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Professor Stephen Thornton Receives Faculty Research Grant

The Dean's Office announced last month that Professor Stephen Thornton received a Faculty Research Fellowship for his study, Beyond the "Pied Piper" Syndrome: Reforming Instruction and Teacher Education in the Social Studies.

Thornton is Associate Professor of Social Studies and Education and Coordinator of the Program in Social Studies.

Social Studies, Thornton says, is accused of being instructionally mediocre, typically dominated by teacher talk and student passivity. Because of these charges, he writes, "the social studies have attracted their share of would-be reformers." Thornton will look at the various reform efforts in social studies, particularly the changes they originally hoped to make and what effects they actually had on instruction.

"My aim is to try to understand why some of these things have had a bigger impact on schools and have been more successful in changing teaching and learning, and what was unsuccessful," Thornton said. "I want to see what we can learn from this information and how we can apply it to making changes now."

Thornton's study is focusing on several of the major forces that shape instruction. "It will be mainly an analysis of curricula, documents, methods, materials of instruction from these movements, and surveys of the schools," he said. "Anything that can give us an idea of methods and materials of instruction and what was done with them."

The tendency is for a new reform movement to come along each decade or so and capture the attention of theorists and researchers. Yet, these reforms have little influence on what really happens in schools before they die out and a new "Pied Piper" comes along, Thornton explained.

"We in education don't tend to be good at learning from successful experience," he added. "If we can document things that were successful, they may have elements associated with success that can serve us today." Professor Thornton came to Teachers College in 1990 from the faculty of the University of Delaware. He is active in the social studies profession at the national, state, and New York metropolitan area levels, chairing research groups, advising school districts on curriculum, and serving on editorial boards. He is also an editor of Social Science Record, the official journal of the New York State Council for the Social Studies.

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