Sunday, November 11, 2012

Learning, Loving, and Living Nonfiction

Nonfiction Literacy
Supporting Students as Growing Informational Writers, Readers, and Thinkers

Nonfiction writers are teachers and nonfiction texts teach readers.  Nonfiction authors share their wisdom with their readers.  But the beauty of nonfiction writing is not just that it teaches others – Nonfiction writing actually teaches the writer first.  Nonfiction writing gives all of us essential opportunities to make sense of information, an event, a question, a problem, and, in fact, our lives.
For growing writers, by engaging in daily nonfiction writing, students are writing to learn. They put their new learning into their own words.  They map connections between what they know to what they are learning by weaving together their thoughts through writing.  As Deidra Gammill (2006) shared in her Reading Teacher article “Learning the WRITE Way” -
Writing is a tool for thinking. All knowledge is best absorbed
and applied when students make it their own. Writing-to-learn
allows students to make inferences, draw upon prior knowledge,
and synthesize material, therefore taking their thought processes
to an evaluative level (according to Bloom’s taxonomy). Educators
are better able to assess what students learn as well. A student’s
ability to simply repeat facts is not a true measure of his or her
education. No other exercise in the classroom generates higher
thinking skills than does writing.
So by inviting your students into a study of nonfiction literacy, you are expanding their tools to teach others with their writing and deepen their understanding by taking the stance of learner-reader.  All my life, I have turned to nonfiction writing.  How wonderful to give this gift in even bigger ways to our students!  
L.B., 2012
Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer.                                   
Barbara Kingsolver
For me, writing is almost ahead of the process of thinking, because my way of thinking about something is sitting down and writing about it.    
Andrei Codrescu in Ben Yagoda’s The Sound of the Page (2005)
Help students learn how to craft their own nonfiction texts by reading nonfiction wide awake to the how's and why's of nonfiction authors' craft.  Model, name, and explain crafts such as...
Nonfiction Text Features
Adapted from Reading and Writing Informational Text by Nell Duke
Ø Headings and Subheadings or Chapter Titles
Ø Table of Contents
Ø Realistic visuals such as illustrations (sometimes) and/or photographs (more often)
Ø Graphics such as diagrams, charts, graphs, tables, maps, etc.
Ø  Organization/Structures [see next page]
Ø  An opening statement/general classification (e.g., “Ants are a kind of insect.”)
Ø  A general statement/closing (e.g., “Ants are interesting to study.”)
Ø  Description of attributes/components (e.g., “Ants have six legs.”) and/or characteristic events (e.g., “Ants eat sugar.”)
Ø  Frequent repetition of the topical theme (Ants…Ants…Ants…etc.)
Ø  Timeless verb constructions (Ants carry sand as opposed to carried, are carrying, etc.)
Ø  Generic noun constructions (Ants carry sand as opposed to the ant, Joe, or that ant carries, etc.)
Ø  Specialized vocabulary (thorax, colony)
Ø Font Features:  boldfaced print; italics; color coded; size
Ø Classifications and definitions
Ø Labels and captions
Ø Index
Ø Glossary
Ø Symbols and locators
Research:  Why knowing text features is important to students’ literacy growth from Duke & Kays, 1998; Pappas, 1986; 1987; 2002; and Purcell-Gates & Duke, 2001
Nonfiction  Text  Structures
Nonfiction texts are organized with patterns such as:
v Main Idea and Details
v Compare and Contrast
v Opposites
v Description
v Question and Answer
v Steps in a Process
v Parts of the Whole
v Cause and Effect
v Classification
v Sequence
v Problem-Solution
...and teach students how to use Thinking Strategies to
 understand nonfiction texts...
Studying the Thinking Strategy of QUESTIONING to deepen students' capacity and desire to understand nonfiction texts.

