Exploring rationale development as intellectual professional development for experienced social studies teachers.

Author:Hawley, Todd


Writing about the history of the era of the new social studies, Ronald Evans (2012) examined reform efforts designed to improve social studies teaching and the pursuit of educating for democratic citizenship. For Evans, "the central question haunting social studies is whether classroom instruction can be improved in the direction of meaningful learning" (2012, p. 317). According to Evans, efforts to reform social studies teaching have historically faced two constant sources of tension: "curriculum politics and the entrenched dilemma of classroom constancy" (2012, p. 2). Curriculum politics are currently embodied by the influence of the accountability movement and related reforms. Curriculum constancy is "embodied in the failure of classroom practice to live up to its potential for interesting, engaging, teaching worthy of our nation and the questions, social issues, and problems we face as citizens" (2012, p. 2). As a whole, Evans' analysis painted a grim picture of the possibilities of reforming the constraints facing social studies teachers.

Despite the inability of previous reform efforts to transform social studies teaching, we believe the story contains a silver lining. After walking the reader through a myriad of reasons why reform efforts have continually failed to break free from the grip of curriculum constancy and the grammar of social studies, Evans (2012) optimistically highlighted an often overlooked reality in teaching: teachers still have choices. Given the freedom to make choices, teachers should have thoughtful, sound rationales for their decision-making. Evans roots his belief in the potential for rationale-based decision making to improve social studies teaching in the ethical dimensions of teaching. As he sees it, "for these choices to matter, teachers have an ethical responsibility to examine the choices and to develop their rationales and classroom practices as thoroughly and deeply as possible" (2012, p. 322). Positioning rationale development as part of the ethical obligations of teachers echoes work by Dinkelman (2009), Newmann (1970), and Shaver and Strong (1982). Connecting purpose with teacher decision-making ties in with Thornton's (2005) conception of teachers as gatekeepers.

For teachers interested in thinking deeply about the purposes guiding their content and pedagogical decision-making, rationale development has received considerable attention in the literature on social studies teaching and learning. In fact, the idea that purpose matters in teaching social studies has received renewed interest over the past decade (Barton & Levstik, 2004; Conklin, 2010; Dinkelman, 2009; Evans, 2012; Hawley, 2010, 2012; Hawley, Pifel, & Jordan, 2012; Powell & Hawley, 2009; Thornton, 2005, 2006). As Thornton has argued, "teachers' purposes matter more and in a different way from assembling a standardized product" (2006, p. 148). Going further, Thornton asserted that "teachers' purposes, then, guide how far they open the curricular-instructional gate; for whom, when, and which gates they open" (2006, p. 418). In other words, a well-developed and articulated sense of purpose improves teachers' curricular decision making, their teaching and student learning, as well as the overall educational experience of students at all levels.

In this article we begin with a review of the theoretical and research literature focused on the process of rationale development. Drawing on this growing body of literature, we explore the potential of rationale development to provide a form of intellectual professional development for experienced social studies teachers. Following this initial discussion, we present an approach to rationale development that we have used with experienced social studies teachers. Finally, we discuss the potential benefits for teachers interested in articulating their initial rationales and outlining their developing sense of purpose(s) for teaching social studies. Ultimately, this article is seen as a small step in the process of positioning teachers to confront and transform the grammar of social studies--one classroom at a time.

What is a Rationale Anyway?

The idea that social studies teachers should develop comprehensive rationales for their work as citizenship educators can be traced back to Shaver's (1977) edited bulletin for the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), Building Rationales for Citizenship Education. As editor and author, Shaver stated that the overall purpose of the bulletin was to encourage social studies teachers to undertake the process of "re-examining the assumptions underlying their curricular and teaching decisions, and in looking at the citizenship implications of what actually happens in their classrooms and schools" (1977, p. vi). Shaver was confident that "increased thoughtfulness among those whose consciously accepted role is citizenship education could have highly significant consequences" (1977, p. vi). Like Evans (2012) and Thornton (2005), Shaver recognized the potential for rationale development to influence teachers' content and pedagogical decision-making and increase connections between social studies and education for democratic citizenship.

According to Shaver and Strong, a rationale "is the statement and explication of the basic principles upon which your school behavior (both in the formal classroom setting and during the other encounters within the school's social and political system) is based" (1982, pp. 9-10). Newmann saw a rationale as "the vehicle through which the educator justifies to the community at large his or her use of the power that the community has delegated to institutions for formal education" (1977, p. 31). More recently, Dinkelman framed his approach to rationale development around the question, "what are you teaching social studies for?" (emphasis in original, 2009, p. 91).

Outside the world of social studies teaching and teacher education, teacher educators have more recently been discussing the benefits of developing a vision for teaching (Hammerness, 2006; Kennedy, 2006; Zumwalt, 1989). As Kosnik and...

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