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Meet new faculty member Dr. Katherina Payne, an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction’s Social Studies Education area –

“I’m really interested in how elementary school teachers prepare students to be active democratic citizens. In classes where teachers are addressing this issue, you see them giving children ample opportunities to participate, make choices and solve problems themselves or with their classmates, as a small community.

I’m also very interested in helping teachers become more effective at and comfortable with talking about sensitive social and cultural topics with very young children. I’ve spent a lot of time studying how teachers do this and working with future and current teachers on successful strategies. When we say “social issues,” we’re talking about things like racism, perhaps, or atypical family structures, immigration, divorce, incarceration, issues around gender, and so forth.

Children know much more about these topics than we adults assume, and they don’t see them as ‘controversial’ in the same way that adults can. They want to discuss them and they have a great natural sense of fairness when it comes to talking about things like discrimination and prejudice. Teachers usually discover that at least a few of their students are directly affected by one or more of these issues.

One of the best ways to broach these topics in class is to use relevant children’s literature as a launching point. For example, in kindergarten through second grade, the topic of families comes up often in the age-appropriate literature. Using books, the teacher can open up a discussion about what a family is supposed to look like and all of the different kinds of families there are.”

Photo by: Christina S. Murrey