Teaching Social Studies in the 21st Century: A Research Study of Secondary Social Studies Teachers' Instructional Methods and Practices

Spring 2010

Source: Action in Teacher Education, v. 32 no. 1 (Spring 2010), p. 65-72.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study was to examine how social studies is being taught in 21st-century social studies classrooms. As such, the author attempted to answer the following research questions:
How is secondary social studies being taught in the 21st century?
Has social studies instruction changed since the 20th century?

281 secondary social studies teachers from across the United States completed the online survey regarding their teaching practices. The participants ranged in teaching experience and educational level (highest degree earned): 102 participants had a bachelor's degree; 155 participants, a master's degree; 17 participants, a specialist degree; and 4 participants, a doctorate . The participants' teaching experience ranged from 1st-year teachers to seasoned veterans. Participants taught at schools ranging from small rural to large urban, and they varied in grade level taught (Grades 6-12) and in social science subject' matter teaching assignment. Of the 281 participants, 119 were female, 160 were male, and 2 did not disclose their gender.

This study utilized a 35-question Likert-style survey to obtain information regarding social studies teachers' methods of instruction.



The results of this study continue to demonstrate that teachers are more inclined to encourage passive learning than engaged, active learning. According to some responses, not all students are required to think critically or solve problems. These results illustrate that students do not have to critically think or problem solve the majority of time, which is not productive.


The data from the respondents provide insight and evidence on the methods and practices that social studies teachers utilize. The strong preference for lecturing, note taking, and use of textbooks is troubling. The data indicate that teachers clearly utilize passive methods more frequently than they do methods considered to be active and engaging. The actual classroom teaching practices of social studies teachers do not align with relevant literature supporting more authentic learning strategies, further expanding the gap between theory and research.

The author claims that this widening gap indicates that urgent action needs to be taken to help educators see the importance of utilizing various instructional strategies that promote learning and higher-order thinking skills to educate students to become effective 21st-century citizens.

Updated: Jun. 26, 2011