Creating a sense of place: Using multiple literacies to help students understand geography
Bustos, Charlene D.
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Globalization is ever-apparent in our economy, our media, and our political stature, suggesting geography truly is a life-skill. In the current test-driven educational climate, certain subjects which are not under the high-stakes testing agenda get short-changed due to time-constraints and administrative pressures. One such subject is geography—a sub-topic under the umbrella of social studies. The expository text in the state-adopted textbooks provides some basic information of the topic being studied, but is frequently written in a dry, difficult, convoluted style, which often inhibits student engagement. Textbooks do not contain sufficient text or in-depth information on topics to offer experiences students need to develop critical and evaluative reading skills. This qualitative case study investigated the strategies employed by one fifth grade social studies classroom teacher as she used multiple literacies to teach social studies with a focus on geography. Data sources included detailed field notes of researcher’s observations, questionnaires and surveys (teacher and students), focus groups, transcripts of interviews with the teacher and participating students, teacher lesson plans, teacher planning resources, teacher and researcher reflective journals, and student work samples of classroom assignments. Findings revealed three themes for supporting geographic learning: storytelling as a vehicle for transmediation; writing and drawing as tools for representation; and authentic learning in a socially-safe environment. Findings also revealed that a classroom teacher can teach and meet the state and local standards while at the same time nurture an enthusiasm for learning. Vertical alignment of curriculum, teacher collaboration and student choices within parameters were key elements of the results. In general, conclusions indicate implications for the education community in the areas of classroom teacher practices, school administrator involvement and support, teacher educator institutions, curricula writers, and educational researchers.