How Do You Justify All Of This... READING In A Social Studies Class?!

Brain TimeQuestions about why and how and when to fit in reading to an already overcrowded schedule deserve more time and wisdom than I'm able to give them here, but that hasn’t stopped me anywhere else on this site, so...

This love of reading in Social Studies started when I taught a non-tested subject for several years in a district which consistently prioritized literacy. We did so much reading because we could. We didn’t all do it exactly the same, but generally every Friday was “Silent Reading Friday,” and Silent Reading was Sacred (no working on other things or making up quizzes, etc.) Roughly two-thirds of the time I’d assigned titles; the other third were book-of-choice weeks.

We tried to find a balance between basic accountability on the part of students for doing the reading without making it unnecessarily complicated. I gave fairly basic reading quizzes each Monday for the first 10 - 15 minutes of class. Most of the questions weren't complex; they were just intended to see if you'd read. Anything requiring analysis or depth or more than a multiple choice "what was the name of Dorothy's dog?" type question, we'd handle some other way. Class discussions, online discussion forums, small group activities, etc. I didn't want reading to be just another requirement or burden, but I also knew when part of the goal was content, there had to be something in place to nudge them along.

The third of the time we were reading books-of-choice I chose not to give any written work over the books. They were expected to read during class. That's it. If there were grades, they were based on me looking around and noticing that a given child was or was not reading most of the time. Sometimes we'd do mini-conferences and discuss what they were reading, but it wasn't high-pressure or anything. I have this crazy idea that they should be able to enjoy it at least part of the time.

I realize logistics and expectations aren't the same everywhere. Sometimes resources are an issue; other times, you're under an enormous amount of pressure to stick to the department guidelines. Whatever the circumstances, I refuse to judge another teacher for doing what they think is best for their kids in their classroom; I will, however, try to make the case for you to reconsider if you’re not dedicating much time and energy to reading.  

OK, I might actually be judging you a little. But I assure you, I'll do my best to hide it.

So, how do I justify it in ANY History or Social Studies class, regardless of grade level or state testing requirements? Easy.

First – Reading supports content. “Going deep” on a few key events, issues, or individuals provides an “anchor” for students’ historical understanding. It makes knowledge from before, during, and after that anchor “stickier” – easier to understand, easier to remember. It builds connections, interest, and all that pedagogical stuff.

Second – Reading can be enjoyable. I don't want my kids to leave my class hating history for all the reasons many of my peers did years ago. History is so neato-keen-awesome-swell-strange, don't you think? Novels increase the odds they'll get a taste of that. Do you really think their test scores will be higher if they hate EVERYTHING they're supposed to know, but in more detail?

Speaking of which...

Third – Reading increases test scores. I know, I know – we're trying to pretend to be above such things. But how much of YOUR state test is reading comprehension? Even if it's not, how many of your kids are missing stuff they shouldn't miss because they can't or won't read the entire question, the provided excerpts, or whatever?

Fourth – Reading is good for kids. It's good for them long-term for a dozen reasons you know as well as I do. It's good for them short-term because it helps them learn to focus and think in ways disrupted by modern conveniences and technology. I'm not anti-tech by any means, but our darlings need more practice than ever throwing themselves into linear tasks and sustained focus. So do most of the rest of us.

I realize every state has different pressures, and every district and building and classroom different challenges, but at some point we all signed up for this gig to help kids, right? I want to make it to retirement without getting in trouble as much as anyone, but if we're not pushing for what's best for our kids while we're here, maybe we should bail now and go sell shoes or something where we'll do less damage.

There's a discussion worth having about how to come up with books, etc. Feel free to email me if you'd like some ideas, but chances are you or those around you have a half-dozen things you could try if you decide it's important to you. There are usually ways. That being said, I'm always happy to discuss – BCE@bluecerealeducation.com.

Snow Reading

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