Preservice Teachers

Traversing Rough Waters

Traversing Rough Waters: Introducing Challenging Topics with Primary Sources in Early Childhood and Primary Grades

As teacher educators committed to placing social justice and child advocacy at the heart of teaching and teacher education, this project highlights the importance of critically exploring with pre-service teachers the commonly held—yet often
unwarranted—assumptions about young learners. Before they ever start school, children begin learning informally—from families, media, and peers—about key social issues like race, poverty, war, and gender. Once at school, they continue to learn about social issues, informally at least. We need to strategically prepare and support teachers to enact a curriculum that formally addresses these social issues so that children can learn to think about, analyze, discuss, and debate them using developmentally appropriate approaches. Children at risk typically have fewer opportunities to build their knowledge base of the world than more advantaged children, and using primary sources as informational texts with preschool and primary age students in Title 1 schools is especially important for helping young children to gain fluency and academic preparedness for ongoing school success.

The project team explores the use of primary sources to introduce challenging topics into early childhood and primary grade instruction. Primary sources from the Library of Congress are used to seize opportunities to use visual images with young learners to foster critical literacy skills. Young children not only are exposed to visual images but also taught how to "read" them, evaluating and critiquing them for accuracy, representation and style. They use primary sources to pose critical questions related to voice, perspective, power and privilege. When selecting informational resources, pre-service teachers receive guidance on considering the degree to which the content conveys information that children may not already know (i.e., problematize everyday events and make the ordinary uncommon). Moreover, pre-service teachers are supported in overcoming their own fears about emotionally-laden topics and consider how to highlight and frame a topic with an emphasis on life and resilience.

Contact: Ilene R. Berson, Ph.D., NCSP (Project PI) at or
Michael J. Berson, Ph.D., (Project Co- PI) at