Saturday, January 30, 2016

Connecting to Social Studies Curriculum Through Text-Sets: A Sensible Shift

            I have long believed that Common Core discussions need to shift from talk about content-free standards to talk about content-rich curriculum that embeds standards. And now this hoped for shift is beginning to happen. The latest issue of Social Studies Research and Practice, an online free-access journal, contains a very helpful article entitled “Tackling Controversial Topics: Developing Thematic Text Sets for Elementary Social Studies” by Christina M. Tschida and Lisa Brown Buchanan. This article shows how to incorporate both ELA and social studies C3 social studies framework when using text-sets. This is a practical approach to curriculum development.

Click on this link to the entire issue and scroll down to find the article at

            The authors provide a 4-step approach that begins with (1) identifying the big idea for inquiry, (2) identifying the multiple perspectives needed to understand this idea or topic, (3) finding the appropriate books and artifacts, and (4) selecting the materials to use in the classroom. After explaining the steps, the authors take us through the process of making a text-set. They provide three examples of text-sets dealing with controversial issues at three different grade levels: K-1: family, grades 2-3: civil rights, and grades 4-5: slavery. Teachers who want to try out this idea could use these text-sets right now. Others could follow this sensible procedure to create text-sets of their own.
            Let’s acknowledge that this is a big job. Finding books, reading and assessing them for curriculum purposes, and then selecting titles and artifacts for classroom use requires focus, determination, and TIME. But this is the job that needs to be done. The results, as I have witnessed again and again, are enormously rewarding. That’s because text-sets provide the necessary “stuff” that’s good to think with.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Learning Science from an Enthusiastic Scientist: Caitlin O’Connell’s Newest Book

            I love learning from nonfiction authors who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic—so enthusiastic that they want to share their knowledge with me. They also care about what they are learning. These authors take the role of “guide on the side” because they show us the excitement and joy of learning something new and why it is important. Even though they are in their books, the focus is less on themselves and more on what they are learning.
            Recently, I read a book by a great guide, Caitlin O’Connell, a well-known scientist and author. You may be familiar with the book she wrote with Donna M. Jackson, The Elephant Scientist, a book that describes O’Connell’s discovery of how elephants communicate. Or, you may know her book A Baby Elephant in the Wild, a book for younger readers. Both books have fascinating photographs of elephants taken by O’Connell and her husband Timothy Rodwell.
            Now we are fortunate to have a new book written by Caitlin O’Connell, with photographs by O’Connell and Rodwell. In Bridge to the Wild we accompany O’Connell as she takes us behind the scenes at Zoo Atlanta where we learn about animals and their caregivers and see fabulous close-up photographs of them. Our guide is both knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and she knows she is writing for a young audience. With chapters with such friendly titles as “Showtime at the Panda House” and “Meerkat Madness,” O’Donnell’s enthusiasm is contagious.
            Her approach is also personal. In the book’s introduction O’Connell shares her childhood experiences of visiting the Bronx Zoo, her memorable encounters with animals, and her hopes of convincing the next generation of the importance of conservation. She writes, ”I wanted to create a bridge to the wild, to inspire guests with enough information to ask more questions to see for themselves just how special wild animals are....”Evidently, this is a woman who cares deeply about animals.
            Here’s a book that is full of information about animals and the people who care for them, told firsthand by a skilled scientist, animal lover, and concerned citizen who has a message for us all. As I said before, she’s a great guide—knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and caring.