Social Studies plus Literature equals Powerful Learning,By Peg Glisson

Common Core is not a curriculum, but includes standards and a sequence for teaching those standards. One goal of Common Core is integration of subject matter across the board. While Common Core Standards do not address history, the goal is for students who are studying a period of history, say World War II, to read fiction as well as nonfiction texts. For instance, a middle school English class could be reading Lois Lowry’s classic Number the Stars (Houghton Mifflin, 1989) while in social studies class they are reading and discussing Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust, (Candlewick, 2012) by Doreen Rappaport.

In my initial article on CCSS (Isn’t That Just for Schools?: Common Core and the Public Library, Part I) I wrote “The ELA standards . . . call for students, as young as Kindergarteners, to read more complex text and a higher percentage of nonfiction, to think analytically, to synthesize and apply what they have read to real world situations. It also makes the point that literacy doesn’t apply just to ELA; it applies to everything! Students will progress through a “staircase of complexity” of reading matter over the years, at least 50% of which will be nonfiction, to allow the development of the skill, concentration, and stamina needed to read and understand complex expository text, whether in college or on the job.”

The emphasis on nonfiction text when the ELA Common Core standards were initially released led to a furor over appropriate exemplar texts. School districts were unsure about using titles other than those listed in the Standards and about using fiction to teach curriculum. There were issues around text complexity as well as content. The Supplemental Information for Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy: New Research on Text Complexity (2012), Common Core State Standards For English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects Appendix B: Text Exemplars and Sample Performance Tasks (grades 6-12) and items on the CCSS Other resources page, as well as numerous articles in journals or blogs, have helped alleviate some of these fears and misconceptions. Common Core does allow flexibility and creativity in meeting standards. Alternatives to exemplar texts may be used. Teachers and librarians can name titles to integrate a topic through several parts of the curriculum, but they must think of content, grade level, reading level, past learning, connections, literary form when selecting materials.

The teaching of history and literacy simultaneously is “just what the doctor ordered” by CCSS. What better way to deepen students’ understanding of history while improving their close-reading, critical-thinking, and analytical-writing skills than through an interdisciplinary approach? In fact, standards for K-5 reading in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects are actually integrated right into the K-5 reading standards! The key, obviously, is to choose the right texts for students to read, be they fiction or nonfiction. Not only will great literature and literary nonfiction deepen understanding and improve skills, it will also excite students about history and literature!

Take a look at these CCSS ELA standards:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.3. Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.8. Identify the reasons an author gives to support points in a text.
Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting)
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.3. Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.4. Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases in a text relevant to a grade 4 topic or subject area.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.8. Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.3. Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.4. Ask and answer questions to help determine or clarify the meaning of words and phrases in a text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.8. Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.9 Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

How easy it is to apply these to historical fiction and literary nonfiction! Not sure how? Take a look at some resources online, such as the landing page for Booklist’s, Book Links’, Quick Tips’ CCSS printable resources or School Library Journal’s series on Nonfiction Mentor texts (scroll down to the periodicals section). You don’t always need to start from scratch. The Bookends blog outlined Common Core Connections for the above-mentioned Beyond Courage, by Rappaport, and The Nazi Hunters, by Bascomb. (Both of these titles are included in this month’s World War II Themed Booklist.) Publishers’ often provide Teaching Guides, with CCSS-aligned discussion questions, such as these for Rose Under Fire and Invasion, both of which are on our World War II-Fiction Themed Booklist.

There are many blogs dealing with literacy and social studies. Two posts I found, dealing specifically with books about World War II, are War Stories: Examining World War II Through the Lens of the Novel, posted by Keith Schoch on How to Teach a Novel blog, and Guide to Books for Young Readers about World War II… and Other Interesting Bits on The Children’s War blog.

Looking at resources such as these will help librarians, teachers, and curriculum leaders feel more comfortable in choosing trade books to teach social studies and in writing curriculum using them. Standards based instruction doesn’t have to be limited or dry. Literary and informational texts add spice to social studies units, K-12. Work with your teachers and curriculum leaders to build them back into your units. Schedule workshops, prepare booklists, suggest coteaching opportunities, and offer coffees in the library to showcase great books for social studies themes and concepts. Then happily observe the enhanced learning and reading!

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