Prioritizing the C3 Standards to Address Question 1 of a PLC
Many schools have already adopted or are in process of adopting the new C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards. The C3 Framework is organized into 4 dimensions as articulated in the graphic above. While content acquisition is critical, the focus is on learning about these disciplines and content areas and to apply that learning in meaningful situations. In fact, the overall framework is articulated as an inquiry arc “of interlocking and mutually reinforcing elements that speak to the intersection of ideas and learners.” Student engage in the inquiry process through developing questions and planning inquiries, learn disciplinary content and skills and use evidence and sources to communicate and take informed action.
As schools using the PLC adopt the framework, the first step is to engage in the process of addressing Question 1: What do we want our students to learn? As with other standards documents, there are numerous standards in the C3. In fact, in Dimension 2, there are over 50 standards across the disciplinary topics of economics, history, geography, and civics. The C3 also includes other companion documents for other disciplines such as religious studies and psychology, which may further add to the number of standards to address in the curriculum. Clearly, in trying to implement the C3 framework, the process of prioritizing standards is critical to ensuring a guaranteed and viable curriculum. We are in various stages in this process at Shanghai American School, where I serve as an instructional coach with a focus on social studies. We have learned much from the process thus far, and still have some lingering questions and considerations other schools might find valuable.
Setting Topics of Traditional Content to the Side
One component of curriculum that is not addressed in the C3 framework is specific content or topics that are critical to any social studies education. Here is an excerpt from the C3 document:
“The foundational concepts in Dimension 2 outline the scope of the disciplinary knowledge and tools associated with civics, economics, geography, and history. References are made to a range of ideas, such as the U.S. Constitution, economic scarcity, geographical modeling, and chronological sequences. However, the particulars of curriculum and instructional content—such as how a bill becomes a law or the difference between a map and a globe—are important decisions each state needs to make in the development of local social studies standards.”
One roadblock that can get in the way of going through the process of selecting priority standards is getting too focused on the content. Instead of focusing topics or content, set that dialogue and discussion aside. It will be difficult, but it is important. Focus first on the most important standards to be prioritized. Those in turn will inform conversations about topics and content. After priority standards have been selected, it is important to carve out time to then have conversations around the vertical articulation of topics and content.
Grade Bands Instead of Grade Levels
Part of what makes the C3 Framework both interesting and a challenge is that it is articulated through grade-level bands—not individual grade levels—that are referred to as pathways. The C3 document articulates it in this way:
“Each Pathway includes three developmental Indicators and the culminating C3 Indicator. Indicators suggest student proficiency by the end of grades 2, 5, 8, and 12 with an understanding that these skills and concepts will be taught within and throughout the grade band.”
This implies that standards need to be addressed and assessed throughout a grade-level band. Instead of selecting and placing the C3 standards into individual grade levels, prioritized standards should be committed to by teachers within a grade-level band. For example, if a team of grades 3–5 teachers select a C3 standards as a priority, it means that that team commits to teaching and assessing that standard across those grades. If the opposite were true, and teachers selected different standards for different grade levels, it would defeat the purpose of a guaranteed and viable curriculum and vertical articulation. As teachers prioritize, they need to be mindful of the collective commitment as a grade-level band in prioritizing standards.
Appropriate Use of Dimension 2
One question we’ve been wondering about is, “Do we need to implement every part of Dimension 2 in a course? As in, do we need to select priority standards from economics, history, civics, and geography?” This question mainly came up in the high school, but it is still a good question to consider at all grade levels. While elementaries usually have a more integrated approach to curriculum, middle and high schools might have more topic-based courses. For example, we have U.S. and Asian history in our high school. To hold true to those courses and their overall objectives, it makes sense that history is the main focus. It may be that the priority standards are all or mostly historically based. In middle school, there is more flexibility, and so there might be more priority standards selected from history, and still some selected from civics, economics and geography. Even if a course decides to focus on one area of Dimension 2, it is still crucial that the criteria of Endurance, Leverage, Readiness, Assessment, and Teacher Judgement are used to ensure the choices we make for priority standards are best for student learning. In addition, proficiency through grade-level bands, as articulated above, should be considered. Instead of trying to “cover” all of the areas of Dimension 2—which defeats the whole purpose of addressing Question 1—we should focus on what makes sense to overall course objectives and prioritize from there.
As with other standards such as the NGSS and Common Core, the process of addressing Question 1 and prioritizing standards is messy and complicated. In fact, the document is explicit about what it does and does not dictate. Because of this, educators and schools much use their best judgement when it comes to selecting standards for the curriculum. It’s important that we use these ideas to prioritized standards for compulsory education, that is, learning we intend for all students. Many schools offer course as choices, which are compulsory. For example, at my school, we have IB and AP courses that often start in 11th grade as electives. We use this process of prioritizing up to grade 10, as that is where our compulsory social studies education exists. Overall, we need to be flexible across grade level, but still be keenly aware of the purpose of guaranteed and viable curriculum and vertical articulation.