Traditional means of teaching history include reading from a textbook, giving lectures, inviting guest speakers, viewing films, and providing “hands-on activities.” When possible, teachers use a variety of supporting resources such as local historical societies and related field trips. According to Wiles and Bondi in Curriculum Development, A Guide to Practice, there has been less reform in the teaching of social studies than in the teaching of other major areas of the elementary curriculum, although that is gradually changing. In the 1980’s and the 1990’s, social studies instruction became more thematic in nature; teachers began to use a variety of literature genres as well as materials from other disciplines to support their students’ understanding of content. Predominantly popular were “curriculum webs” that graphically organized the content of a study by academic disciplines. Teachers used these webs for instructional planning, relying less on social studies textbooks and their manuals. Many school districts opted for resource-based learning in which textbooks were not used at all. By design, resource-based learning encourages in-depth focus on a topic that inspires students to construct meaning through interaction with information resources. There are many advantages to this approach; primary among them is the internalization of a coherent process of learning. Students construct meaning around a topic as they study, continuously connecting daily learning to overall goals and objectives. In essence, they are learning how to learn. While this internalization is critical, student outcomes do not
always reflect curriculum standards and state testing goals. Resource-based learning is not enough.
Teachers of the upper elementary grades at Conte West Hills Magnet School seek to combine the best of resource-based learning with more traditional pedagogies to affect students’ mastery of curriculum standards. We value content-area textbooks that explain historical content at our students’ reading level because the books give students a baseline understanding of people, places, and events and provide them with an organizational structure of an era. This information must be presented clearly and concisely if students are to move beyond the textbook. Rich, content-driven literature complements a textbook by presenting the many stories put forth by people from all walks of life. Our students can connect their personal stories to those of the characters and gain a more realistic view of life at the time. It is the available literature for children and adolescents, with its diverse characters, settings, and plot lines that allows our students to connect the dots of content presented
in textbooks and enables them to gain a greater appreciation for the similarities and differences between people of all eras. Quality literature makes a study come alive.