Friday, October 19, 2018

Expository Nonfiction: Use It as Mentor Texts

Today, I’m continuing the series of posts I’m writing with educator Marlene Correia. As you can see, the final item on the 5 Ways to Share Expository Nonfiction with Students infographic focuses on mentor texts for informational writing.

All of the nonfiction children’s books being published today can be divided into five major categories, and four of them have an expository writing style.
—Traditional nonfiction is a great place to begin the research process because these survey books provide a broad overview of a topic.

—Browseable nonfiction can work well later in the research process when students have focused their topic and are looking for more specific information.

—Active nonfiction is a perfect addition to makerspaces because it can help students learn a skill.

—And when it comes to mentor texts for writing workshop, expository literature is the best choice.
Unlike other kinds of expository nonfiction, expository literature presents a narrowly-focused topic in a creative way that reflects the author’s zeal for the subject. As writers craft a manuscript, they select a format and text structure that complements their unique approach to the content. They experiment with voice and enrich their prose with language devices. The result is finely-crafted text that delights as well as informs. This is the kind of experience we want young nonfiction writers to have too.

Here are some activities that can help students gain a greater understanding of four key text traits associated with high quality expository writing:

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Expository Nonfiction: It Prepares Students to Meet the Demands of Standardized Tests!

Today, Marlene Correia will be discussing the fifth and final item on the 5 Reasons to Share Expository Nonfiction with Students. Thanks so much for your thoughts on this topic, Marlene.

I wouldn’t say writing about standardized assessment is my favorite topic, but the reality is that state mandated testing is probably here to stay—at least for a while—so today’s post discusses how reading expository nonfiction can help students meet the challenges of that testing.

Both national and state standards expect a large proportion of students’ reading and writing to be informational text. In fact, when the Common Core State Standards (National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) were first released, the education community wrestled with the question: Do the standards imply we need to teach a 50/50 split of fiction and informational texts?

I think we have since moved away from prescriptive numbers and realized there just needs to be balance. If anything, the standards brought a heightened awareness to the inclusion of informational texts in classrooms.

Standardized tests reflect this focus on balancing fiction and informational texts. The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) is a standardized test given to a select number of fourth graders throughout the world every five years. The PIRLS (2016) framework calls for 50% literary passages and 50% passages testing reading to acquire and use information, including texts that inform students about the world around them.

We see this same trend on state testing. Students are being asked to read and answer questions related to multiple sources of expository texts. Often these texts are challenging and complex. Students are sometimes simulating research as they read multiple pieces, analyze the information, and then synthesize what they’ve learned in a writing response.  

The more exposure, modeling, and practice students have with reading, listening, and studying expository nonfiction, the better prepared they are to apply the skills in a testing situation.

In previous blog posts, we’ve discussed how repeated exposure to expository nonfiction helps students increase their vocabulary, deepen their content knowledge, and understand text features as they read. It can also serve as a model for their own writing. All of these strategies become important tools that students can access when taking standardized tests.

So even though we may not like standardized tests, it’s clear that giving students access to a rich, diverse array of nonfiction texts and teaching them how to access the information in it will help them on test day as well as in college and their future careers.

Dr. Marlene Correia is the Director of Curriculum and Assessment for the Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District in Lakeville, MA. Marlene has 15 years of experience in K-8 education as a classroom teacher and special educator. Dr. Correia has also taught undergraduate and graduate education courses at Framingham State and Bridgewater State University. She is the co-author of Informational Texts in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade- Three Classrooms. Dr. Correia is a past-president of the Massachusetts Reading Association.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Susan Hood

One day I saw this necklace on Etsy and knew I had to have it.

Those who know their Dewey Decimal System will know it says “I still believe in fairy tales.” And I do. Not the insipid Sleeping Beauty/Prince Charming movies I grew up with, but the stories that terrified and fascinated me as a young reader. They told me flat out what I already suspected—that the world can be a scary place, but kids (boys and girls) can succeed. Gretel can outsmart the wicked witch, save her brother, and find the way out of the forest.

