.

It is a strategy that is not bound to a person or event. There are some limitations to both strategies

however. Litecky believes that cooperative learning’s “purpose, activity and structure need to be clearly

stated” (1998, p. 44). There has to be a focus and all students must be engaged in the activity or it loses

its overall purpose and advantages. Role play must also have a purpose and be well conceived in

advance. Students should be given direction as well if they are to accurately portray history.

        With an increased pressure for alignment with state standards and annual assessment tests,

teachers are less likely to stray from the norm in order to liven up the content. Obstacles to active

learning include “limited class time; a possible increase in preparation time; the potential difficulty of

using active learning in large classes; and a lack of needed materials, equipment or resources” (Bonwell

and Eison, 1991, p. 3). Teachers are simply unwilling to spend more time and energy on a strategy if the

current one they are implementing seems to be working. Risk can be scary in the classroom; something

teachers may not be willing to take.

Instructional Leadership

        If instructional leaders would like to create a culture of ingenuity in their schools, they need to

ensure that teachers have all available enabling standards for implementation. It is up to the instructional

leader to actualize their role and give guidance and support to their teachers for successful classroom


        Social Science standard USI.5 requires multiple enabling standards for teachers to deliver

effective instruction of role play and cooperative learning. One major resource needed is a map. This
standard is focused on the settlement and development of the original 13 colonies. Teachers should have

either a wall map or classroom atlases that would help in locating and dividing the colonies by region. In

addition, the map is central to plotting the triangle trade routes through the Atlantic. Technology could

also be useful here for interactive maps on software programs.

        Both role play and cooperative learning require multiple enabling standards. The instructional

leader must first ensure that these teachers are prepared to teach these strategies. Appropriate modeling

may need to be done by the instructional leader or other teachers. Professional development might be a

necessity so teachers learn correct implementation of the strategies. In addition, teachers would need

ample planning time for these activities. Cooperative learning involves creating groups and tasks.

Teachers would need time to prepare the activity and form appropriate class groups. Teachers may also

need access to primary sources documents depending on the activity planned. This would entail

additional time for teachers to research these documents and plan the activity.

        Role play may require even more enabling standards than cooperative learning. Again,

professional development or speaking with professional re-enactors may be vital. Classroom art supplies

such as construction paper, markers, glue or even sewing kits and fabric may be necessary. Instructional

leaders need to supply teachers with these items or give them access to community members that may

want to donate time or costumes for this activity. For role play to be implemented successfully,

instructional leaders should provide teachers with additional space. Common areas or auditoriums would

be a perfect location for role playing.

        No matter the instructional strategy, it is the instructional leader’s responsibility to help create a

diverse academic atmosphere for educators and students. Even when enabling standards are scarce, the

instructional leader should collaborate with educators to implement various strategies for content

delivery. A school building can be rich with hidden resources; they just need to be discovered.

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