Aligning Curriculum and Instruction:
A Social Science Perspective
EPPL 534: Instructional Leadership
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
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
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.
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.
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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