What does a childhood love of fairy tales have to do with writing nonfiction? Today, I’m passionate about true stories that are real-life fairy tales. I want to write about boys and girls whose grit and grace knock my socks off.  

Take young Ada Ríos who grew up on a landfill in Paraguay, learned to play musical instruments made from recycled trash, and became a first violinist in the Recycled Orchestra that now tours worldwide. The story behind ADA’S VIOLIN (Simon and Schuster, 2016) is fairy tale if ever I heard one, but it’s TRUE.


Letter and book sent to a second grader
Thanks to growing up on fairy tales, I’m inspired by underdogs and their pursuit of happiness. I want to write about young people who have no magic wand, no fairy godmother, and yet persevere in the face of adversity. SHAKING THINGS UP: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World (HarperCollins, 2018) came about because of a series of events in 2016—a perfect storm.
 
My first grandchild—a granddaughter—was born at a time when prominent women were being interrupted, mansplained or silenced; all the advances women had made over the decades seemed in danger of backsliding. As author Frances Moore Lappé wrote “Every choice we make can be a celebration of the world we want.” So I decided to write about fourteen young women who faced poverty, illness, discrimination, or war head-on to pursue their interests and talents.

There’s thirteen-year-old Mary Anning who sold fossils to keep her family from starving and discovered an ichthyosaur. She split scientific theory wide open, providing evidence of extinction and evolution forty-seven years before Charles Darwin published On the Origin of the Species.
 
I was lucky enough to meet Ruby Bridges, who in first grade marched through a screaming throng at an all-white school in New Orleans and became an icon of the civil rights movement. Her bravery—at age six!—astounded me.


Unfortunately, kids today are bombarded with 24/7 news; they’re more aware than ever that the world can be a scary place. Children’s books can provide context, explain different points of view, encourage kindness and empathy, provide hope and inspire young readers. Kids like Ada Ríos, Mary Anning, and Ruby Bridges really can change the world. And that ain’t no fairy tale.
 


Susan Hood is the author of many children’s books and the recipient of the E.B. White Honor Award, the Christopher Award, and the Bank Street Flora Steiglitz Straus Award, given to “a distinguished work of nonfiction that serves as an inspiration to young people.” When not writing, Susan spends summers sailing with her husband and is all too familiar with ocean storms and trouble at sea. Those experiences informed Susan’s debut middle grade book—LIFEBOAT 12, which is based on a true, but little-known World War II story discovered in family letter. Visit Susan at susanhoodbooks.com 

 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Expository Nonfiction: Highlight Its Relevance to Current Events, Topics of Study, & Student Interests

Today, Marlene Correia will be discussing the fourth item on the 5 Ways to Share Expository Nonfiction with Students—making expository nonfiction reading relevant to students. Thanks so much for your thoughts on this topic, Marlene.
 
In their 2016 book, Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies, Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst say:
“Relevance is about what matters to you. It starts with observing something in the world, but then it shifts to a thought or a feeling inside you.” Here are three ways to incorporate that kind of experience into our classrooms.


Connect to Current Events
With the popularity of social media, students of all ages are exposed to events happening locally, nationally, and internationally. Sharing nonfiction related to these current events, helps bring relevance to what is happening in the world around us.
Recently, I listened in as a classroom of third graders discussed the story of Koko the gorilla’s death. Koko became famous for his use of sign language as well as his fascination with pet cats. Recognizing the relevance this news story had for the children, their teacher tracked down Koko’s Kitten by Francine Patterson and read it with the class.
Over the next few weeks, some of the students asked the school librarian for additional books about gorillas. They wanted to know more about a gorilla’s habits and life expectancy. They were also curious about other famous gorillas.
To have a similar experience with your students, hunt for age-appropriate nonfiction books and articles related to news stories that your hear students discussing. These websites offer short nonfiction pieces connected to current events:
·        News ELA (https://newsela.com)

·        ReadWorks (www.readworks.org)

·        The Nonfiction Minute (https://www.nonfictionminute.org/)

