When I was a high school teacher, I saw the tight connection between the Social Studies (SS) and English Language Arts (ELA). However, I didn’t do much about it. I occasionally had a brief conversation with a social studies teacher, but we never brought it to a coordinated action. For example, for several years I taught A Tale of Two Cities to tenth graders while, at some point during the year, my colleague taught the French Revolution in a world history class to the same students. A perfectly natural pairing, right? Laziness? Or was it just that we never had such cross-curricular opportunities explained to us during our preparation? Maybe a bit of both. In teacher education most of us understand that most teachers are victims of the apprenticeship of observation. In short, regardless of our preparation, most of us revert to teaching the ways we were taught. Schooling remains the same.
After several years at Louisiana State University, we hired a new Assistant Professor of Social Studies education.
Enter Dr. Paul Binford.
Paul and I began working together on several department projects. Primarily we each had a responsibility to communicate with our corresponding subject departments, teaching subject specific methods classes to undergraduates, and working with a yearly cohort of graduates students in a fifth year teacher certification program. We began discussing where our pedagogical concerns overlapped and whether or not there were avenues of collaboration. Paul introduced me to historical simulations and a teaching technique called visual discovery. Both concepts belong in an ELA classroom. I know some ELA teachers are doing some form of simulation in terms of court room simulation with To Kill a Mockingbird or something similar. Even though I thought I often incorporated visuals into my teaching and writing prompts, nothing I had planned or discovered on my own lead me to the richness of Visual Discovery. I have been thinking about it ever since and trying in my own limited way to usher novice English teachers into using this strategy.
This coming fall we will be present at 2018 NCTE Annual Convention in Houston, TX.
Our session title is: Crossing Selma’s Bridge with Visual Discovery Strategy and Young Adult Literature: Allowing Voices from the Past to Echo in the Present
The Panelist will include: Laurie Halse Anderson, Steven Bickmore, Paul Binford, Brendan Kiely, Luke Rumohr, Gretchen Rumohr-Voskuil, Rich Wallace, and Sandra Neil Wallace.
We will be focusing on Anderson’s Seeds of America series, Wallace and Wallace’s Blood Brother, and Kiely and Reynolds’ All American Boys.
We hope you join us.
Now Paul's Turn
Both Steve and I made the transition to higher education in mid-career, so--needless to say--it was a high stakes decision. The great thing about Steve was that he was approachable, self-effacing, and an open-book about the tenure and research process. My first year he spent countless hours (yes, countless!) answering my questions and responding to my requests for advice. Through this mentoring relationship and a common hobby--golf (the frustrations, vagaries, and all too few skilled shots on the links), we forged a friendship and began recognizing opportunities for cross-curricular collaboration.
In regards to YAL, Steve first opened the pages of possibility for me by suggesting that I read Roll of Thunder: Hear My Cry. Although a bit ambivalent at first, reading this Newbery Medal winning work of historical fiction convinced me that YAL had much to offer to both ELA and the Social Studies. As a result, I have read many more compelling YAL books—often at Steve’s suggestion, which shed light on the human experience: Chains, Death Coming Up the Hill, March, Muckers, Mississippi Trial, 1955, Out of the Dust, and, most recently, Bound by Ice. As a long-time ELA teacher, Steve instinctively considers pre-reading, during reading, and post-reading activities to enrich student understanding of a YAL book. These were not pedagogical moves that I was aware of until after dialoging with Steve; nor I suspect are they intuitive to most social studies teachers.
Bound by Ice: A True North Pole Survival Story, by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, is a rich historical treatment of the U.S.S. Jeannette expedition (1879-1881). Bound by Ice describes the Arctic odyssey of Captain George W. De Long and his crew, which endured many months stuck in the ice, a portaging of life boats, materials, and supplies, the gales and swells of the open sea, and a traversing of the Siberian tundra. While reading Bound by Ice, I gradually became aware of a period of Arctic exploration (the 19th century in particular) seldom mentioned in the standard secondary textbooks. From 1818 to 1908, there were 92 expeditions (from nine different countries) to the Arctic in search of the elusive Northwest Passage, the northernmost point in Greenland, and, of course, the North Pole.
Why not provide historical background information about Arctic exploration, through a pre-reading activity, so students could contextualize the U.S. Jeanette expedition in Bound by Ice?
While a large majority of the Arctic expeditions were ship based, there were four expeditions during this period conducted by balloon.
Fact or Myth?
There were 4 balloon-based, 25 land-based, and 63 ship-based Arctic explorations.
In essence, this pre-reading activity is a presentation, using guided notes (the record sheet), with a game overlay. It takes about 30 minutes to complete and your students will love it! More importantly, they will be reading Bound by Ice in historical context.
This blog will also be co-posted on Dr. Binford's blog for Social Studies educations--Ring of Truth.