The Six Remaining Facts: Social Studies Content Knowledge and Elementary Preservice Teachers

Fall, 2010

Source: Action in Teacher Education, v. 32 no. 3 (Fall 2010), p. 66-78.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examines how a critical-inquiry exercise in a social studies methods class transforms the content knowledge base related to a select group of historical figures for the preservice teachers.

Method of Inquiry
This study was qualitative, critical action research.
The study was conducted in two social studies methods classes. The study participants were 45 preservice teachers seeking an elementary teaching license at a Southwestern university.

Critical Inquiry Exercise
The inquiry exercise was a five-phase content knowledge transformation exercise developed for the preservice teachers in the author's elementary social studies methods class.
The exercise was developed as a deliberate consciousnessraising activity with the intent to help preservice teachers understand how their historical content knowledge has been influenced by the dominant culture and the prescribed history canon, which has been co-opted by the major textbook companies (Loewen, 2007).
An additional purpose of this exercise was for preservice teachers to learn a critical inquiry and research strategy to use with their own students. This was a powerful opportunity for the preservice teachers to understand not only that historical figures are complex human beings but that many historical figures are protected by the apparatus of schooling and the overuse of textbooks.


The findings reveal that preservice teachers have limited content knowledge bases, even related to biographical figures that are some of the most studied in traditional history classrooms. Before the critical inquiry exercise, the preservice teachers are consistently able to recall between 6 and 11 historical factoids about the figure.
After completing the group discussion phase of the inquiry exercise, the preservice teachers discover that they have not learned any new information. This understanding about their limited knowledge base is the grounds for a classroom discussion related to shared, shallow content knowledge.

After the reading inquiry portion of the exercise the preservice teachers identify new, critical, and more complex understandings related to the historical figures. The preservice teachers reflect on whether the critical new understandings will influence their social studies pedagogy in the elementary classroom.
At this point, the preservice teachers in both classes wonder about how to build new understandings into the history curriculum. The preservice teachers have to address how the traditional social studies canon and the existing textbook-based phenomena in the social studies interfere with a critical social studies education.


Preservice teachers must reach a level of critical consciousness before they can transform their social studies understandings and become transformative social studies educators.
The author argues that preservice teachers must engage in inquiry exercises if they are to become skillful at employing inquiry strategies in their classrooms.

Loewen, J. (2007). Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history textbook got wrong. New York: Simon &. Schuster.

Updated: Jan. 16, 2012