Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education & Educational Psychology

First Advisor

Marcia A. B. Delcourt, PhD

Second Advisor

Scott W. Brown, PhD

Third Advisor

Nancy H. Heilbronner, PhD


This study examined the potential benefits of thematic-based social studies instruction on middle school students’ historical reasoning ability and attitudes towards social studies related tasks. Thematic instruction refers to a curriculum delivery that is based on themes in history, such as: wealth, discovery, and conflict. Using a sample of convenience (n = 211) from two suburban New England middle schools, this quasi-experimental study included a pretest and posttest of student attitudes towards social studies related tasks (Interest in Science, Technology, Writing Tasks, Interest in Social Studies, and Student Perspective Taking) and an analysis of student writing.

The study utilized a mixed-methods approach, where students from a thematic-based social studies program (n = 98) were compared to those in nonthematic-based program (n = 113). During the course of the research three writing prompts were given and scored via a rubric to measure students’ historical reasoning ability. A focus group of students was created from each condition to define the attitudes and perceptions of students in the two different programs. The results indicated that students in the thematic-based social studies program had significantly higher attitudes towards social studies as compared to their peers in the nonthematic-based program (Pillai’s trace = .118, F(6,203) = 4.541, p < .001). There were no significant differences between groups regarding historical reasoning skills. Student comments about the program were related to the themes of: (a) Attitudes Towards Social Studies, (b) Curriculum Strategies, Organization and Procedures, and (c) Higher Level Thinking Skills. Educational implications include insights into classroom activities that promote historical reasoning and writing in relation to assessment in social studies.