by Alexa L. Sandmann and John F. Ahern
Curriculum integration is the heart of upper elementary and middle grades education. As the position paper of the National Middle School Association states, "We believe learning experiences for young adolescents should be highly integrative and connected to life."1 However, classroom practice does not reflect this philosophy as much as we would like. It certainly could happen more readily if the curricular diet of students was fortified with a great variety of literature that nurtures social studies concepts such as citizenship. Teachers could then address at least two curricular demands-reading and social studies. What better way to reinforce the importance of citizenship than to provide students with a variety of books so that they can read about various aspects of citizenship, discuss them, write about them, and interact with classmates? This article focuses on using an integrated approach to both literacy and social studies goals. It begins by providing a brief rationale for such an approach; proceeds to describing NCSS standard theme 0 Civic Ideals and Practices; and finally, offers annotations and activities for six books that directly address this curriculum standard.
While Alleman and Brophy have warned that integrating literature into the social studies curriculum can compromise the integrity of the social science concepts,2 such a result is not a given. Brandt and Wade believe that social studies and children's literature are "made for each other."3 With a tightly conceived plan of action, this literature should strengthen and fortify students' understandings as they learn the concepts in the context of story, whether that "story" be fiction or nonfiction. Literature, especially picture books, can emphasize a concept in a way a paragraph in a textbook never can. As Jim Trelease suggests, literature helps students connect emotionally to times and places previously unknown to them, and nurtures a "wanting" to know for oneself rather than just a "having" to know for some arbitrary assessment.4 The use of literature can easily reinforce a concept when it is imbedded in a variety of texts across genres.
Civic Ideals and Practices
"Civic Ideals and Practices" is the tenth curricular strand from the National Council for the Social Studies' Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. These standards reflect the idea that the social studies programs for middle grade students "should include experiences that provide for the study of the ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic, so that the learner can meet the following performance expectations:
a.examine the origins and continuing influence of key ideals of the democratic republican form of government, such as individual human dignity, liberty, justice, equality, and the rule of law;
b.identify and interpret sources and examples of the rights and responsibilities of citizens;
c.locate, access, analyze, organize, and apply information about selected public issues-recognizing and explaining multiple points of view;
d.practice forms of civic discussion and participation consistent with the ideals of citizens in a democratic republic;
e.explain and analyze various forms of citizen action that influence public policy decisions;
f.identify and explain the roles of formal and informal political actors in influencing and shaping public policy and decision-making;
g.analyze the influence of diverse forms of public opinion on the development of public policy and decision-making;
h.analyze the effectiveness of selected public policies and citizen behaviors in realizing the stated ideals of a democratic republican form of government;
i.explain the relationship between policy statements and action plans used to address issues of public concern;
j.examine strategies designed to strengthen the 'common good,' which consider a range of options for citizen action.5
Books for Teaching Citizenship
The following are some particularly promising books for teaching and extending each of the performance objectives listed above. The performance objectives are noted by lower case letters after the bibliographical information for each book. Only new books or books recently made available in paperback are included in this bibliography, with the understanding that older or classic texts are already in the readers' repertoire. These books were chosen because they address the varying reading levels of middle grade students, from picture books to shorter texts for less mature readers to longer and more thorough texts for accomplished readers. Whatever the readability, all provide valuable information and perspectives, making each text a useful one for sharing with others.
The activities that follow each annotation are directed to individual students, but they could easily be adapted for small group or whole class instruction. The intent of each is to reinforce one or more of the NCSS performance objectives and to extend students' learning beyond the text by inviting them to explore a related concept within social studies or beyond. While these activities may be used simply as "follow-up" activities, they are meant to be springboards for additional learning and opportunities for students to make connections among subject areas.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963
C. P. Curtis
New York: Delacorte Press, 1995.
Performance Expectations: a, e, h
This Newbery and Coretta Scott King Honor book for 1996 well deserves the accolades. In prose that is relaxed and entertaining, Curtis tells a sometimes amusing and sometimes provocative story of a family. Kenny, the middle child of three, narrates the story of his Momma, Dad, little sister Joetta, and 13-year-old brother Byron-who seems headed toward delinquency. To avoid this, the whole family packs up the Ultra Glide for a trip from Flint, Michigan, to Birmingham, Alabama, where Grandma is supposed to "straighten Byron out." The book's conclusion in a church bombing takes everyone by surprise, and especially Kenny, who has difficulty reconciling this event with the previous peacefulness of his life.
1.Discover who were the girls whom Curtis says this book is "In memory of." Describe the event that cost them their lives. Decide what an appropriate monument to them would be, and then write an "In Memoriam" speech to dedicate it.
2.What was life like in the South for African Americans at the time the Civil Rights act of 1964 was passed? What rights did it assure to minorities?
3.Compare and contrast the church bombings of the 1960s with the burning of churches in the 1990s. Write a paper that examines theories about the current unrest, after reading as many newspaper and magazine articles on the subject as you can find.
4.Read the other Coretta Scott King Honor books for 1996: The Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson (Blue Sky Press), and Like Sisters on the Homefront by Rita Williams-Garcia (Lodestar Books).
O. L. Drucker
New York: Scholastic, 1996.
Performance Expectations: a, b, c, f, g, h
Kindertransport is the author's recounting of the six years she spent in England after having been sent there at the age of 11 by the Kindertransport ("child transport"). In 1938, the Nazis gave Jews no choice; they had to leave their homeland or expect to die. After Kristallnacht on November 9, the Jewish Refugee Committee orchestrated the escape of 10,000 children, only 1,000 of whom were eventually reunited with their parents. Olga was one of the lucky ones. This compelling story begins by describing the situation in Germany before Hitler came to power. The description prepares the reader for more fully understanding how the personal and civil rights of the Jews-and any others Hitler felt were "undesirable"-were abridged.
