Developing Global Awareness through Reading
in the Early Elementary Grades
By Kate McCrea
In my investigation of DonorsChoose.org, I focused on fully-funded projects in Forsyth County, NC, listed under the project category “Books.” There are 442 fully-funded book projects from Forsyth County, completed since the inception of DonorsChoose.org in 2000. I then further specified my investigation to include only the early elementary grades pre-kindergarten-2nd grade. Of those 442 fully-funded book projects, 159 (36%) of them applied to the early elementary grades. As I began to research this age group, I discovered that, unsurprisingly, a large majority of the projects were focused on promoting literacy development in young children through the reading of books that are appropriate for their reading level. Teachers or media specialists had created projects specifically geared toward having a wide variety of leveled books that would appeal to all kinds of students. Some teachers’ project descriptions were very specific as to why they needed the books they were requesting and how they would use them for meaningful and purposeful literacy development.
Outside of acquiring necessary book materials to help teachers get their students on the target reading level and beyond, I began to notice numerous projects (approximately 18%) focused on the specific purpose of obtaining funding for books that would help students develop awareness of the world around them. Global awareness development in school has become increasingly encouraged since the education community embraced the P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning (P21, 2015a), which emphasizes global awareness as “using 21st century skills to understand and address global issues" as well as “learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in the spirit of mutual respect… (P21, 2015b, p.2).” From what I have observed through DonorsChoose.org, teachers of the youngest school children are not just focused on getting their students to love reading but also using books purposefully to open the world to these children and to instill tolerance of and respect for others.
Many of the projects that included this global focus also came from teachers at Title I schools in high poverty. In their project descriptions, these teachers stressed that the majority of their PreK-2nd grade students have no real conception of a world beyond their neighborhood and have few opportunities to discover the diversity that exists beyond their home and school. For example, one kindergarten teacher began her project description by writing: “Do you remember the first time you realized that there was a great big world outside just waiting to be discovered? It is a great feeling that no one should be denied,” and later emphasized that: “My students don’t have many chances to see beyond their neighborhood into the global world that we live in.” Therefore, teachers who wanted to incorporate global awareness in their classrooms made very specific decisions about the book materials they requested through DonorsChoose.org and explained how those books would help their students make world discoveries.
Every teacher in their project descriptions explained a slightly different approach to incorporating global awareness and world discovery into their classrooms, becoming increasingly more complex and expansive with the 1st and 2nd graders especially. One teacher described the great diversity among backgrounds and cultures of her students and expressed her desire to use books to help her students learn about each other: “Books allow our students to ‘take field trips’ and ‘go places’ together…these books serve as topics of discussion that can connect students to each other and build common experiences among a variety of cultures.” These statements reflect the side of global awareness where students are learning about and working with one another in order to cultivate mutual respect.
Other teachers were hoping to develop “real-world” contexts for different subject areas like math and science through the reading of specific books. Their intentions for their early elementary classrooms appeared to be highly interdisciplinary, where different 21st century skills, including global awareness, were promoted through student reading. One project, for example, combined both reading and writing literacy, environmental literacy, and the global concern of sustainability to help students learn more about their earth and how to protect it. This teacher wrote that “As a teacher, I cannot stress enough the importance of global responsibility.” It is clear that among the early elementary teachers in Forsyth County using DonorsChoose.org, there is a commitment to promoting global awareness in their classrooms.
I believe the rhetoric used by these teachers in their project descriptions must have played a crucial role in their projects being fully funded. Their approaches to describing their projects centered on evoking the reader's empathy concerning their students’ lives, their poor access to resources, and the low likelihood that they could learn about or see the world without the intervention of these books in the classroom. Many projects also highlighted how much their students love learning about other countries, cultures, and peoples, but that they simply do not have enough books to keep expanding upon their students’ avid interest in the world around them. The pathos evident in these project descriptions surely made strong impressions on the reader, making it difficult to not want to contribute to the cause. Furthermore, the specificity of descriptions with regard to how the books would be used and what the instructional purposes were for them, certainly could have added to a donor’s confidence that their contribution was making a real difference in these students’ understandings of the world around them.
The interest of these early elementary teachers in incorporating global topics in their classrooms shows that they find beginning these discussions as early as possible to be crucial for students’ success in interacting with others in our 21st century global society. One 2nd grade teacher made this clear in her project description: “It is at this young age that children can either learn to appreciate or undervalue traits that makes them different from others around them. I want my students to see value in who they are and what they can contribute to society.” These teachers have shown a positive example to other early elementary teachers that it is possible to have projects funded through DonorsChoose.org that can have a true impact on students’ future worldviews and their interactions with others.
P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning (2015a) Framework for 21st century learning.
Retrieved from: http://www.p21.org/storage/documents/docs/P21_framework_0116.pdf
P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning (2015b). P21 framework definitions. Retrieved from: