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Social studies teachers push for change

September 13, 2016 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor

Study reveals mix of curricular support and concerns

As Alberta Education begins to pursue an update of the school curriculum, the Alberta Teachers’ Association is bringing to the table new research documenting the views of the province’s social studies teachers.

A survey conducted last year shows that social studies teachers support the fundamental elements of the current curriculum, such as focusing on developing active, engaged citizens and emphasizing multiple perspectives, but teachers also have significant concerns with some aspects of the curriculum.

Download the Research Report
The Future of Social Studies—The Voices of Alberta Teachers

Among the most commonly cited concerns is that there is too much content to cover and too many outcomes specified.

“Teachers, especially at the high school level, are always rushing to get through the curriculum,” said John Tidswell, president-elect of the Social Studies Council, which helped conduct the study.

“It doesn’t leave a lot of time for those cool in-depth projects that we’re always telling ourselves as educators that we should be doing more of.”

Through the survey, social studies teachers also raised concerns about the developmental appropriateness of some outcomes and various aspects of assessment policies.

Education Minister David Eggen announced in June that he was launching a six-year, $64-million review of the Alberta curriculum. He said at the time that Alberta’s teachers will be full partners in the review.

Now, months later, the initiative is still in its infancy, with the parties not yet having an opportunity to formally sit down and work out the details, said Association president Mark Ramsankar. However, he is optimistic about the future.

“I feel confident that the government will be able to deliver on this but we as an association will be working to maintain our status as full partners,” he said.

Regarding the social studies curriculum, Ramsankar said the study results will help lend credibility to the Association’s desired course of action, which is to reduce the number of curricular outcomes.

“I think we’re going in the right direction,” he said. “I think it’s imperative that the voice from the field is at the table because teachers, in any of the curricula that are being rewritten, they’re the ones that deliver and they’re best suited to give feedback.”

Education Minister David Eggen stressed that the rewrite is a six-year process but it is starting right away.

“We will start with consultations by the end of September working closely as full partners with the Alberta Teachers’ Association,” he said.

He said the first principle of the rewrite is to retain current best practices and strengthen them.

“What better place to start than with the teachers who actually do the job on the ground so I’m looking forward to any constructive criticism that social teachers or any subject teachers have to give us a hand.”

Beyond the curriculum itself, the 498 teachers who responded to the survey voiced their strongest concerns about systemwide issues like workload and classroom conditions. Specifically, teachers pointed to class sizes being too large, too much focus on standardized testing, not enough support for inclusion, too many administrative tasks and too little time to deal with the demands of their jobs.

For Larry Booi, the former ATA president and social studies teacher who co-authored the report, the results point to the need for a comprehensive review of the entire education system, not just the curriculum.

“We need a first-rate curriculum and then we need first-rate conditions that allow teachers to do their best work with kids,” Booi said.

“The easy part is writing a curriculum document. The harder and more important part is to nest that in classroom circumstances that allow teachers to deliver.” ❚


Six key points

  1. Broad support from teachers regarding the need for curriculum change in social studies
  2. High level of support for fundamental elements of Alberta’s current program of studies in social studies
  3. Significant concerns with some aspects of the curriculum
  4. Many of the strongest concerns of teachers about aspects of teaching and learning conditions.
  5. Need for systematic, comprehensive and inclusive review and revision of the social studies curriculum consistent with the principles and evidence for creating great social studies teaching and learning
  6. Further need to systematically address improving the teaching and learning conditions in ­Alberta’s social studies classrooms


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