Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wait, that’s Not Broccoli. It’s Chocolate Cake! Part 2

Last week I shared two academic articles with evidence that nonfiction in general and expository nonfiction in particular is more popular among primary students than most of us might think. Simply put, what the children’s literature community calls broccoli, many kids call chocolate cake.

Today I’m back with another study. It’s similar to the one I was interested in conducting myself (though the boy vs. girl angle wasn’t on my radar), but thanks to Ray Doiron, I don’t have to.

Doiron, Ray. “Boy Books, Girl Books: Should We Re-Organize Our School Library Collections?” Teacher Librarian. 2003, p. 14-16.

In a previous study, Doiron had found that students at his elementary school checked out twice as much nonfiction as fiction. For this study, he focused on just the books students were choosing to read. To do this, he eliminated data for books being checked out for school assignments.

Over 3 years, Doiron collected data for 10,000 library transactions among students in grades 1-6 and found that students checked out about 60% fiction and 40% nonfiction for pleasure reading. Boys chose nonfiction more than twice as often as girls.

In last week’s post, I asserted that the children’s literature community has a bias against expository nonfiction because people who choose jobs as editors, librarians, literacy educators, etc. connect more strongly with stories and storytelling than the general population, and I still believe that’s true. However, the results from this study as well as the studies I highlighted last week indicate that boys have a stronger affinity for nonfiction, especially expository nonfiction, than girls. Is this due to societal influences rather than an innate preference? Maybe, but that’s a topic for another day.

Here’s what I want to focus on right now: Since the children’s literature community is overwhelmingly female, I suspect that gender may be a contributing factor to the bias against expository nonfiction.

Once again, I encourage you to get the full article and read it. I’ll be sharing more research next week.

26 comments:

  1. The plot thickens. Very interesting info on the boy vs. girl and female "gatekeeper" angles!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am loving this info. Can't wait to share it with our school librarian!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Food for thought! As a kid I loved nf - and also fantasy, mystery. And then there's Jules Verne, and all the rocket men(or JPL crew) who incorporated science into their sci fi - and who can resist that? Maybe it isn't gender so much, but societal norms. Because in our library we LOVED nonfiction for kids and encouraged kids of all genders and ages to be explorers and grab books from different places. But if you "teach" girls that nf is not for them, and discourage them from taking tech in school... That might be more the issue?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're probably right, Sue. As I'll discuss in an upcoming post, the results are different for studies conducted in other cultures, such as India. That suggests that societal stereotypes are at play.

      But regardless of that, I'm trying to keep my focus on the idea that some children prefer expository writing and we need to give them access to a rich supply of these titles if we expect them to love reading and become strong readers.

      Delete
  4. This totally makes sense to me. Statistically, boys choose nf more. Most gatekeepers (teachers and school librarians) are female. They underestimate the interest in nf (esp expository vs narrative). Very interesting stuff, Melissa!

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is interesting to think about, Melissa.

    I also loved NF as a kid--anything about animals or the natural world caught my eye. And the fiction would include animals too :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Melissa, these posts are EXCELLENT! I'm right there with you on all your thoughts, particularly this one " Since the children’s literature community is overwhelmingly female, I suspect that gender may be a contributing factor to the bias against expository nonfiction." While there are some exceptions, as a whole, I completely agree with this. Thanks for pointing this out!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Reposting from the NFforKids Facebook group, not to argue with you, Melissa, because I think we should celebrate all good books and cater to all reading styles--but as a counterpoint, I guess, or an inquiry into roots of the gender difference in reading preferences. This piece from the Times a while back https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/15/well/family/talking-to-boys-the-way-we-talk-to-girls.html
    suggests that we condition boys and girls early in their lives to favor different kinds of books. In some ways my own kids bely the stereotypes, but something about this rings true to me: that in general boys are less comfortable than girls in the ambiguous, unpredictable world of emotional life. Or at least that they lack a public vocabulary for it. And so fiction, which often takes us deep into that world without an easy way out, is disorienting to them. I don't at all want to belittle the importance of welcoming girls into the world of science and math, or giving boys whatever kind of book will get them reading. But as a man, a dad, and a slave to story, I can't help thinking the world would be a better place if more boys grew into men with access to a complex emotional language--and I can't help thinking that narrative is one way to do it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your points are well taken, Tod. But as a study I'm going to post as this series continues shows, expository nonfiction can be a gateway to literacy for some students, especially boys, labeled as reluctant readers.

      Boys (and girls) need to learn to love to books and reading before they will willingly tackle books that address "the ambiguous, unpredictable world of emotional life."

      I am not saying we should publish fewer narrative books or discourage students from reading them, I'm merely saying that we need to publish more high quality trade expository nonfiction. Editors, book reviewers, people on awards committees need to learn the power of expository writing for some children even if they don't connect with it personally.

