The following are the initial draft explorations of specific research focus areas in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Studies branch of the Ph.D. in Urban Education proposal. The various areas should be read as part of a larger interdisciplinary context that refers back to the overview statement for the AHSS Group.
English / Language Arts Education
Elementary Language Arts Education / Children’s Literature Research: Children’s Literature as a Means of Learning History
It is no wonder that third grade is the focus of so much attention in literacy development. It’s the crucial time when we expect that instruction in reading will dramatically change from learning-to-read with at least some emphasis on phonics as well as semantics and syntax as meaning-making strategies to reading-to-learn with an emphasis on inquiry and the development of conceptual understandings in social studies, science, mathematics, and the arts. While researchers, teachers, and the public at large constantly debate the best way to promote early literacy, what is becoming increasingly apparent is that the use of language to learn is an area fraught with untested assumptions about the interaction of oral and written language, literature, and content from the humanities and social sciences. In fact, a recent investigation of the literature-social studies connection concluded that “the number of convincing arguments for social studies instruction based on literary sources far outweighs the amount of published research documenting the extent to which literature-based teaching promotes the knowledge, skills, and values that constitute civic competence” (McGowan, Erickson, & Neufeld, 1996, 206). The rhetoric, it seems far outweighs the reason.
Much of this lack of knowledge about learning information from literature stems from an alarming lack of research. Traditional research in children’s literature has simply addressed different questions. The groundbreaking work of Louise Rosenblatt drew researchers’ and teachers’ attention to the dynamic that exists between readers and texts. Instead of focusing solely on the text, researchers began to look at the impact of the reader’s stance towards what was being read. Yet, as promising as the research on reader-response and envisionment of text-worlds has been, it has primarily focused on the aesthetic response over the efferent or information-seeking and, in addition, has focused on the narrative to the virtual exclusion of the non-narrative. Until very recently it was assumed that “narrative is primary” and that the non-narrative should be introduced much later. This has been refuted by work with kindergartners (Pappas, 199l) as well as youngsters for whom non-narrative have proven to be a way into literacy. Another contributing factor to the lack of research was the notion—subsequently refuted—that children simply could not learn history because of their limitations in dealing with time-related concepts.
In contrast, current research in reading to learn content focuses attention on the nature of the text being offered to children—its coherence, its provision of relevant and necessary background information, and its style and metadiscourse features (i.e., McKeown & Beck, 1994). Not only are researchers looking at the texts, but they are also looking at ways to make children more critical readers of these texts. A number of discussion strategies have surfaced, but among the most promising is one referred to as
questioning the author, or giving reader’s a “reviser’s eye” (Beck, McKeown, Worthy, Sandora, & Kucan, 1996). Others have also investigated a reader’s ability to build event models in history (Wineburg, 1994) and children’s ability to construct historical interpretations in writing (Zarnowski, 1996).
Besides the text and children’s interactions with various sources, researchers have been interested in the range of material offered to children. Numerous researchers have been concerned with the selective tradition within children’s literature, finding that children are offered only the narrowest range of interpretations of historical events. This is troubling in that it not only shuts down dialogue, it also fails to acknowledge the voices of many. Related to this narrowing of the literary spectrum is the tendency of teachers to reject literature that offers children perspectives on gender, race or class that differ from their own perspectives or experiences or that teachers view as inappropriate or overly frightening (Wollman-Bonilla, 1998).
Current research in children’s literature continues to investigate emerging text formats in nonfiction literature, response to text in ways to include discussion but also move beyond it towards social action, and children’s experiences learning from text. In the area of history learning and teaching, researchers have also looked at the teacher’s
concept of history as a discipline and how this impacts what is happening in the classroom.
Research questions that I might raise are the following:
1) What kind of text best supports children’s understanding of history as an interpretive subject?
2) What is the impact on knowledge and attitudes towards history when children engage in sustained study of people and events in the past and are encouraged to interpret the significance of events?
3) What is the impact of writing and dialogue on historical understanding?
Beck, I.L, McKeown, M. G., worthy, J., Sandora, C. A., & Kucan, L. (1996). Questioning the author: A year-long classroom implementation to engage students with text. The Elementary School Journal, 96(4), 385-4l4.
McGowan, T. M., Erickson, L., & Neufeld, J. A. (1996). With reason and rhetoric: Building the case for the literature-social studies connection. Social Education, 60, 203-207.
Pappas, C. (1991). Fostering full access to literacy by including information books. Language Arts, 68, 449-462.
Wineburg, S.S. (1994). The cognitive representation of historical texts. In G. Leinhardt, I. L. Beck, & C. Stainton, Eds., Teching and learning in history. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Wollman-Bonilla, J. E. (1998). Outrageous viewpoints: Teachers’ criteria for rejecting works of children’s literature. Language Arts, 75, 287-295.
Zarnowski, M. (1996). Constructing historical interpretations in elementary school: A look at process in product. In J. Brophy (Ed.), Advances in research on
teaching: Vol. 6. Teaching and learning history (pp. 183-205). Greenwich, CT:
Barton, K. C. (1997). “I just kinda know”” Elementary students’ ideas about historical evidence. Theory and Research in Social Education, 25,407-430.
Brophy, J. (Ed.). (1996). Advances in research on teaching. Vol. 6: Teaching and learning history. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
Carretero, M. & Voss, J. F. (Eds.) Cognitive and instructional processes in history and the social sciences. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Leinhardt, G., Beck, I.L., & Stainton, C. (1994). Teaching and learning in history. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
VanSledright, B. A., & Kelly, C. (1998). Reading American history: The influence of multiple sources on sixth fifth graders. Elementary School Journal, 98(3), 239-265.