Connect to Topics of Study
Think about the topics of study throughout your school year. How can you tie-in expository nonfiction books and articles to supplement the content in your textbook? How can you make the topics more relevant to students’ lives and experiences?
In the article “Motivating and Engaging Students in Reading,” which was published in The New England Reading Association Journal in 2010, Jenna Cambria and John Guthrie shared an anecdote about a teacher who had her students doing an investigation with owl pellets during science class. The students were so intrigued when they found the skeletal remains of a mouse in a pellet that this topic of study immediately became relevant to them.  
Activities, videos, experiments, guest speakers, are all great ways to captivate students, and once they are engaged, it’s the perfect time to introduce nonfiction texts that can supplement and broaden their learning experience.
To prepare for this opportunity, curate text sets about key curriculum topics in advance. Teaching with Text Sets by Mary Ann Cappiello and Erika Thulin Dawes can help you get started. After sharing text sets as a class, showcase them in your classroom library for students to choose independently.

Connect to Student Interests
Students learn best when a topic of study or a specific text connects to them in some way. It is intrinsically motivating to read something that you enjoy knowing about.

Through individual reading conferences, interest surveys, and just being with your students, you can begin to pinpoint their specific interests. Seek out expository nonfiction books that appeal to your learners. Personally hand these titles to your students or put a sticky note on the book with a message like, “I thought of you when I found this text.” Children will appreciate the effort.

An interested student reads because it’s an enjoyable experience. And when the child is motivated, he/she will dig deeper into the text and strive to comprehend material that is above their reading level. That’s how they become better readers.

Dr. Marlene Correia is the Director of Curriculum and Assessment for the Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District in Lakeville, MA. Marlene has 15 years of experience in K-8 education as a classroom teacher and special educator. Dr. Correia has also taught undergraduate and graduate education courses at Framingham State and Bridgewater State University. She is the co-author of Informational Texts in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade-Three Classrooms. Dr. Correia is a past-president of the Massachusetts Reading Association.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Expository Nonfiction: It Leads to Success in School!


Today, Marlene Correia will be discussing the fourth item on the 5 Reasons to Share Expository Nonfiction with Students. Thanks so much for your thoughts on this topic, Marlene.
 
Success in school is important to everyone—educators, parents, guardians, and, of course, students, and a powerful body of research shows that exposing children to a rich, diverse array of expository writing can help in a variety of ways.

The Gateway to Literacy
For starters, as Melissa discussed in this post, studies clearly show that as many as 42 percent of elementary students prefer expository nonfiction over fiction and narrative nonfiction. Unlike narrative nonfiction, which tells a true story or conveys an experience, expository nonfiction focuses on facts and figures, ideas and information—things that many young readers value because they’re goal-oriented readers. They want to understand everything in the wide world and how it works.

While some info-loving kids manage to develop as readers despite a dearth of expository books, others don’t. Instead, they receive the unfortunate label “reluctant reader.” Research shows that these children will only thrive as readers if they have access to expository nonfiction on topics of personal interest. In other words, for them, expository text is the gateway to literacy.

Understanding and Evaluating Complex Texts
But the benefits of expository nonfiction don’t end there. The Common Core and most state ELA standards expect that students will be reading increasingly complex texts as they move from one grade level to the next.

When schools give early elementary readers access to expository nonfiction, children will have plenty of opportunities to discover and explore the key elements of this writing style. Even the simplest expository writing introduces new concepts and specialized vocabulary. It also contains a variety of text structures and text features, including charts, graphs, infographics, timelines, diagrams, maps, hyperlinks, and embedded videos.

When teachers and librarians read aloud finely-crafted expository children’s books, they model how students can and should approach this kind of text when they read independently. They can teach children to ask the following questions about accessing and understanding information:
—How do I monitor what I’m reading to make sure I understand the information?
—What do I do when I come to a part I don’t understand?
—What if I’m reading for a particular purpose? Do I need to read cover-to-cover?
—How do I know where to find what I need?

