In 2018 Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) rolled out the first of three courses that would make up a new Social Studies high school curriculum, one that represented a significant pedagogical shift. Traditionally, students entering Grade 10 chose between History or Geography and followed that discipline through graduation. Breaking from past practices, the new courses will explore a more integrated approach to Social Studies education: one that focusses on its inherent process skills, on “how to do” Social Studies rather than “what content to study”.

The recent passing of Dr. Peter Seixas prompted many tributes from those who had the pleasure of knowing him. We did not but are happy to say that his fingerprints are all over our new curriculum. Each of the three core high school courses share a common unit dedicated to “Integrated Concepts and Process Skills”, and Dr Seixas’ “Big Six” are explicitly taught and applied in various contexts. The courses themselves are thematically organised and anchored by inquiry-based investigations, but each uses a different lens for honing those critical analysis skills: Civics/Economics, History, and Human Geography (respectively).

So what does this look like in practice? We use mini lessons to teach the Big Six early in the term so that students have a fair understanding of how each can be used to analyse an issue. Armed with prior knowledge (and some helpful organiser templates), students are ready to start using those tools for analysis to tackle multifaceted problems. One popular activity we use is easily adapted to any general or specific curriculum outcome and incorporates not only critical analysis but also democratic principles and communication practices. We invite students to explore a controversial issue before voting on a response. For example, in the early stages of Covid, NL joined with the Maritime provinces to form the “Atlantic Bubble” in what was technically a violation of the Canadian Charter but also qualified as justifiable in times of crisis. By providing students with some links to the W5 of the story and a graphic organiser guiding them to consider the “Big 6” implications of the decision, students were able to gather and organise information upon which they could form a reasoned judgement. The questions included in the organiser act as a shorthand to remind students how to use them and this activity is easily scaffolded for differentiated instruction by including only 1-3 of the Big 6 and/or having small groups focus on only one before sharing with the class to collectively achieve a more thorough analysis. (We often do this with our vocational groups, encouraging discussion along the way).

There are many extension opportunities as students may debate their position, promote a call to action via poster/podcast/speech, or dig deeper into one of the competencies by finding examples of conflicting perspectives on the issue (which went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada they discovered!). We used Feedback Frames for this activity, and students enjoyed dropping their disk (vote) in the appropriate slot as well as the visual reveal at the end. The vote could be tallied on any number of media, but there was something about physically getting up and voting, on holding that physical representation in their hand, that made the act of voting more personal and significant.

Jill Kennedy and Jackie Rockett are high school teachers and SSENC/RESSC representatives in NL