By Maggie McAdams
With inquiry at its core, the new Kentucky Academic Standards for Social Studies seek to empower students to think critically and to become active participants in the learning process. By incorporating inquiry-based learning, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is encouraging students to engage in open dialogue with both the teacher and classmates in a formal setting. Engaging in civil discourse is essential because it instills in our youth the ability to form reasoned arguments with evidence and to have a reasoned discussion with others.
At Shaker Village, we use learning strategies to help build community and shared experiences through inquiry. Many of these strategies can be applied in the classroom to encourage student participation in the inquiry process:
Object-Based Learning and Primary Source Analysis
Object-based learning provides one way to incorporate primary source analysis into the classroom. Objects – both artifacts and reproductions – can be used at the start of a unit to initiate discussion. Applying the inquiry practices of questioning, investigating, using evidence and communicating conclusions, object-based learning is a great way to help students through the inquiry process in the course of a single lesson.
Students learn how to read an artifact through observation and questioning, and use their findings to form conclusions. Object analysis also helps to establish tangible connections with the past and can build relevance with students by inspiring them to make connections to their own experiences.
Object-based learning is most beneficial when working in groups, as students collaborate and build language skills in the process. Visit the Library of Congress’s website for additional tools to apply this strategy to historic document and image analysis.
Visual Thinking Strategies
Visual thinking strategies (VTS) is another inquiry learning strategy used throughout the museum world to promote visual literacy, inquiry and community building. VTS centers on open-ended discussions of visual art, significantly increasing students’ critical thinking, language and literacy skills along the way. VTS sessions, though open-ended, are highly structured in which the facilitator is only permitted to ask three questions:
- What is going on in this picture?
- What do you see that makes you say that?
- What more can we find?
These three questions are used throughout to encourage students to support their claims with evidence found in the image. During these discussions, students begin to build a narrative together.
VTS promotes open dialogue in which students can build upon each other’s comments to find meaning. Not only does VTS employ the inquiry process and build community, it also promotes empathy, as students often analyze and interpret expressions and emotions depicted in the source.
Our team at Shaker Village is committed to providing dynamic and innovative programs that promote critical thinking while creating an open environment to share and interpret this village’s story. Each interdisciplinary program utilizes Shaker Village’s unique setting to support the Kentucky Academic Standards for Social Studies.
We also work closely with area schools to ensure that we are meeting their needs. A teacher from Russell County Middle School wrote, “The staff at Shaker Village have been stellar in their accommodation of our middle school group. You all created this experience for us re: the Shakers and utopia, and it has completely hit the mark.” (Shaker Utopia, November 2019).
A Mercer County Intermediate School teacher commented, “We loved the pictures and the artifacts that the kids were able to hold. It brings the stories to life!” (Shaker Life, September 2019).
With an emphasis on inquiry learning strategies, we are also able to provide interactive experiences for students given the immersive nature of our historic site.
A teacher from Floyd Central High School (Floyd County) wrote: “I could not have been more impressed with the quality of presentations. Students were totally and completely engaged. … It fit perfectly into my curriculum.” (Shaker Utopia, February 2019).
Here are ways in which educators can engage with the Shaker Village website:
- Shaker life: Explore the community and culture at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill by engaging with the artifacts and buildings the Shakers left behind to uncover the beliefs, practices and innovations necessary for their unique way of life. Learn what it would have been like to live a communal lifestyle with this interactive school program.
- Shaker utopia: Members of the Shaker community sought perfection through a common set of values and strict rules, but were they successful? Is there an ideal way for communities to solve problems, establish order, provide security and achieve common goals? Test the strengths and weakness of utopian order while immersed in the remains of Kentucky’s longest lasting intentional community.
- Educator annual pass: Join the education community at Pleasant Hill with an annual pass. Support Shaker Village and receive free admission, free riverboat rides, great discounts and more. Explore this learning laboratory on your own and bring back exciting ideas for the classroom.
Please contact me with any questions or to discuss ways to connect the Shaker story to the local and national narrative. We are here to support Kentucky teachers.
Maggie McAdams is the assistant program manager at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.