 


Educators can also model what Kylene Beers and Robert Probst refer to as reading with a “skeptical eye.” In Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note (Heinemann, 2016), Beers and Probst say:
“Fiction invites us into the writer’s imagined world; nonfiction intrudes into ours and purports to tell us something about it.”
But is that author’s information accurate and are his/her conclusions reasonable? These are questions that students must learn to ask themselves whenever they read information texts.

But just asking the question isn’t enough, children must also develop the skills necessary to evaluate the information on their own by asking such questions as:
—Is the information accurate?
—Is the information up to date?
—Is the author biased?
—Does the author present a variety of perspectives?
—Is there an important point of view that the author does not include?

The more experience children have reading expository nonfiction, the more capable they will become in struggling successfully with understanding and evaluating complex texts.

Writing to Communicate Information
Because expository text is a critically important way of summarizing, synthesizing, and communicating thoughts and ideas, it's the style of nonfiction writing students will be required to produce most frequently throughout their school years and in their future jobs. Whether they’re working on a report, a thesis, a business proposal, or a company newsletter, they’ll need to craft expository prose that’s clear, logical, and interesting. The sooner and more often children have the opportunity to read and write expository nonfiction, the better off they will be in school and in life.

 
Dr. Marlene Correia is the Director of Curriculum and Assessment for the Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District in Lakeville, MA. Marlene has 15 years of experience in K-8 education as a classroom teacher and special educator. Dr. Correia has also taught undergraduate and graduate education courses at Framingham State and Bridgewater State University. She is the co-author of Informational Texts in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade- Three Classrooms. Dr. Correia is a past-president of the Massachusetts Reading Association.



 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Heather L. Montgomery

I’m passionate about getting kids hooked on nature. For many years, I worked as an environmental educator. Leading kids knee-deep in a stream, paddling through a rock-walled canyon, standing under a rushing waterfall, that’s how I connected students to nature. I’ve taught tens of thousands of kids.

I never considered becoming a writer until, one day, it hit me: I can only physically teach a certain number of kids. But if I write my ideas down they can be shared across the globe. Words on a page carry into the future.
This realization has led me to write 13 books for children, including my most recent title Bugs Don’t Hug: Six-Legged Parents and their Kids.
 
I’m also passionate about inquiry. Where did that come from? Recently when hiking deep in the Smokey Mountains with a friend, Kendra, and my brother, Fred, I got a clue about that.
Stopped in the middle of the trail under a grand tulip poplar tree, I mused, “I feel sorry for kids who don’t get this.”
My friend looked puzzled.
"I don’t mean the big trees—but that’s a shame too—I mean this,” I waved my hand back and forth toward my brother and myself. The whole hike we had been asking bizarre questions (What is in that millipede’s poop? How come those bat boxes have holes in their sides? What is that clear goop?). We made guesses and pointed out evidence. A friendly competition pervaded our conversation.

Heather (right) and Fred in a sequoia grove
 
We’ve always done that. Inquiry is a part of my family culture. We’d never thought of it as an educational strategy or a scientific approach, but looking back I see my life is rooted in a compost of questions. And that formed the foundation for the way I approached the hardest book topic I’ve ever tackled: roadkill.
For the longest time, I was scared of that topic. Every time I passed a carcass on the road, things inside my body wrenched. My heart screamed at the injustice, but my mind marveled at the bobcat’s body. My eyes teared with sadness while my fingers begged to touch that velvet fur. And when I considered aloud possibly writing about roadkill, people looked at me like I’d grown horns.
But I couldn’t stop myself from parking and looking, from asking and wondering. I felt like a voyeur but my feet kept inching closer, closer to the dead bodies.
Then one day I gave into inquiry.
It took over my life.
The next years were a rollercoaster of research. Depending on the day or even the moment, I felt angst that tore at my core, elation that soared like a hawk, or hope that suddenly surfaced like a mountain spring.
Heather dissecting a snake
 
