Making History

What happens when educators study their teaching? For Windsor Central Middle School social studies teacher Stef Olbrys, a change in her approach that has led to increased student scores and engagement. She’s now sharing her results with the world, publishing an article on the Deliberate Classroom in Social Education, a peer-reviewed academic journal covering social studies education in the United States.

“Being published in Social Education is an honor. Not only is it the "go to" read for Social Studies teachers around the country, it is a peer reviewed journal and being published in a peer reviewed journal is not an easy feat,” said Olbrys.

Olbrys based her Deliberate Classroom on what’s called the C3 framework, which encompasses college, career, and civil life. 

“The Deliberative Classroom consists of three critical attributes: Inquiry-Based Teaching; Evaluative Questioning; and Deliberation. Individually, the attributes are important, but when combined, they become a powerful way to help students practice and foster critical thinking skills where their voices drive the instruction,” Olbrys wrote. 

For example, Olbrys will challenge students with questions, such as, “What makes a decade ‘Roaring?’, or “Was the American Revolution revolutionary?”

“Ultimately, when students answer an evaluative question they are demonstrating that they not only literally understand the question, but understand it so well they can form a valid argument backed with evidence,” wrote Olbrys. 

Students placed themselves in 1776 America as colonists on the brink of revolution. Should they revolt? Stay loyal to the Crown? Fight with diplomacy?

“What they learned by examining each of the option’s strengths, weaknesses and tradeoffs was that decisions are not easy to make and that one’s initial instinct may not actually be the best option,” wrote Olbrys.  

Olbrys conducted a study of two groups of students characterized as “reluctant learners.” One control group studies in a traditional classroom while a focus group worked in a deliberative classroom. Olbrys found those students who took part in a deliberative classroom improved their average from 73 to 86.7 over the course of the school year. Those in the traditional classroom saw their average drop from 71 to 59.  Further analysis showed a drop in students receiving a score of 75 or below, and a surge in those receiving grades above 95. 

“In Windsor we are always trying to improve student outcomes and what the data was showing was that this method of teaching greatly improved student outcomes,” said Olbrys.   

The data backed up what Olbrys had felt from her students – that they were more engaged, in large part because their own voices were coming to the forefront. 

“When you let students lead the classroom comes to life. By asking big questions and letting students form their own conclusions, students comprehension is going far beyond what they get in the traditional classroom,” said Olbrys.

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