Successful teachers have foundational understanding of their content, and pedagogy. When combined, pedagogical content knowledge helps students succeed in the classroom. For students to succeed, it is integral that educators are familiar with the ways student learn, and the methods that help them learn best. These beliefs are exhibited in the W&M School of Education' foundational understandings competencies.

Foundational Understanding

  1. Demonstrates understanding of subject matter and pedagogical knowledge for instruction.
  2. Demonstrates understanding of how children learn and develop, and can provide learning opportunities that support their intellectual, social, and personal development.
  3. Demonstrates understanding of the central role of literacy skills in learning.
  4. Demonstrates understanding of how students differ in their approaches to learning.
  5. Demonstrates an understanding of the purposes and roles of PreK-12 education.


1. Demonstrates understanding of subject matter and pedagogical knowledge for instruction
Social studies teachers must be able to combine their content knowledge with their pedagogical knowledge to teach students. As a future social studies teacher, I have demonstrated my ability to reflect knowledge of subject matter appropriate for my grade level in my lessons. To reflect my understanding of pedagogy in social studies in my day to day instruction, I use a variety of instructional methods. I develop primary-based lessons that require students to use skills of historians such as analysis, writing, discussion, and debate. Using structured academic controversies and concept formation lessons provides students with skill based lessons that teach content.

My understanding of the interrelatedness of social studies disciplines allows me to capitalize on teachable moments. Understanding history requires connections between the past and the present. When teaching a lesson on imperialism students were able to identify the motives for imperialism from military, sociological, scientific, political, humanitarian, and economic perspectives. While reviewing for a test a student expressed that the United States is an imperialist nation. Without getting into a political debate, I took advantage of the teachable moment and had students use the multiple perspectives listed above to evaluate the what characteristics of imperialism are and are not present in US intervention in the Middle East.

2. Demonstrates understanding of how children learn and develop, and can provide learning opportunities that support their intellectual social, and personal development.
In order to provide learning that supports the intellectual, social, and developmental needs of my students, I follow several steps. First, I instruct and assess my students at a variety of cognitive levels. Using Bloom's Taxonomy, I vary instruction and assignments to develop student intellect. Using a table of specifications (Interwartableofspec.pdf), I can align cognitive levels with Intended Learning Outcomes and state standards. Too often social studies focuses on recall and understanding, but through writing, debate, and creative projects students can further develop their intellect.

To develop social needs I encourage group work. Through cooperative learning students learn from one another and about one another. I alternate between groups of four or five, pairs, and individual work. It provides students with the ability to succeed academically with the help of their peers while developing group work and communication skills. Variety and novelty in class is important to keep students engaged in material and classwork. Diversifying instruction can hook students and offer them choice.

3. Demonstrates understanding of the central role of literacy skills in learning
Social studies education provides students with an opportunity to develop skills in reading, writing, and analysis. To develop all of these skills I like to have my students journal. Journaling allows students to express their ideas, observations, and analysis in writing. Journaling is often issued at the beginning of class as a warm up and focuses on analysis of a primary document, current news article, streaming video, or picture. I have students perform a 3-2-1.pdf for documents and articles which requires them to write three things they read, two things they learned, one question they still have. For videos, paintings, or photographs, students use a standard visual analysis that who they see, what they are doing, and what the message or purpose of the source is. Journaling gives students the chance to gather their thoughts together and share them on paper. They do not have to worry about the same students answering first, or other students criticizing what they have to share. Journals also present an opportunity to scaffold up towards an end of unit essay. For a unit on the Depression I had students write about the causes and effects over several classes in order to prepare them for an essay that asked them to evaluate the depression on a unit test.

4. Demonstrates understanding of how students differ in their approaches to learning.
My students are a diverse group of learners. Each student approaches learning in their own unique way. Knowing that students do not all learn the same way, I implement a range of activities and lessons. Opportunities are provided for students to work with primary and secondary documents in the forms of written, oral, and visual sources. I alternate between individual, partner, and group work in class. Whenever possible I integrate technology into my lessons and let the students participate. In an inquiry lesson on the causes of the Great Depression (CausesoftheGD.pdf), students used a wireless keyboard to add causes that they found in data sets to an inspiration software graphic organizer. Allowing students to draw or create original projects makes history fun while providing students with artistic ability to succeed. While covering ancient religion students created a pillar with four sides where they drew their representation of the four pillars of Islam. The activity was fun for students and taught necessary content and standards.

5. Demonstrates an understanding of the purposes and roles of PreK-12 education.
In an educational system focused on holding teachers and students accountable through standards and testing, it is easy to forget the true purposes of education, to promote life-long learners and prepare students for a global society. Promoting life-long learning is a difficult but important responsibility of educators. In my own classroom I do my best to engage students in the material and offer an explanation for what they are learning, and why they are learning in a particular way. I always explain the importance of the ability to read and write well, skills that are important for any job. In order to promote self-discover and inquiry, I encourage questions. Many times students ask questions about topics that may be the only thing that interests them in a lesson or unit. There is no time to answer every question in class, but if it is relevant to the content and I feel other students will benefit from an explanation, I give one. Otherwise I offer extra credit for a student to investigate and attempt to answer their own question. Many of my students are interested in conspiracies and historic controversies so I set up a Portaportal website with links to websites and online articles. During a unit on exploration I provided students with links to sites and articles that debate whether or not Christopher Columbus or Chinese explorers arrived in America first.

Preparing students for a global society is another purpose of education, and a personal goal for myself. To accomplish this goal I use social studies as a forum to teach global and cultural understanding. As a student teacher in a World History class students encounter diverse people, cultures, language, religions, and customs. Students enter my classroom with many preconceived ideas and stereotypes with no historical support, so I do my best to break down prejudices, and inform my students with facts. Learning the characteristics of these groups is necessary to pass state standards, but I also focus on the similarities. Understanding that we all share a common human connection prepares students to live and interact in a global community. Success in a global society requires knowledge of each other, but also of technology. Whenever possible I bring in tools and technology for students to learn with and succeed with. Ideally I hope that through my introduction of technology in the classroom, students will eventually be able to choose the right tool and the right time to succeed.