You Want Kids to Have Skills. Read Inquire Write Can Help.

Read Inquire Write logo


Last week, I got the chance to work with about 25 teachers and educators from around the state as we started the process of revising our state social studies standards. Long time readers will recall a similar process from seven years ago.

At the time, the Kansas state standards were very much the same as other state level standards documents. The focus was on the details of history – people and places and dates. Assessments tried to incorporate critical thinking but since the entire test was multiple choice, it was difficult to measure high levels of thinking and problem solving.

To be successful on this type of high stakes state assessment, teachers shifted to a drill and kill,  memorize specific pieces of content out of context instructional strategies. These strategies increased test scores but lowered student engagement, failed to create critical thinkers, and didn’t prepare kids to become informed citizens.

So we started from scratch.

The 2011 process resulted in a brand new set of standards (opens in new tab) that shifted instructional focus from memorizing details to one that encouraged analyzing evidence, solving problems, and sharing solutions. We created five big ideas that acted as our standards. We adapted reading, writing, and communication expectations and instruction best practices to guide local curriculum development. And we left the specific content up to each district.

Teachers appreciated the freedom to focus on the doing of social studies rather than asking kids to memorize minutiae. But this “new” style of teaching can be time consuming and difficult. The old standards had trained both our kids and our teachers that drill and kill was acceptable – now we were asking that instruction and assessment look different.

And teachers had questions. What does this sort of teaching look like? How do you assess the learning? How long should it take? If we don’t have to “cover”so much content, what content is important enough to focus on? What resources are available?

Back in 2013, as the revised document rolled out, there weren’t a ton of examples and resources out there that supported this kind of inquiry based teaching model. But around the country, others were having similar conversations:

Things got better.

And now, if you’re looking for examples, resources, lessons, student samples, and rubrics, things are looking even rosier. Tina Ellsworth, social science coordinator at Olathe schools and a co-chair of the standards writing committee, recently shared one of her latest finds with me.

Developed over the last four years by a University of Michigan group headed by Chauncey Monte-Sano and Mary Schleppegrell, Read.Inquire.Write (opens in new tab) builds on the momentum of earlier research and adds their own unique strategies. RIW is designed to give you resources and tools that support reading and analyzing complex texts from multiple perspectives and prepares students to write arguments that are supported by evidence and disciplinary reasoning.

Using the tools in RIW, students learn to read and analyze sources, recognize multiple perspectives, assess the reliability of sources, discuss and deliberate sources and ideas, and develop disciplinary language. While completing writing prompts, students also improve their reading, analysis, and speaking skills along with their knowledge of the particular topics under investigation.

RIW breaks argument writing down into three types – interpretation, critique, and counterargument – to create a progression of increasingly complex writing that builds students’ disciplinary literacy skills over time.

Make an argument for an interpretation. Students read sources and interpret them to make claims and reason about the evidence they offer.
Designed for 6th graders.

Make an argument against an interpretation. Students read sources and interpret them to critique an argument that someone else has made about an issue.
Designed for 7th graders.

Make an argument for an interpretation while recognizing and rebutting or responding to other possible interpretations. Students read sources and interpret them to argue for a position and rebut other views to counter the argument someone else might make.
Designed for 8th graders.

Of the 12 investigations created so far, four investigations are centered on each of the three types that support student skills in interpreting sources to critiquing arguments to developing counterarguments. Each type is supported with discipline specific literacy tools to help students develop claims, evidence, and reasoning.

Filled out worksheet: "Which countries should be included in the Middle East?"

I like how the RIW folks model for us how to model for our students. Kids to examples just like we do. So we need to model for them how to source a document, how to analyze evidence. And if you’ve not done that much modeling, it’s nice to get a sense of what that can look like: 

It really is pretty slick.

You get the investigations. You get the literacy tools (opens in new tab). You get example videos (opens in new tab). You get student samples. You get rubrics. (You will need to create a free account to download the PDFs and MS Word docs.) All designed to provide you with examples and support.

If all of this reminds you a bit of Sam Wineburg’s SHEG stuff, it probably should. Chauncey Monte-Sano co-authored Reading Like a Historian: Teaching Literacy in Middle and High School History Classroomswith Wineburg. She also co-authored Reading, Thinking, and Writing About History: Teaching Argument Writing to Diverse Learners. So she and her team have got the chops.

The site seems fairly new (all of their 35 videos have fewer than 5 views) and I’m guessing there will be changes made over the next few months as RIW rolls out across the country. But it’s still a super sweet tool to assist you as you design your own inquiry-based social studies lessons.

So head over. Create an account. And start making your students smarter.

(Curious what the current Kansas standards revision might look like? Me too. The first two days involved lots of discussion and feedback about what is and isn’t working. We’re definitely keeping the big ideas as standards. There will be some type of scope and sequence with suggested content. But other than that – we’re still working on the details. I’ll keep you posted as we start to actually figure some things out.) 

cross posted at

Glenn Wiebe is an education and technology consultant with 15 years' experience teaching history and social studies. He is a curriculum consultant for ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas, blogs frequently at History Tech and maintains Social Studies Central, a repository of resources targeted at K-12 educators. Visit to learn more about his speaking and presentation on education technology, innovative instruction and social studies.