1.Find out more about Kristallnacht. Write a short report and share it with the class.
2.Research the Kindertransport, writing a biography of another of its participants.
3.Pretend you are Olga. Write a letter to her parents explaining how and why you feel your personal rights have been forgotten.
Candlewick Press, 1996.
Performance Expectations: a, b, e, f, h
Juxtaposing newspaper clippings from the last century with the story of the Trojan War, the author shows the timelessness of human frailty. On the left side of each spread, Fleischman tells the story of Troy, while on the right he places one or several newspaper articles that parallel the ancient historical event with a more recent one. For example, one left-hand page reveals that when Queen Hecuba bears a son, he is sent away with a herdsman to be killed in order to protect Troy by fulfilling the Priest's command, "When it's born, cut the infant's throat." The following page leads with the headline, "Newborn Found in Dumpster." In both stories, the babies left to die are saved. Page after page, the humanity-or inhumanity-of citizens of the world is revealed clearly.
1.Choose another story and find parallel news article(s) of your own, creating a two-page spread similar to the layout of Dateline: Troy. If others are interested, compile your efforts, creating your own classroom book.
2.Read Fleischman's Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices (HarperTrophy, 1988), for which he received the Newbery Medal. Choose your favorite part of the story of Troy and write it as a poem for two voices. Find a partner and perform your work for the class.
3.Winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for historical fiction, Fleischman's Bull Run ( Scholastic, 1995) could be read aloud as reader's theater. After doing so, have a class discussion that notes parallels between the Civil War battle presented here and the battle for Troy.
If You Had to Choose, What Would You Do?
S. M. Humprey
Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1995.
Performance Expectations: b, d, j
This book presents 25 social dilemmas, each of which can be read out loud to a class in less than 10 minutes. Each story concludes with discussion questions. Intended for use by parents, the classroom application is obvious. Although the introduction stresses process and alternative solutions to problems, the stories are really not moral dilemmas. Rather, the choices tend to be between the right course of action and the possibility of the loss of acceptance.
Ideal for teacher advisor groups, some stories are given a primary grade level, but application is more than appropriate for grades 4 to 7.
1.Ask cooperative groups to act out one story and create alternative endings. Following the last ending, the class should explore what is the best ending.
2.For each story, assume the identity of each character and write what he or she is feeling.
3.Identify two resolutions for a particular story, listing advantages and disadvantages of each. Attempt to state which principles are at stake, e.g., being liked versus being loyal to the family or ignoring a sister's drug problem versus having her become angry at you.
4.After discussing a number of the dilemmas in class, write a letter to your teacher indicating why these topics should or should not be discussed.
Rebels Against Slavery: American Slave Revolts
P. C. McKissack & F. L. McKissack
New York: Scholastic, 1995. Honor Book of 1997 Coretta Scott King Author Award.
Performance expectations: a, b, e, g, h, j
Masterful storytellers, the McKissacks recount the stories of African Americans who attempted to organize against their oppressors. The familiar ones include Tubman, Turner, Cinque and those who fought alongside John Brown. The authors also explore earlier slave resistance, including the story of the Maroons and Toussaint L'Ouverture. The stories, with few exceptions, are tragic and remind the reader of the consequences of a society that tolerates oppression.
1.Choose the subject of one chapter in this book, and assume that person's identity. Write a letter to another hero in the book. In your letter, compare your experiences with those of your correspondent, showing how they are similar and different.
2.Do an "Oprah Winfrey" talk show. Invite the heroes of this book to be the "guests" on a show titled "Rebels against Slavery."
3.Take a piece of paper and divide it in half the long way. As you read each story, write on one side of the paper "Information I learned." On the other side write "My feelings about that information."
4.Find out what current law is on citizens' rights and the owning of firearms. Decide whether you are in favor of the current laws or whether you would like them changed. Write an editorial stating your opinion.
Stories to Talk About
L. R. Putnam & E. M. Burke.
New York: Scholastic, 1994.
Performance Expectations: b, c, d, j
Written for grades 4 to 8, these stories could be used earlier. They deal with all too familiar classroom situations, such as name calling, stealing, drug use, practical jokes, and intolerance. The teacher's guides that precede each story provide a model for presentation that is not unlike the criteria of values clarification: "Reflect on the story; identify the problem, propose alternative solutions, evaluate the consequences, and justify the choices." For each story, there are focused questions for discussion as well as directions for a writing activity. Follow-up language arts activities recommended by the authors include:
1.Write personal stories about difficult classroom situations.
2.Write responses to one story before discussing it in class.
3.Debate consequences of alternative solutions.
4.Place the characters in cartoon frames that explain the problem.
5.Create spin-offs for similar stories.
1.National Middle School Association, Middle Level Curriculum: A Work in Progress (Columbus, OH: Author, n.d.)
2.J. Alleman and J. Brophy, "Trade-offs Embedded in the Literary Approach to Early Elementary Social Studies," Social Studies & the Young Learner 6, 3 (1994): 6-8.
3.P. O. Brandt and R. Wade, "Made for Each Other: Social Studies and Children's Literature," Social Studies & the Young Learner 8, 2, (1995): 18-26.
4.J. Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook (New York: Penguin, 1995).
5.National Council for the Social Studies, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (Washington, DC: Author, 1994).
About the Authors
Alexa L. Sandmann is assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of Toledo. She has published articles in the Journal of Reading, Ohio Middle School Journal, and OCSS Review, and critical reviews of novels in Masterplots II.
John F.Ahern is a professor in the College of Education at the University of Toledo. He has published articles in Social Studies, Social Studies & the Young Learner, and the OCSS Review, and recently published a book, Roots of Birmingham.