Classroom Update #5: Have you read a good book lately?


give me five! (CC)
Howdy, long time, no write. I apologize, but life has been happening and that leads to less writing. Can you tell I’ve been teaching cause and effect lately? I’m doing Colonial American history with the class, and that will be the topic of this post.

We had read a novel, Blood on the River, earlier in the year, and so they we’re well primed for a realistic discussion of the relations between colonials and natives. I never have any difficulty teaching slavery to upper elementary students. They totally get that owning other people is wrong. The hardest part is explaining why folks would think that’s a good idea. We’ve talked about how the Indians did not do well with diseases brought over as contact between the Americas and other continents increased. We’ve also talked about how that didn’t clear out the land, so colonists were grabbing it through various means.

One of the things that been helpful as I’m using student level materials on the subject, is to be listening to and reading text on the subject myself. As elementary educators, most of the reading we think of as “work related” is pretty directly tied to instruction (Dewey, Dweck, and love or hate him, Lemov, etc.) and lots of secondary English teachers will talk about literature they’re reading, but I only occasionally hear about social studies reading my peers are doing.

These days, I’m thinking more deliberately about my reading choices in the subject matter I teach. My favorite book that I’ve read to go along with the colonial experience is Sarah Vowell, Wordy Shipmates. I opted for an audiobook, as I do a lot of my book consumption that way these days, and besides, she’s a monologist, so she’s meant to be heard (yes, I know her voice is untypical, but I find it compelling). Her focus is the Puritans, and she has a pretty good take on them. She was raised within an evangelical church community, so she knows the mindset, and the Bible verses that go along with it. She’s also part Cherokee and so she understands the short end of the stick the Native Americans are getting, from family history. I really like her take on Anne Hutchinson, she made the opening of Harvard a priority because the men saw they needed to better educate their young men so they would not be made to look as foolish as many of the males prosecuting her did at her trial. While I can’t use a resources like this in total with the students, when we got to a one-page bio in their text on Mrs. Hutchinson, I added some color commentary from Vowell. What books influence your teaching in this way?

Image credit: give me five! (CC)

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