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Literacy in Social Studies

NYC Dept. of Education

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Note that this resource was reviewed during the Spring 2013 review period. The resource may or may not have been updated since the review. Check with the content creator to see if there is a more recent version available.


This resource was reviewed by OSPI in Spring 2013. Learn more about the review process and the data analysis approach.

Background from OER Project Review Team
The New York City Department of Education has developed Common Core-aligned tasks embedded in units of study to support schools in implementing the standards. Though there is no clear licensing on the materials, there is clear instruction on the website that educators may adopt these resources in their entirety or adapt the materials to best address students' diverse needs.

Publishers' Criteria (Learn more)

Chart with scale from 0 (Strongly Disagree) to 3 (Strongly Agree). Quality of Text: 1.58, Quality of Questions and Tasks: 1.88, Writing: 2.5.

EQuIP (Learn more)

Needs Revision (1.8)
Chart with scale of 'meets criteria' from 0 (None) to 3 (All). Alignment: 1.5, Key Shifts in the CCSS: 2.0, Instructional Supports: 1.75, Assessment: 2.25.

Achieve OER (Learn more)

Chart with scale from 0 (Weak) to 3 (Superior). Explanation: 2.25, Interactivity: 0.75, Exercises: 2.25, Deeper Learning: 2.5.

See standard error chart for the review scoring

Reviewer Comments (Learn more)

Minor (2.25)

This unit gives students the opportunity to produce clear and coherent writing by producing a ten-page research paper on any topic in American History. Students are expected to conduct independent research, evaluate sources, take notes, and synthesize information to answer a self-generated question. The unit points students towards databases that may contain non-fiction texts in the grade 11-CCR text complexity band; however, students select their own texts and could conceivably complete the research paper without reading grade-level texts. To support students in picking sufficiently complex texts, the unit provides a source evaluation rubric. The unit provides strong scaffolds to develop students’ ability to choose a topic, generate a question, develop a thesis, conduct research, organize notes, outline the research paper, refine writing, and cite sources. Teachers will appreciate the varied and frequent opportunities to assess student performance. The unit provides extensive rubrics and annotated samples of student essays at different performance levels. This unit is well aligned to the writing standards of the CCSS, and many scaffolds for writing are provided; however, the unit is not well positioned to address reading standards. The independent nature of the unit leaves students to puzzle out the meaning and significance of the texts they encounter in their research. Students are given some opportunity to make observations and pose questions about a couple of mentor texts, but the focus is more on the structure and syntax of these texts than their arguments. Additional reading scaffolds could be built into the unit to support students in evaluating an author’s point of view, rhetoric, ideas, and argument. Teachers could introduce more carefully sequenced text-dependent questions for students to ask of the various texts they encounter in their research. Students could be better prompted to compare and contrast the points of view of their research sources, putting the texts into conversation, before outlining their essays. Teachers might also choose to narrow the research focus, or range of texts used, for students who need help narrowing their topic or picking sufficiently complex texts. Since primary and secondary documents are required in the research unit, teachers could guide students to ensure the inclusion of foundational U.S. documents of historical significance. Overall, this unit is well aligned to the writing standards outlined in the CCSS.

I would use these materials in my classroom: Agree
(On a 4 point scale: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree)

This was an excellent comprehensive unit on many levels.

It set a very scholarly tone at the outset saying that student final papers would be a piece of formal research writing that would add to the scholarship on the student’s topic, which sets the bar high at the outset. It was good that it gave some suggestions for possible topics which would help the students to get some idea about what is expected. It is helpful that it also provided some student work so the students could see what is expected, as well as a benchmark to get a sense of what they are aiming for.

I liked to development of the process with thesis development being handled particularly well I thought. I liked the use of checklists and also some information written down about the format as I am sure some students would forget this.

I thought it was excellent to have CCSS, Big Ideas and Enduring questions. I also liked the multiple formative assessments.

