Need a framework for assessment in your class? We came up with …

For a few years, I’ve become borderline obsessed with improving the assessment component of my eighth grade American studies class. I probably should have been obsessed much earlier … then I wouldn’t be obsessed now … or would I? I wasn’t content with the feedback and grade calculation that was happening, so my push originally started with me asking the question “How do I figure out what grade to give my students?” It didn’t take me long to realize that I was asking the wrong question.  We teach to help student learn and grow, not to get good grades.  I really should’ve been asking the question “How do I know that my students are learning the content, skills, and processes they need to be successful as young historians, overall students, and members of our society?” And, “How do my students know what the content, skills, and processes they should be learning – and why?” After a lot of research, reading, and discussion, I moved from grades and letters and points to targets, and I feel the changes been beneficial for my students in me (I will write about that conversion later.) However, I was looking for a structure that can frame all of the learning in and out of class to make sure it is meaningful, relevant, and transparent – so that students understand not only what our learning goals are, but also why we are trying to achieve these goals.

I have always consulted a slew of resources to help guide my curriculum – the National History Standards, Wisconsin Academic Standards, the recently developed C3 Framework, Thinking Like a Historian, Common Core Standards that support History/Social Studies, and the Framework for 21st Century Learning, to name a few. While all of these sources offer great insight into the most valuable goals for student learning in the social studies, they are overwhelming for a single curriculum, and nearly oppressive for an adolescent student.  In addition, some of the habits we are trying to develop involve the basic processes needed to succeed as a student – organization, responsibility, timeliness – that don’t appear on the more content and skill based standards lists.  I was still searching for an elusive framework …

During our recent marathon department meeting (also known as NCSS 2016 in Washington D.C.), Michael Matera and I chatted at length about assessment and brainstormed some ideas for a new framework, one that provides students with a structure for all of the learning targets they try to hit and allows them to understand the big picture of being a social studies student.  We combined foundational elements of some of our favorite resources to create a social-studies-assessment-profile.  It’s amazing what can be done when colleagues travel together!

Interact with the ThingLink image above for some additional info!

This profile will serve as the anchor for all of the learning targets in our curricula. The historical content standards can be revised to fit economics, civic, geography, and sociology, so the assessment profile is very adaptable to different disciplines within the social studies. Is it a perfect system?  I’m not sure, but I do think it provides an excellent conceptual body for students to understand what we want them to do with historical content, the skills we want them to utilize in making sense of the past, and the habits they should develop to be successful in and out of an educational setting.  By displaying it online and in our classroom and referencing it when posing objectives, students can see the big picture of learning in social studies.  Look for additional discussions about the assessment profile in the future as we integrate it into three consecutive classes in our middle school. I feel it will improve the overall learning and assessment in my class – and maybe yours as well!


“Thinking Like a Historian” courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Created by Dr. Nikki Mandell, UW-Whitewater and Dr. Bobbie Malone. For a great overview of the program, please check out Nikki Mandell’s article from the OAH Magazine of History in April 2008.

So … Why a blog? And why now?

So, why a blog, and why now? Two great questions, considering starting a blog has been my New Year’s resolution for five consecutive years. I really started following a lot of great educators and checking out their blogs when the Twitter ed-revolution exploded a few years ago, and I was always amazed and inspired about what they had to offer in terms of general philosophy, teaching and learning.  I also loved all of the practical pearls of wisdom and awesome ideas that I could incorporate in my classroom. I felt that I might have a few things to share as well, but the timing never seemed right. A hectic schedule at school and a lot going on on the home front kept a blog on the back burner for most of the teens.

My schedule has only become busier, and being a husband and a dad continues to me the happiest way to spend my time – but after entering my 26th year of teaching, I really feel that getting my thoughts in an open forum and sharing some of the cool work of my students and colleagues is not only great professional development, but also an increasingly powerful way to increase my connectivity with other educators around the globe. Plus, I feel this could be a great way to communicate, discuss, and reflect on what’s going on in the world of social studies education, promote some excellent professional development experiences for others, and highlight other great educators that I am fortunate to call colleagues and friends.

The title of the blog is kind of like the term “doughboys” for a World War I soldier – there are a variety of origins, and all of them wrapped together explain the purpose of phrase. Volume has always been both a gift and a curse for me – I don’t need microphones, but a lot of times I need a muzzle. I also feel social studies is a discipline that needs speaking, discussing, debating, music, volume – it’s not a quiet world when humans interact! My friend (and blog instigator) Andi Kornowski suggested the concept of “out loud” two years ago, it is always been in my mind. In addition, I would love to reenter the world of podcasting that I attempted years ago, so “out loud” it is. While the title is “Social Studies Out Loud”, I think many of the concepts and ideas that are presented here can apply to other disciplines, especially in the area of technology. Plus, “Learning Out Loud” was pretty much taken.


My hopes? To present ideas that can help other educators near and far as we continue to grow in the noble profession of teaching. I’d love to keep the conversation about social studies education at the forefront, as I worry about it being marginalized. Much of what I write about and share will not be entirely original, as I am definitely a educator who is gratefully influenced by hundreds, if not thousands, of others. I just may try to write it with a little more sarcasm and silliness. Most of all, I hope this helps me grow as a professional as I continue to play the back nine of my teaching career.

Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, thanks for sharing, and thanks for helping make me a better professional educator.  Let’s get LOUD!