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Start at the Very Beginning

An Interview with De An Krey

by Tana Elias

De An M. Krey is a professor of Elementary Social Studies in the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She recently finished writing Children's Literature in Social Studies: Teaching to the Standards published by the National Council for the Social Studies in 1998. Dr. Krey taught a workshop for teachers called "Individuals, Institutions and Society: Children's Books about Culture" in Madison on Friday, April 16, 1999.

TE: Tell our readers about Children's Literature for Teaching the Ten Thematic Strands of Social Studies.

DK: In 1994, the National Council for the Social Studies published the ten major thematic strands of social studies. They include the major ideas that come from history, geography, political science, economics, and the behavioral sciences. What I decided was needed by elementary teachers was an organized collection of books that could be used to help children construct those ideas in their minds. For example, in history, the theme is "Time, Continuity, and Change," and a good way to help children think about how things change and how they stay the same is to use a children's book to illustrate that concept, such as Home Place by Crescent Dragonwagon. And so, what I set out to do was to find exemplary books, high quality pieces of children's literature, that could be suggested to classroom teachers to help them accomplish the teaching of the ten thematic strands. NCSS actually calls them standards, but when you look at what they are, they are really themes or major ideas that can be taught. I had always been tuned into and aware of the work that was going on at the Cooperative Children's Book Center, and I've been a professor at UW-River Falls since 1969, and I decided that it was time for me to take a sabbatical. Since I was thinking about the problem of how to find good social studies children's literature, I naturally thought of the CCBC. I wrote a sabbatical proposal to spend a semester there, looking at books from the 1990's that had been chosen as outstanding by the evaluation team at the CCBC. I spent that semester reading all of the CCBC Choices books and watching for the thematic strands of social studies in them. I chose 453 of the 1,366 books in CCBC Choices, and grouped them according to the thematic strands I thought emerged the strongest in each of the books. For example, let's look at Chato's Kitchen by Gary Soto. It's a cat-and-mouse story set in the L.A. barrio. It communicates many aspects of the way of life there. I categorized it as a book that develops the thematic strand of "culture. I selected a whole collection of books that construct "Culture and Cultural Diversity," and another collection of books about "Time, Continuity, and Change," and yet another collection of books about "People, Places, and Environment." My book contains groupings of children's books that develop each of the ten themes.

TE: What criteria did you use in the selection process?

DK: The criteria that were used for selecting the social studies children's books were:

1. The book has the potential for constructing one or more of ten thematic strands of social studies in the minds of children.
2. The book is interesting, and the way that's accomplished in each book is as varied as the books themselves.
3. The book is accurate and free of misconceptions or stereotypes.
4. The collection of books, taken together, will present a multicultural view of the world.
5. The book is of high literary quality.
6. The book has illustrations or photographs which support the text.
7. The book is developmentally appropriate for children ranging in age from five to eleven years old.

TE: Where did you get the idea for the book?

DK: I got the idea through my work at the University. I work in the elementary social studies education department at two levels. I work with our undergraduate program where I lead a team of professors in social studies, science, and language arts. As a team, we work to prepare students to go out and do their pre-student teaching experiences in school. The result of the team effort is a nine lesson unit based on a theme. In this case, I mean a theme such as Slavery or the Chippewa Nation or Friendship. As they are putting their nine lessons together, the students are always looking for materials to help develop the thematic strands of social studies that I spoke of earlier. They were always asking, "Dr. Krey, do you know a book about the culture of the Ojibway?" or, "Do you know a book that shows friendship between two primary children?" Due to the constant stream of similar questions, I began to see the need for a list that I could direct students to consult, a list I could also use to buy a collection for myself. I now offer the books to my students and demonstrate how to use them in my elementary social studies methods courses.

The same questions could be heard from my graduate level students. In those courses, my students are classroom teachers, grades K-6, who are working on masters degrees. The questions about finding good children's literature for teaching social studies were endless. That is how I got the idea. It was called for by teachers and future teachers themselves.

TE: I'm looking forward to reading your book. What is its expected publication date?

DK: NCSS keeps promising me that they will have it in print by May or June of 1998, so there will be a wait yet before it is available publicly. (Note: the book is now available through NCSS.)

TE: Is it an annotated bibliography?

DK: I used the same annotations, in large part, that are used in CCBC Choices; in fact I had permission to do so from Ginny Moore Kruse and the other librarians. I did drop a few pieces of information here and there, like the Wisconsin connections, but the basic annotations are as they were produced by CCBC librarians. I give credit for that several places in the book.

TE: Is there anything else you'd like to share about the book itself or about the experience of writing it?

DK: My list includes only illustrated books. I was looking for the picture story-books that would communicate to the linguistic child, but would also include something for the spatial child. The last chapter in the book is the shortest chapter but I think it is of great interest to many teachers who've taken a look at it. At the time I was working, Howard Gardner had identified seven intelligences. I selected three books for each intelligence, and then I designed a social studies literature-response activity to go with each book. For example, under the thematic strand of "Time, Continuity, and Change," one of the books was Shortcut by David Macaulay. It is about a number of events that are set in motion by a farmer, Albert, and his horse, June, on their way to the market. In it, a simple action begins a whole series of events. The follow up activity to accommodate the logical/mathematical thinker was to make cause/effect paper chains: here's the cause, what was the effect of that, and what did that cause? Another example is Great-Grandma Tells of Threshing Day by Verda Cross. I suggest that the children make a chart to classify the gender-determined roles of the men and women, boys and girls during the annual neighborhood threshing bee. That constructs the strand of "Individual Development and Identity" and at the same time it accommodates the logical/mathematical and spatial thinkers.

TE: It sounds as if you've covered all the bases with this book!

DK: I've covered ideas that right now I think are very important for teachers to be thinking about. I built in some of the things that I believe really make a difference in effective teaching. The experience of preparing the book was wonderful. The reason I say this is that it was so satisfying to have the time to just sit and read good children's literature. I learned from it. I saw new perspectives as I was reading the books about similar topics. Reading a thousand plus children's books expanded my own understanding of the human being!

National Council for the Social Studies Teacher Education Standards
1. Culture and Cultural Diversity
2. Time, Continuity, and Change
3. People, Places, and Environment
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

For a comprehensive description of each standard, see the NCSS web page devoted to them: (http://www.ncss.org/standards/teacherprepdraft.html) or call for more information (202-966-7840).

For more information about Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theoretical work, see:
Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books, 1983. Gardner, Howard. Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books, 1993.

Reprinted from Friends of the CCBC Newsletter 1997, Number 4 with permission of Tana Elias and the Friends of the CCBC, Inc. ©1997 Friends of the CCBC, Inc.


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