Academic journal article Social Education

Book Talks: Generating Interest in Good Reading

Academic journal article Social Education

Book Talks: Generating Interest in Good Reading

Article excerpt

ELEMENTARY TEACHERS TODAY are under enormous pressure to teach children to read better. If we, as teachers, want social studies to have an important place in elementary schools, we need the vision and the imagination to see social studies as part of the literacy mix. The irony is that we have always had the key to doing this without sacrificing any of the themes and goals that we have embodied in our standards. In fact, the only thing some teachers may have to give up is their obsession with textbooks. Within the essence of the social studies is the complex nature of human relationships and human activity, the culture and history of the people of the world, the allure of lands near and far away, the sense of doing the right thing and of being the right kind of human beings. All of these things, implied and stated in the national social studies standards, are found in the best of today's trade books. And these very areas of study have an allure that can stimulate children to want to find out, to know, to read.

Teachers sometimes lose sight of the fact that if we can inspire children to want to learn, to want to read more about a topic, everyone wins--even the people whose sole interest is reading test scores. In the social studies, we want students to be thirsty f9r information and knowledge. We should be provoking, inspiring, and guiding our students into reading a wealth of informative books.

One step toward doing this is for teachers to make an all-out effort to pull children into reading a variety of nonfiction and fiction social studies-related books. The reasons are simple. Guiding students to books that feature strong content and strong characters representing various ethnic groups can be one way of demonstrating a more caring, personalized, and positive approach. One study found that many African American mothers felt that teachers were often uncaring and subscribed to a "deficit model" (i.e., teaching approaches that concentrate solely on challenges related to educating minorities without consideration of the cultural strengths and individual positives). (1) If we spend more time attracting students to books related to a greater range of topics, we will better communicate a more caring approach.

Second, such an effort will help teachers move positively and purposefully away from the biases and sanitized sterility that have become synonymous with textbooks. Publishers have worked to respond to pressures for the removal of potentially offensive view-points or bias in textbooks, yet the content and style have largely become sanitized and meaningless. Anything that might provoke reaction from critics has been removed. Observers note that pressure groups have succeeded in purging texts of anything that is challenging, controversial, or interesting. (2)

The best social studies teachers that I have known have been those who draw their students to consider a variety of perspectives, inspire them to want to know more, encourage them to read for themselves, and give them a love of finding things out. These teachers introduce students to historical fiction, primary documents, and reference materials. Students are inspired to delve into these reading materials to find out what happened at a particular time or place, what the life of a particular individual or group was like, how individuals and groups dealt with common or unusual problems, how events and issues influenced the lives of people, or how a document came to exist, and what was its purpose.

To get students to read materials on their own, these teachers practice the principles of democracy in the classroom. They guide students towards interesting and exciting reading materials. At the same time, they are able to create opportunities where students find and select their own materials. (3) Along with the diverse reading, they encourage freedom of discussion among students and serve as their mentors.

There is growing evidence that students who read well, read a lot, and learn well have teachers who do two things: (1) give their students choices; and (2) help students to relate to what they are reading, to see the connections to their own lives. …

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