Friday, September 30, 2011

Notable POETRY in Social Studies

In my regular "Everyday Poetry" column for the September issue of Book Links magazine, I looked at the presence of poetry on an annual "best books" list for teaching social studies. Here's an excerpt:

Where do you go to find new books that are suitable for the social studies area? The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) in cooperation with the Children’s Book Council (CBC) has an annual book review committee that selects books for children in grades K-12 and produces an annotated list of “Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People.” They look for books that “emphasize human relations, represent a diversity of groups and are sensitive to a broad range of cultural experiences, present an original theme or a fresh slant on a traditional topic, are easily readable and of high literary quality, have a pleasing format, and, where appropriate, include illustrations that enrich the text.” Annotations also indicate the thematic strand most appropriate to each title drawn from Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. These strands include the following ten areas:

Thematic Strands of the NCSS Curriculum Standards for Social Studies
1. Culture
2. Time, continuity, and change
3. People, places, and environments
4. Individual development and identity
5. Individuals, groups, and institutions
6. Power, authority, and governance
7. Production, distribution, and consumption
8. Science, technology, and society
9. Global connections
10. Civic ideals and practices

As I examined the “Notable Social Studies” lists from the last decade, I was pleased to see 55 works of poetry on the combined lists, with an average of 5 poetry titles per year. A variety of poetry forms and formats have been included over the years as well, from haiku to poetry written by children, anthologies, re-envisioned classics, biographical poetry, and novels in verse. Several poets appear on the lists multiple times including Marilyn Nelson, Margarita Engle, Jen Bryant, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Linda Oatman High, Nikki Grimes, Carole Boston Weatherford, and J. Patrick Lewis. Clearly these poets have a knack for creating social studies-related poetry.

I also calculated which curriculum standards were most often covered by the 55 poetry selections of the last decade and found that nearly half the poetry books focused on Strands 1, 3, 4: Culture; People, places, and environments; Individual development and identity. Which strands were LEAST represented in works of poetry on these lists? Strands 7, 8, 9, 10: Production, distribution, and consumption; Science, technology, and society; Global connections; and Civic ideals and practices. Take note, future poets!

Which poetry books have made the cut when it comes to the social studies curriculum? I featured an abbreviated listing of those 55 titles. (Complete annotated bibliographies of all titles are available on the NCSS and CBC web sites.)

From these titles featured in 2001:
River Friendly, River Wild by Jane Kurtz
Mother Goose Remembers by Clare Beaton
The Sound that Jazz Makes by Carole Boston Weatherford

To these titles on the most recent 2011 list:
Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood by Jame Richards
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill
Roots and Blues by Arnold Adoff
The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba by Margarita Engle

(and many others in between 2001-2011-- see my complete article in Book Links)
For more info on the NCSS "Notables" list, go here.

What a wonderful variety of culturally rich and content-loaded poetry here. Many works lend themselves to dramatic read aloud readers’ theater style with kids taking on different “roles” or “characters” (particularly with the novels in verse). Others would be powerful in combination with a nonfiction work on the same topic, examining how information is integrated into poetic forms. Still others incorporate art and illustrations from primary sources alongside the imagery of the poetry helping young people visualize other times and places. And starting or finishing a social studies lesson with a poem is that much easier when referencing these NCSS poetry “notables.”

Featured poem, too
Once again, a new original poem also accompanies the column. This time the featured poem is “The Journalist” by J. Patrick Lewis. It tells the inspiring story of Helen Zia, a Chinese American activist and writer. As you may remember, Lewis is the 2011 recipient of the National Council of Teachers of English Excellence in Poetry for Children award as well as serving as the current Children’s Poet Laureate.

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Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2011. All rights reserved.

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