Studying the Thinking Strategy of MONITORING FOR MEANING to help students understand how to talk to themselves before, during, and after they read nonfiction texts. 
Nonfiction Reading Comprehension :
Tips for better understanding
! Activate background knowledge - This is very important in nonfiction reading,  particularly if the reader has limited knowledge about the content area.
! Make connections between the known and the new.  Nonfiction readers can be encouraged to think carefully about content they already know when they meet new information so that they can anchor it to past knowledge to enhance understanding.
! Ask questions— Nonfiction readers are full of questions, particularly when they read about less-familiar content. They can be encouraged to write their questions down, think about them and search for answers.
! Use the features of nonfiction to support understanding, and remember important information  Information in nonfiction comes from the features as well as the text. The bold print, italics, framed text, photographs, maps, diagrams, graphs, charts etc. support the reader to better understand.
! Read for the gist, stopping and thinking as you go— Nonfiction reading is more like a slide show or a newscast than a movie in your mind. Nonfiction readers need to stop frequently to think about the information they have read. They need to synthesize  as they go.
! Read with a pen in hand  When reading nonfiction, we meet large amounts of unfamiliar information. We are far more likely to remember information if we jot some-thing down, highlighting or coding as we go. We also meet compelling information and then stop and think about it, often asking a question or making a connection.
! Pay attention to your inner conversation when meeting new information Nonfiction reading is reading to learn. Nonfiction readers must be aware of when they learn new information. They can listen to their inner voice and notice what they hear when they meet new information, i.e. "I never knew that before" and then mark it in writing to help remember it later.
Get more high-interest nonfiction books into your classrooms.
&   Infuse more short and spirited collections of nonfiction texts into your library collections and into each student’s reading well/book box.
&   Actively see high-interest books that make it possible for a student to read the whole text.
&   Build text sets that offer multiple perspective on a topic so that students can practice the high-level analysis and comparative work that the Common Core promotes.
&   Get many, many high quality, print-rich journals into your classrooms. 

&   Access digital sources.
&   Letter writing pays off.
&   Do an archaeological dig of your schools.
&   Infuse more information reading and writing into content area classes. 
&   Match your readers to nonfiction texts.                                                                                   
Adapted from  Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement  by Calkins, Ehrenworth, and Lehman (2012)
Guidelines for Matching Readers to Nonfiction Texts
& When students are reading nonfiction texts, you can use the same tools and methods that you use to assess their abilities to handle fiction texts. 
Ask a student to read a text aloud, and note whether he or she reads with fluency (it sounds like talk), 96% accuracy, and comprehension (at the very least, the reader can teach you what he or she read).  You needn’t use a formal tool – assess a reader with any book which you know the level of text difficulty.  If you want a tool, use Fountas and Pinnell’s as they bring a long track record to this work.
& Expect that on the whole, your students will usually be far less experienced as readers of expository texts than as readers of fiction. 
When in doubt, move students to expository books that are one notch easier than the fiction books they can read and ask them to read a lot of texts.  The exception will be if the student is an avid reader of nonfiction or if the reader has deep knowledge of the topic. 
& If a student wants to read an informational text that you believe might be a bit too difficult, the best way to support the reader is to teach the reader how to find more introductory texts on the same topic. 
This essential skill will be a lifesaver in college (and life!). 
& If a student has never seen a vocabulary word before and mispronounces the word, see if the student can ascertain what the challenging word means. 
If he or she has the meaning right and can say a close approximation of the word, this suggests the student is making sense while he or she reads.  If the reader can do this work with 95% of the otherwise “too hard” words, then the reader’s miscues suggest the book may be within reach for him or her. 
& Be aware that the colorful and dramatic pictures often make nonfiction texts look easier to read than they are.  Don’t be fooled by the pretty pictures.
Source:  Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement by Calkins, Ehrenworth, and Lehman (2012) ~ p. 95-96

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Conferring Rituals to Know and Support Growing Thinkers, Readers, Writers, Artists, Scientists, Mathematicians, Social Scientists, Historians, Learners...

PART I:  Coaching Growing Readers and Writers with Formative Feedback
Conferring well with students requires that I have a vision of what I hope for them as writers.  Just as listening up close has everything to do with how to confer, stepping back to see the big picture is equally important.     
Joanne Hindley, In the Company of Children
Each person’s life is lived as a series of conversations.         
Deborah Tanner

Writing is problem solving.                
Shelley Harwayne, Lifetime Guarantees & Writing Through Childhood

What is a conference?  What does conferring mean?
Benson, 2005

A conversation between two (or more) souls devoted to deepening thinking and their relationships with one another.
An opportunity to coach and nurture another reader’s process of understanding/writer’s process of being understood.
An essential form of feedback all readers and writers need and long for.

Rituals and Routines to Focus and
Energize Our Conferring
Once you have established a basic pattern for conferring, then you can develop variations on a conference style.  But only when you know and trust each other.  And trusting yourself is absolutely essential! *From Donald Murray, 1989, and Patrick Allen, 2009
Rituals and routines structure and guide my conferring. They give my individual instruction predictability and focus.  My conferences are not haphazard or random because I know what each student and I need to gain from our one-on-one collaborations.  My decisions about why and how to engage in a conference with a student are shaped by... relationship with the child and instructional intentions or purpose for the conference. 
*In new relationships, building trust with the reader/writer is paramount.  Over time, I can nudge students in conferences to take more risks because they know that my suggestions are coming from unconditional caring and sincere inquiry.  Maintaining connected and strong relationships with students is always at the heart of effective teaching and, thus, absolutely paramount in developing edifying conferences. 

