How to encourage multiple perspectives on a reading topic

When students take Advanced Placement (AP) courses, they must read and analyze several documents on a given topic.  Those documents come from various sources, such as diaries, government publications, laws, news reports, emails and speeches.  The documents approach the topic from various perspectives, such as a private citizens, columnists, people with a grudge, historians and mental health experts.

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From all these documents students are asked to understand a complicated issue and to make sense of it.

Can we work with young readers, even beginning readers, to encourage a similar wider, multifaceted understanding of a topic?  Can we help children to identify important ideas and then help them to compare and contrast those ideas through various reading sources?  Can we help our earliest readers to become critical thinkers?

Yes.  One way is by choosing several books or other reading sources which approach a topic from different perspectives or genres.  First, decide on a question you would like the student to explore, such as, What was it like to take the Oregon Trail? or Why do polar bears need ice?  To have the greatest impact, the topic should be one the student is studying or a seasonal or timely topic.  Together the sources should give a wider and more profound understanding than any one source alone can give.

Here are some examples for primary grade students.

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The question might be, Can a girl be President?  Show the student a copy of The Constitution and explain what it is.  Then have reproduced the appropriate lines from Article II defining the President’s qualifications.  Discuss what they mean.  Then have the student read Grace for President by Kelly S. DiPucchio, about a little girl who decides to run for president at her school.  Discuss how hard it is to become President.  Finally, your child could read a biography of Hillary Clinton, such as Hillary Rodham Clinton:  Some Girls Are Born to Lead by Michelle Markel or Who is Hillary Clinton? by Heather Alexander.  Discuss whether Mrs. Clinton has the qualifications needed, and what other strengths might be needed to be a President.

If the question is What’s an idiom? your student could start with In a Pickle: And Other Funny Idioms by Marvin Terban. This book explains what an idiom is and then illustrates well-known idioms with funny drawings.  Next, your child could read Raining Cats and Dogs: A Collection of Irresistible Idioms and Illustrations to Tickle the Funny Bones of Young People by Will Moses.  This book illustrates common idioms, but goes one step further:  it explains how the idioms came to be.  My Teacher is an Idiom by Jamie Gilson shows what happens in a fictional second grade when a new student from France misunderstands English idioms, and when the English-speaking kids misunderstand French idioms.  The reader learns that all cultures have idioms, but sometimes they do not translate into another language.

If the question is What is the water cycle? you could explore Water is Water:  A Book about the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul.  With poetry and evocative art, readers follow two children as they pass through the water cycle as water goes from rain outside to steam in the tea pot to evaporation into clouds.  In The Drop in my Drink: The Story of Water on Our Planet by Meredith Hooper, readers travel back to a young planet Earth to find out where water came from and to learn about erosion and how all living things depend on water.  National Geographic Readers: Water by Melissa Stewart shows more about the water cycle through beautiful photography and easy reading words.

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