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Nell Duke responds to recommendations of new study on social studies instruction and reading comprehension

September 28, 2020

Professor Nell Duke was quoted in a Chalkbeat Colorado article by Ann Schimke, “More social studies in elementary school may produce better readers, new study suggests.” 


A study published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute pushes for a greater emphasis on building elementary students’ knowledge of history, civics, and geography. It also argues against the popular notion that young children first learn to read and then read to learn—asserting that children can do both at the same time.

Duke agreed with the recommendation that social studies should get more time in schools, but disagreed with the study’s suggestion that teaching children reading comprehension skills and strategies comes at the expense of knowledge-building. Research shows that both are important ingredients in reading instruction.

Duke was also cautious about a secondary recommendation in the study that schools consider adopting English language arts curriculum that contains more science and social studies topics than traditional literacy curriculums. She said such curriculums—Core Knowledge Language Arts or EL Education, for example—shouldn’t be substituted for social studies and science lessons created by the field’s experts. In part, that’s because they may skip over grade-level standards or whole disciplines within the two subjects.

“My position is that what educators should be doing is reworking the daily schedule to afford more time for science and social studies,” she said.

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Professor, Marsal Family School of Education

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