      Delete
  8. I spent years volunteering in my daughters' school library, and although I never kept stats, I know expository NF was checked out a lot, especially by younger elementary students. Animals, sports, and bugs were the most popular. Also books of collected facts and weird stuff--at one point the librarian made the Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley's Believe or Not series in-library use only because she couldn't keep them on the shelves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Many people made this point last week too. T hope the word is starting to get out to the wider world.

      Delete
  9. I think too its a mistake to think expository nonfiction doesnt include storytelling. It might not have an overall arc'ing narrative, but certainly all my expository nf tells one or many stories. Subtlely, in the structure.

    I also think the idea that the publishing industry is a rational marketplace is patently false. A lot of decisions are made subjectively, reactively and without regard for data. I say this as a former publishing marketing type, former bookseller, and writer.

    Last point: I love nf and always have. Its not a sexlinked trait IMO. but when a TL holds up one of my sci books and announces, "you boys will love this," how does that make girls feel about reading nf?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I completely agree with your second and third points, Helaine. Your third point is a tricky one and worth thinking about deeply. We have these two writing styles--narrative and expository. Yet few books are strictly one or the other. For example, here, I blog about books with a blended writing stylesand highlight an expository passage in Harry Potter:
      http://celebratescience.blogspot.com/search?q=harry+potter

      Delete
    2. Perhaps the more blended a text is, the greater it's appeal. Or perhaps it begins to lose Ss at both ends of the spectrum. This is a question worth researching.

      But my objective in writing this series of posts is to show that (a) many children enjoy nonfiction more than gatekeepers might think and (b) some children connect more strongly with expository text, meaning text that is all or nearly all written in an expository style.

      As I continue with this series, I will share studies with strong evidence that expository nonfiction is the pathway to literacy for at least some students who are labeled reluctant readers.

      My hope is that the kidlit community will recognize the benefits of these books, even if they don't connect strongly with them personally.

      Delete
  10. Huh! You give me much to think about for my MS Library. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Melissa, I'm curious as to your thoughts about where the societal bias comes from. I'm a children's writer, and I have served as a volunteer librarian. I've certainly seen both boys and girls check out expository nonfiction, and I've strongly encouraged them to do so. So, I wonder how much you think is influenced by teachers and librarians versus peer influenced? For example, I've seen many of the girls start to gravitate to the RAINBOW FAIRY chapter books after a couple of them start to read the books. But if I can share a Nat Geo PANDA book with one girl, I'll have a second asking for the same book the following week. Sometimes peer pressure seems to have a larger influence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As I say in my post, cultural bias, if it exists, isn't my concern with this series of posts. My goal is to get ALL kids reading passionately and loving books, so that they will become lifelong readers.

      My concern is that children who connect strongly with expository nonfiction--whomever they are--are currently being underserved in the children's literature community because gatekeepers are biased without even realizing it.

      I'm not discounting your question, Kristen, I just don't want us to lose track of my central point. There are tons of people researching cultural bias, but no on else shedding light on the ideas I'm discussing.

      Delete
    2. Melissa, I totally understand your point, and my instincts say "of course the gatekeepers have a role in children's reading preference." However, I wonder how you are going to get the data to support your point that gatekeepers are the cause of the problem versus, for example, peer pressure/cultural bias or both? The studies you mention show what kids are checking out and we see what books kids choose to keep, but from your summaries those studies don't show why. Maybe we need to craft a controlled experiment?

      Delete
    3. I'd urge you to read the studies, Kirsten. some of them include extensive interviews with the students to help pin down the rationale behind their book choices.

      But my goal is not to show that "gatekeepers have a role in children's reading preferences." My goal is to highlight evidence that many students enjoy reading expository nonfiction and, for some children, it can be the gateway to literacy. My goal is to show narrative-loving gatekeepers that they may have a bias they aren't even aware of. And if we want ALL children to love books and reading, we need to publish more high-quality expository nonfiction and make it available to children who love it.

      Delete
  12. Melissa, when I was a young reader, Safeway grocery store offered a premium to Moms who spent x-amount of $ per week, and it was a volume of an illustrated encylopedia or dictionary chock full of science, history, facts, charts, pictures--a treasure of knowledge. I ate them up. Over probably 6 years Mom built, 79-cents at a time, a library of encylopedias that explained the natural and historical world to me. Wow, what a blessing. I loved reading and learning because of it. She was my gatekeeper. The schools and librarians in my life further supported a passion ignited by that exposure. That passion still burns. We've got to be aware of all interests, at every level, for every gender--and knowing what each individual kid is naturally compassionate about may only be discovered by what we make available to them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that story, Damon. Thanks for sharing it.

      Delete
  13. And please keep this series coming!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I am learning so much from your posts. Stuck right now on my own NF, and letting it sit for a bit, and picking up hints to move forward. Changing over to modeling clay while the story simmers - clay in my hands brings out new thoughts.

    ReplyDelete