Beyond Columbus: helping young children develop a conceptual understanding of "exploration"

Citation metadata

Date: November-December 2014
From: Childhood Education(Vol. 90, Issue 6)
Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International
Document Type: Essay
Length: 3,884 words
Lexile Measure: 1380L

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

This article presents an approach to teaching concepts through reading. It acknowledges the importance of children's active roles in the learning process as they make sense of the world around them through the content they are taught. In this article, the authors use the example of elementary level teachers who work to develop children's social studies concepts through content-rich texts. The findings suggest a strong relationship between students' domain-specific knowledge and their future success.

Social studies and its subtopics of history, geography, economics, and civics and government usually receives the most attention in the upper grades of the elementary school curriculum, after most children have mastered basic reading skills. Noted writer and reading researcher Jeanne Chall identified stages in reading development and coined the popular phrase about this shift: Children move from "learning to read" to "reading to learn" (Chall & Jacobs, 2003, para 3). By the 3rd grade, teachers expect children to know enough about how to read in order to glean important information from written (social studies) texts (Chall & Jacobs, 2003). Reading comprehension is highly influenced by the background knowledge that the reader has about the subject. However, much early reading instruction focuses primarily on reading skills. We believe this represents a missed opportunity for social studies instruction. The time during which children are receiving instruction in reading skills can also be a time of rich social studies content/ concept instruction.

In the United States, the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy "establish a staircase of increasing complexity" for what students are able to read and "require the progressive development of reading comprehension" (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010, p. 6). Both skill instruction and content instruction are necessary to help children develop the ability to understand what they are reading. In this article, we discuss the relationship between concepts and content knowledge and briefly introduce research on 4th-graders' understanding of important social studies concepts. We then discuss the potentially powerful implications of this research for early childhood educators. We argue that early childhood teachers must be aware of the roles that subject matter knowledge and understanding of key social studies concepts play in a child's future success. Finally, we encourage educators to create developmentally appropriate ways to introduce content knowledge to children at the pre-K through Grade 2 level and present an example of how the concept of "exploration" can be fully developed at the early childhood level.

Children's General Knowledge Development

Studies repeatedly show higher rates of reading comprehension if children have prior knowledge of the content being presented in the reading selection (Hirsch, 2003, 2010). These compelling results hold true for both poor and accomplished readers (Recht & Leslie, 1988). Results from a recent study by Priebe, Keenan, and Miller (2012) reinforced the positive impact of background knowledge on reading comprehension and also showed that 4th-grade children who were poor readers were better at identifying unknown words within a reading selection if...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A393988535