Bridging Curricular Silos Through Collaboration

April 25, 2018

By Dr. Paul E. Binford
President, Mississippi Council of the Social Studies

In this week's blog post, Dr. Steve Bickmore, a good friend and a former colleague at LSU, whose expertise is in English Language Arts (ELA) Teacher Education and Young Adult (YA) Literature has co-authored a post that celebrates collaboration while pointing to the ways that Young Adult Literature can be used as a tool to bridge the subject silos of both Social Studies and English Language Arts classrooms.  Steve's YA Wednesday blog has become a "go-to" website for YA literature as he continues his academic career at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, which will host a YA Summit in mid-June.

Steve's Turn

The Academy can be lonely, isolating work. We have to create independent reputations and that requires at least some individual work and writing. At the same time, most of us understand that we need help from other to frame our ideas, to receive feedback, to do collaborative work on committees, to plan program curricula, and a variety of other projects. For example, as a relatively new assistant professor I was a coeditor of The ALAN Review. While we often had independent tasks, the work with Jackie Bach and Melanie Hundley was rewarding, grounding, and helped me frame how I thought critically about Young Adult Literature through my work with them and reading the work of other scholars in the field.


When I was a high school teacher, I saw the tight connection between the Social Studies (SS) and English Language Arts (ELA). However, I didn’t do much about it. I occasionally had a brief conversation with a social studies teacher, but we never brought it to a coordinated action. For example, for several years I taught A Tale of Two Cities to tenth graders while, at some point during the year, my colleaguetaught the French Revolution in a world history class to the same students.  A perfectly natural pairing, right? Laziness? Or was it just that we never had such cross-curricular opportunities explained to us during our preparation? Maybe a bit of both. In teacher education most of us understand that most teachers are victims of the apprenticeship of observation. In short, regardless of our preparation, most of us revert to teaching the ways we were taught. Schooling remains the same.

Skip forward in my academic career.
After several years at Louisiana State University, we hired a new Assistant Professor of Social Studies education.
Enter Dr. Paul Binford.
Paul and I began working together on several department projects. Primarily we each had a responsibility to communicate with our corresponding subject departments, teaching subject specific methods classes to undergraduates, and working with a yearly cohort of graduates students in a fifth year teacher certification program. We began discussing where our pedagogical concerns overlapped and whether or not there were avenues of collaboration. Paul introduced me to historical simulations and a teaching technique called visual discovery. Both concepts belong in an ELA classroom. I know some ELA teachers are doing some form of simulation in terms of court room simulation with To Kill a Mockingbird or something similar. Even though I thought I often incorporated visuals into my teaching and writing prompts, nothing I had planned or discovered on my own lead me to the richness of Visual Discovery. I have been thinking about it ever since and trying in my own limited way to usher novice English teachers into using this strategy.

Three years ago we both left LSU, but we have continued to collaborate. (Would anyone be interested in a book that discussed how to teach state history through YA historical fiction or Non fiction?) Furthermore, Paul has been a contributor to the YA Wednesday blog. He discussed Chris Crowe's Mississippi Trial, 1955. Find it here. Later, he discussed Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. You can find that post here. So there you go, I know at least one Social Studies educator who thinks about Young Adult literature. As an added bonus, Dr. Binford will be presenting at the 2018 YA Summit in Las Vegas (Come be #Vegasstrong and #YACritical).


Dr. Binford and I have presented at Kennesaw State University at the KSU Conference on Literature for Children and Young Adults about how to bridge these curricula silos. We have published together and with Dr. Getchen Rumohr-Voskuil. We have been fortunate to present with Laurie Halse Anderson and then with Rich and Sandra Neil Wallace. You can find out about latest collaboration with Gretchen here. The title of the article in the Middle Grades Review is Crossing Selma's Bridge: Integrating Visual Discovery Strategy and Young Adult Literature to Promote Dialogue and Understanding. We hope you share it with both pre-service and inservice Social Studies and English Language Arts teachers.
This coming fall we will be present at 2018 NCTE Annual Convention in Houston, TX.
Our session title is: Crossing Selma’s Bridge with Visual Discovery Strategy and Young Adult Literature: Allowing Voices from the Past to Echo in the Present
The Panelist will include: Laurie Halse Anderson, Steven Bickmore, Paul Binford, Brendan Kiely, Luke Rumohr, Gretchen Rumohr-Voskuil, Rich Wallace, and Sandra Neil Wallace.  
We will be focusing on Anderson’s Seeds of America series, Wallace and Wallace’s Blood Brother, and Kiely and Reynolds’ All American Boys.
We hope you join us.

Now Paul's Turn

I first met Dr. Steve Bickmore during the “campus visit” phase of the interview process at Louisiana State University.  As you can imagine mind my head was spinning, but one of my distinct recollections from that experience was that I would enjoy working with this guy.  After arriving on campus in the fall of 2015, Steve served as my informal mentor, and he kindly inducted me into the professional world of higher education.  I would also be remiss if not also acknowledging a mentor that both Steve and I shared—Dr. Jacqueline (or “Jackie”) Bach.  Jackie regularly touched base as I transitioned to LSU, and she had a keen knack for alerting me to various deadlines, issues, and opportunities associated with the College of Education.  Jackie also included me on several writing projects not only because I could make a meaningful contribution, but because she was looking ahead to my tenure needs.  
Both Steve and I made the transition to higher education in mid-career, so--needless to say--it was a high stakes decision.  The great thing about Steve was that he was approachable, self-effacing, and an open-book about the tenure and research process.  My first year he spent countless hours (yes, countless!) answering my questions and responding to my requests for advice.  Through this mentoring relationship and a common hobby--golf (the frustrations, vagaries, and all too few skilled shots on the links), we forged a friendship and began recognizing opportunities for cross-curricular collaboration.


In regards to YAL, Steve first opened the pages of possibility for me by suggesting that I read Roll of Thunder:  Hear My Cry.  Although a bit ambivalent at first, reading this Newbery Medal winning work of
historical fiction convinced me that YAL had much to offer to both ELA and the Social Studies.  As a result, I have read many more compelling YAL books—often at Steve’s suggestion, which shed light on the human experience:  ChainsDeath Coming Up the HillMarchMuckersMississippi Trial, 1955Out of the Dust, and, most recently, Bound by Ice.  As a long-time ELA teacher, Steve instinctively considers pre-reading, during reading, and post-reading activities to enrich student understanding of a YAL book.  These were not pedagogical moves that I was aware of until after dialoging with Steve; nor I suspect are they intuitive to most social studies teachers.

Both ELA and the Social Studies offer students insight into the human experience.  At the secondary level and beyond, these two content areas remain ripe for collaboration, so students benefit from interdisciplinary connections!

For more information about this Lesson Launch blog entry, or if you are interested in arranging professional development or a speaking engagement, please contact the author at: