Linking Words and Worlds through Curriculum Integration

By Souto-Manning, Mariana | Journal of Thought, Spring-Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Linking Words and Worlds through Curriculum Integration


Souto-Manning, Mariana, Journal of Thought


In literacy programs, the subject of Social Studies is not always present. At least it is not foregrounded. When it appears, it does so in a secondary way, without its critical properties. In fact, this subject is frequently reduced to dimensions of little value in knowing and understanding reality. It is common to see Social Studies taught as the memorization of dates, names, places, and heroes. This teaching that places value on what one memorizes may even lead to a student earning good grades in school, but it certainly does not lead to one doing well in life, applying what he/she learned to real life situations (Gee, 2003). Social Studies as a mere collection of facts does not allow students to understand the complex relations present in society. But this is the way traditional Social Studies have been taught--assessing the memory of students and their ability to recall names and facts as opposed to assessing their analytical intelligence. Making connections in teaching words through the teaching and understanding of the world makes literacy teaching more complex and interesting.

In a program called Literacy for Social Inclusion, taking place in rural communities of Northeastern Brazil, educators are trying to expand and deepen the concept that the subject of Social Studies can have a very important role in the development of one's literacy. This program proposes that school, being a social space, should open its doors to the discussion of the reality of its students, starting with the experiences students bring with them into the classroom. It is then, in sharing their experiences, that alternative possibilities of intervention, of applying the word to change the world, are created. This program, based on Paulo Freire's pedagogy (1970), proposes that teaching should encompass the reality students bring to the classroom, as they have lived and experienced it, as a basis for the learning and discussion of other realities. It seeks to foster the awareness that students already know much as they enter the literacy classroom--fostering a meta-awareness or conscientizacao (Freire, 1970). Learners gain an awareness of the things they know but were not aware they knew and gain critical knowledge of what they don't know (this goes for the teacher as well). Finally, the program proposes that students and teachers engage in social change, in the transformation of society.

Participatory Approach

The Freirean approach, also called participatory, learner-centered, or liberatory education, revolves around the discussion of issues that are pertinent to the students, part of their real-life experiences. The concept is that education and knowledge have value only if they help people free themselves from oppressive social conditions. To understand the Freirean approach, it is important to understand the definitions of three phrases: (1) generative words and themes, (2) collaboration and dialogue among equals, and (3) problem posing. Generative words and themes are the basis for the conversation, reading, and writing activities. Students start with encoding and decoding exercises and move to more complex activities. Collaboration and dialogue among equals is the concept that teaching takes place in a culture circle, where teachers and students face one another and discuss issues that are relevant to them and their lives. Problem posing is describing objects, pictures, and written text that are seen by the teacher and students. Students examine the relationship between themselves and the object as well as what they feel about what they see; they also articulate the problem illustrated and propose solutions (Peyton & Crandall, 1995). This approach works with themes and words that are important to the lives of the learners. Further, it extends the themes and activities being studied into action, so that the learner's lives can be improved.

The participatory approach is learner-centered, because what will be learned and the use of what will be learned are determined through ongoing negotiation between teachers and students. …

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