The aim of our book, From Story To Judgment: The Four Question Method for Teaching and Learning Social Studies, is to make the thinking that defines the disciplines of history and social studies clear and accessible for both teachers and students. We believe that the Four Question Method (4QM) does that in a way that is at once simple and demanding. The questions themselves are simple, and can be understood by students in all grades and academic abilities. At the same time, taking each one seriously is academically challenging. Each question provides depth and rigor for the most demanding students and teachers.
Our book contains specific examples of 4QM lessons, but it is much more than a bag of tricks. The lesson examples are there to illustrate the possibilities unlocked by planning, teaching, and learning with the Four Question Method. In this regard we share an approach with two other practical books for teachers that we admire: The Writing Revolution and Reading Reconsidered.
The Writing Revolution
The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in All Subjects and Grades is co-authored by teacher Judith Hochman and journalist Natalie Wexler. The book breaks down writing instruction in practical and powerful ways — it is full of practical teaching techniques that will help students become better writers. But what sets it apart from everything else I’ve read on this subject, and what makes it similar to our book, is the way it links writing instruction to student thinking. Hochman and Wexler understand that different types of sentences convey different types of meaning, and that the prerequisite for clear writing is clear thinking. But they also recognize that writing can be a tool for clarifying and deepening thinking. When we teach students how different kinds of sentences work, and ask them to use different types of sentences in writing about content (be it math, science, history, or whatever we’re teaching), we are actually helping them to learn content and to understand how sophisticated thought works. Thus “writing” instruction should always be content instruction.
We’ve borrowed several techniques from The Writing Revolution and cite it frequently in our book. Our book is discipline-specific to social studies, but the approach is the same as Hochman and Wexler’s: we link our teaching and learning activities directly to the underlying thinking that we want students to do.
Reading Reconsidered: A Practical Guide to Rigorous Literacy Instruction is by Doug Lemov, Colleen Driggs, and Erica Woolway. This book is a distillation of excellent teaching techniques for reading as observed and refined by the authors, who work in the Uncommon Schools network of charter schools. One thing we especially love about Reading Reconsidered is how much emphasis it puts on reading nonfiction. In history and social studies we’re almost always reading nonfiction, and that presents its own pedagogical challenges. Reading Reconsidered includes lots of excellent tools for helping students to read nonfiction more effectively, all of which can be applied in history class. And like The Writing Revolution, it links its teaching techniques to the underlying intellectual challenges they are meant to address. This is another text we borrowed from and cite extensively in our own book.
We freely admit that one day we’d like our book to be mentioned in the same breath as these better known works. We think we’ve done for social studies what they’ve done for writing and reading: provide an “x-ray” of the underlying thinking required to succeed at complex intellectual tasks, and show how that thinking can be taught in practical classroom learning activities. We also share their commitment to social justice. The most capable and privileged students will probably learn to write, read, and do history well without the kind of granular instruction that all three of these books describe. But many students (most?) will need more explicit teaching in order to fulfill their potential.
We hope we’ve provided a road map for that teaching and learning in social studies. We encourage you to read our book, and let us know if you agree.