I LOVED the comprehensive referencing of on-line sources to use: NYC library; newspaper; History Matters; National Archives, Life Magazine as well as the caveat the some sites would be difficult to navigate.

I liked the lessons for the teacher; they seemed clear and very sequential.

I liked that students were going to do peer editing in sections although I would have liked more questions for the peer editor or a template for questions the student could ask their peer editors to answer.

I liked the attention spent to narrowing a good thesis statement by time, era or impact.

I thought it was good to have reflective self evaluation and the graphic organizer was good for this.

What was missing was whether my students could do it. I would think that it would be helpful to have more scaffolding for ELL or SPED or modifications.

I would use these materials in my classroom: Agree
(On a 4 point scale: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree)

At first blush, this unit seems to be a traditional and methodical approach to teaching the term paper. Upon further study, the reader comes to see the deep alignment with Common Core, the careful scaffolding of all the steps and pieces, the addition of self-reflection and formative assessments complete with model rubrics, and the sample papers included as models. This unit transcends the traditional model by leaps and bounds. Based on the teacher’s choice of curriculum design, the students choose topics of interest and texts, then the unit comes into play and guides the research and writing project. The unit is very thorough and has all the supporting instructional materials needed. Students conduct research, create notecards, make an outline, draft the paper, revise it, and add the final touches. In some schools this research is done online with bibliography programs that include places for storing notes. This is one place where the unit may need adapting; there would need to be a way of sharing without physical note cards. Every step of the way students are encouraged to share their work, question it, measure it against rubrics, and reflect upon it. The unit includes formative assessments all along the way in the process, with small tasks related to that particular chunk of learning. There are samples of research papers at a variety of performance levels that students and teachers can use to inform instruction or use as models. The sample papers have annotations, in the form of targeted margin comments from the teacher, specifically pointing out areas where the writer has addressed the criteria on the rubric, including the degree to which the student has met or approached meeting the standard. Completed rubrics accompany the papers, illuminating the summative measure of the paper. The unit includes many handouts, a simple step-by-step guide, and suggestions for adaptation for ELL students. It is well organized, easy to understand, complete, and ready to use.

I would use these materials in my classroom: Strongly Agree
(On a 4 point scale: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree)

It is difficult to use the rubrics provided to assess the value of this unit. It is not an ELA unit, but rather a Social Studies unit. As a social studies unit on writing a research paper, it is quite thorough. This is a social studies unit designed to guide a student through the process of writing a 10 page research paper. The writing history standards addressed are as follows: WHST.11-12.1 - writing an argument. This corresponds with an ELA writing standard that is not listed here. WHST.11-12.7 refers to writing a sustained research paper to answer a question. This directly corresponds to ELA standard W.11-12.7. WHST.11-12.8 refers to gathering information and assessing sources for their strengths and limitation. This corresponds to ELA standard W.11-12.8. WHST.11-12.9 refers to using and citing evidence to support analysis which is similar to ELA Standard W.11-12.9.

The unit is not tied to any specific time period in history. It could be used in a Language Arts classroom as part of a study of literature as easily as in a Social Studies classroom. I would assume in ELA, the teacher might want to use MLA Style Manual formatting for note-taking, outlines, embedded citations, and bibliography rather than the Chicago Manual of Style recommended in this lesson.

The lesson is designed for second semester of 11th grade, so it assumes that students have already achieved proficiency in a number research, reading, and writing skills. Therefore, there is very little explicit instruction. However, there are definitely skill building lessons on researching and constructing an argument. There are formative assessments for various stages of the “lesson,” which is designed to take place over 2 – 3 months (10 lessons in all) while regular content activities continue. The culminating research and completion of writing should take 2 – 4 weeks.

There is a great deal of teacher support and many of the lessons provide scaffolding. There are multiple entry points into the lessons to accommodate diverse learners.

I would use these materials in my classroom: Agree
(On a 4 point scale: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree)

Creative Commons License
This work by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.