That research was for me. No way could I consider writing about it for kids. But at that point I didn’t care, I had to know more.
The thing is, every sad body drew me into far flung topics—topics I’d never been that interested in like math (studying the deaths of mama turtles, mean, meridian, and mode became relevant to me) and art history (thanks to an artist who recycles the skins of roadkill). That, I realized, is how it could be for my readers. What if this inquiry could get them hooked on nature? Suddenly, I had to write this book.
And that’s how a rollercoaster of research became the book Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill.
Inquiry is my life.
And you know what? I feel sorry for kids who don’t get that.
Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals. The weirder, the wackier, the better. An award-winning science educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. During school presentations, petrified animal parts and tree guts inspire reluctant readers and motivate reticent writers. She has published over a dozen nonfiction books. Heather lives on the border of Alabama and Tennessee. Inquiry is her life. www.HeatherLMontgomery.com.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Expository Nonfiction: Start Book Clubs & Inquiry Circles

Today, Marlene Correia will be discussing the third item on the 5 Ways to Share Expository Nonfiction with Students. Thanks so much for your thoughts on this topic, Marlene.

This week’s blog highlights sharing expository nonfiction with students through book clubs and inquiry circles. Incorporating methods such as these into the classroom allows students to socialize while learning. They also provide a forum for students to practice skills needed when working in a group such as turn-taking, expressing opinions, listening to others, and working collaboratively. Both book clubs and inquiry circles are perfect for sharing nonfiction.
 
Book Clubs
Classroom book clubs are successful because they mimic an authentic way adults talk about books in a social context. (Well… minus the wine). Teachers often think of fiction first for student book clubs, but don’t underestimate the power of book clubs with a nonfiction focus.

Try introducing nonfiction titles related to your social studies or science curriculum. After a brief book talk, ask students to select their first and second choices, and then entice them to join the club with these titles.
T.J. Shay's Morning Book Club at
North Tama High School in Traer, Iowa
During club time, students review their book, decide how many pages they will read each day or week, and then go off and read on their own. They meet regularly for peer-led discussions of the book in parts and, eventually, as a whole.

As a literacy coach, I once worked with a skeptical teacher who thought her third graders were too young to handle book clubs. We started by establishing book clubs with her advanced readers and then moved to incorporate all readers.

It was revealing to see the way these third graders took ownership of the club, and after some modeling, were engaging in meaningful conversations about the books on their own. The key to helping the striving readers was having books they could access, or putting supports in place (ex. audio) to assist them when they needed it.
 

In his book, Igniting a Passion for Reading (Scholastic, 2009), Steven Layne proposes a type of book club called the First Read Club. When the school or classroom library gets new books, student volunteers preview them and select one to read. They then report back to the teacher and/or class, sharing a little bit about the book and who they think might enjoy it. The books can then be marked with labels that say, “This book was first read by______________.”

 
Inquiry Circles
There are many variations of inquiry circles, but the idea is that small groups of students meet and identify a purpose for their reading, such as answering a question. Sometimes the questions emerge from the students’ own interests, and may be recorded on a Wonder Wall. Other times they are related to a unit of study.
 
For example, students might wonder, “Why is it that some people in the world don’t have access to clean drinking water?” The group engages in viewing and reading multiple nonfiction sources. After a discussion, the group summarizes its thinking and prepares to share what they’ve discovered with the rest of the class. They may decide to write an article on paper or on a classroom blog or create a poster or develop a slideshow or even make a call-to-action service announcement.

There are SO many literacy skills embedded in this process that students use without even realizing it! They also become experts on a topic and feel confident and excited sharing their new knowledge.

An excellent resource for implementing inquiry circles is Comprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles for Curiosity, Engagement, and Understanding by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey “Smokey” Daniels (Heinemann, 2015).

Dr. Marlene Correia is the Director of Curriculum and Assessment for the Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District in Lakeville, MA. Marlene has 15 years of experience in K-8 education as a classroom teacher and special educator. Dr. Correia has also taught undergraduate and graduate education courses at Framingham State and Bridgewater State University. She is the co-author of Informational Texts in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade- Three Classrooms. Dr. Correia is a past-president of the Massachusetts Reading Association.