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

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