Types of Conferences
*There are an infinite number of possibilities, reasons, and purposes for engaging in conferences with our students.  To profile a few here, I engage in the following conferences over the course of a school year to nurture students’ reading, writing, learning, and confidence.   
  • Building Up Confidence Conference                                        
  • Book Choice/Matching Conference
  • Focus Lesson Follow Up Conference                           
  • Individual Student Goal Follow Up Conference
  • Strategy Conference                                                                     
  • Intervention/Extra Support Conference
  • Word Work Conference                                                 
  • Stamina Building Conference
  • Goal Setting Conference                                                  
  • Getting Started Conference (priming writing)
  • Revision Conference                                                                     
  • Editing Conference
  • Publishing Conference                                                                 
  • Differentiating Response/Tasks Conference                                                                  
  • …and…
Conference Rituals to Know and Support Students’ Thinking and Understanding
© Benson, 1990; 2005
Listen for evidence of the reader’s/writer’s use of focus lesson(s), strengths, and/or needs.            
I might begin with an invitation such as:
·       Tell me about your thinking/reading/writing.
·       How can I be of help to you today?
·       We’ve been studying why and how to make connections in our reading/writing.  How can I be of help to you today in making connections as you read/write?
As students get to know me, I often do not have to say anything because they know I am most interested in listening to them first.  So, as I sit next to a student, he/she just begins to tell me about their literacy work. 
As the student shares his/her reading/writing, I listen for and look for direct connections to our current learning focus and record the student’s strengths and/or needs in implementing this focus effectively.  If I am not sure about the reader’s/writer’s use of the focus lesson or if the child is very quiet, I might need to nudge my evidence gathering by saying something like:
·       We’ve been studying how questions focus a writer’s work.  Tell me about how you are using questions to guide your writing.
·       We’ve been studying how questions guide and energize a reader’s thinking.  Show me where/tell me how questioning is helping you understand what you read/this text.
Name how the reader/writer is using the focus strategy(ies) effectively. The naming may need to come from us first but students should be encouraged to name their strengths/effective practices as soon as possible and as often as possible.  Encouraging metacognition is key.  In this part of my conference, I might say something like one of the following to the student:
·       Your “I bet…” inferring really seems to be helping you understand the character’s feelings.  I might add, What are you noticing about your inferential thinking?
·       Your thinking is much deeper because you are focusing on identifying the most important ideas as you read these nonfiction texts.  I might add, What helps you know what is important in nonfiction text/this text?  
·       I noticed that you problem solved this part/this word so that you really understand section. I might add, How did you know to do this?
·       Name something you are doing well here in your writing.
·       What are you doing to help yourself think/understand as you read?/What is helping you understand what you are reading?
Leave the reader/writer with an assignment with a supportive NUDGE.
I might say something as simple and straightforward as:
·       Before I came to confer with you, you were working really hard.  I know that you will continue to work hard in your writing/reading as I leave.  Good job, Bud!
·       You seem to really be in the habit of inferring in this book.  Remember to stop and infer as you get the other texts in your book box (collection of diverse genres developed for students’ independent reading).  Sound good?
Or, I might provide more instructional support by saying something like:
·       We talked about how to figure out a new word (as you write) by using your visual memory – by having a go at it on this piece of scratch paper so that you can see if it looks right.  You are already in the habit of using your phonics to figure out new words.  Hooray! So, when you want to use a new word in your writing, stay courageous and know that you now have a few ways of problem solving or cross checking a new word – using your phonics to sound it out and writing it out to see if it looks right to you.  Keep using those two strategies as you continue to write today and when you are writing at home tonight, too.  And let’s check back in with each other tomorrow to see how this is working for you, okay?
Or, I might offer the reader/writer some intriguing challenge or rigor by saying something like: 
·       From what you shared about why and how you are summarizing as you read, you understand so much about this way of thinking.  Would you be our focus lesson/mini lesson teacher tomorrow and teach the rest of our class about how they can summarize?
·       You have grown so much - I see that you are monitoring your understanding by stopping and talking to yourself.  I wonder if you might stop a bit more often to understand more of the author’s ideas here.  I think you might be stopping to self-talk after many pages and that might be making it hard for you to remember all the great things that are happening and being said here. I think stopping after every paragraph or even after a few sentences might help you understand more deeply.  What do you think?...Let’s tip in some sticky flags in your book to figure out a good stop and think pacing for your reading…Later today/tomorrow, let me know how this feels and if it is helping you understand more and enjoy your reading more – always cool, right?