Social Studies: Reading to Foster Perspective-Taking

Perspective-taking is especially important as teachers and students think more deeply about the meaning of equity—how we might achieve it, and what might be standing in the way of social justice and fairness to all. Students must learn to pose essential questions: Who makes decisions and who is left out? Who benefits and who is left out? Who suffers? Why is a given practice fair or unfair?

There are many books available for teaching the importance of perspective-taking so students can begin to think about equity and respond to questions such as these. Some are light and humorous, like The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by A. Wolf. Others are more thought-provoking, and explore personal issues such as bullying or sensing what it feels like to walk in someone else’s shoes. There are other books that examine historical events from perspectives that are different from the commonly held view. For social emotional learning, I have selected stories of a more serious nature, listed below, though each is intriguing in its own way.

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Summer Reading: World Crime Fiction

Here’s a mystery: why, when I talk to teachers about what literature they teach, does crime fiction rarely if ever make the list? I can make some guesses: lurid subject matter, graphic descriptions of gore or sex, a kind of literary snobbery, anticipated parent and/or administration disapproval. However, having spent the last several years reading crime fiction—primarily from countries outside the U.S.—I could easily put together a collection of titles whose content is in no way lurid, does not truck in gore, and handles sex scenes, if any, in mature and discreet ways. That leaves the presumption that crime fiction is not serious literature and should therefore not be taught in school. Let me use the rest of my allotted word count to help us get beyond the loner, gumshoe, Sam Spade stereotypes and create an argument for those outside your classroom who would raise eyebrows or hackles or worse.

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Summer Reading: A Stack of Choices in Multiple Genres

As a high school English teacher, summer means one thing to me: reading for pleasure. Each May, I get giddy with the thought of the stack of books I plan to delve into during my two months off. Inevitably, I almost never reach my goal of getting through the whole stack. Sometimes it’s because my eyes are bigger than my timetable, sometimes it’s because I stumble upon different books throughout the summer I want to read more, and sometimes it’s because a book that seemed so promising turned out to be a slog that I can’t bear during summer days (War and Peace, I’m looking at you!). No matter the end result, at the beginning of every summer I try to build a stack that’s a mix of professional and pleasure reads that will inspire me for the coming school year, ones that span several categories aimed at broadening my horizons and challenging me as a reader and educator. Here are the categories and selections I’ve chosen for summer 2019.

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Summer Reading: The Freedom to Choose

The last pieces of writing I see from students each year are reflective in nature. Some celebrate areas of literacy growth and proudly exclaim, “I am a writer!” Others share classroom routines, like creative writing and poetry, that have stuck with them throughout the year. There are a few students who are gracious enough to thank me for enlivening a love for reading and writing that they had lost over the years. These reflections would brighten any teacher’s soul.

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Summer Reading: Exploring Student Choices

When I was a kid, I always kept a novel on my lap during class, hidden (I thought then) from teachers’ eyes. Between math problems and history lessons, I’d sneak-read a few paragraphs. Summer was, for me, a chance to binge on books without interruption or subterfuge. It still is.

As a teacher I’ve purposely overlooked the lap-reading of my book-obsessed students,  though I do insist that they keep up with the actual classwork, as I did when I was on the other side of the desk. Indulging them isn’t an exercise in nostalgia but rather a chance to learn about the genres and authors they treasure, which I then explore during the gloriously free hours of summer vacation. Some works have become part of my teaching strategy; many have given me a connection to students I couldn’t reach in other ways.

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