Saturday, September 29, 2018

nErDcampNNE Handout: 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Rethinking Informational Reading and Writing

Most children’s literature enthusiasts are naturally drawn to stories and storytelling, including fiction and narrative nonfiction But up to 42 percent of elementary students prefer expository nonfiction. This session breaks down the five categories of nonfiction children’s books, offers tips for updating book collections, and provides strategies for integrating a variety of nonfiction texts into reading and writing lessons.

I’ve written about the 5 kinds of nonfiction on my blog:

I’ve discussed the 5 kinds of nonfiction in this video created for Colby Sharp’s vlog:
Narrative vs. Expository Sample Texts

Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley and Nic Bishop (Scholastic, 1999)

Frog or Toad? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart (Enslow, 2011)

Citations for Articles about Student Preference for Expository Nonfiction
Caswell, Linda J. and Nell K. Duke. “Non-Narrative as a Catalyst for Literacy Development.” Language Arts, 1998, p. 108-117.

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

Hynes, Myrna. “‘I Read for Facts’: Reading Nonfiction in a Fictional World.” Language Arts, 2000, p. 485-495.

Mohr, Kathleen A. J. “Children’s Choices for Recreational Reading: A Three-Part Investigation of Selection Preferences, Rationales, and Processes.” Journal of Literacy Research. 2006, p. 81–104.

Repanskey, Lisa L., Jeanne Schumm, and Jacqueline Johnson. “First and Fourth Grade Boys’ and Girls’ Preferences for and Perceptions about Narrative and Expository Text.” Reading Psychology (2017. P. 1–40.

Characteristics of the 5 Categories and Activity for Students

Using Expository Literature as Mentor Texts

Nonfiction Smackdown!

Upper elementary students read two nonfiction books on the same topic. Then they evaluate and compare the two titles, recording their thinking on a worksheet that other students can use to help them make book choices.
Sibert Smackdown!
Similar to Nonfiction Smackdown!, but books are selected from a list of picture books contenders that I compile on my website. The worksheet uses a kid-friendly version of the criteria considered by the real Sibert committee. Several librarians have also used their own creative ideas to record students’ thinking, such as Padlet, Flipgrid, posters, and voting forms where students write the rationale for their choice.

March Madness Nonfiction
Inspired by the annual March Madness basketball tournament, students participate in a month-long, whole-school activity to select their favorite nonfiction title. Can be combined with the Nonfiction Smackdown!

“March Madness has not only created an energy and excitement for read aloud; it has also exposed students to more nonfiction. [It has been] a springboard for discussions of text features and structures, vocabulary and author's purpose.” –Instructional Coach

“I like that these nonfiction books really make you think about things for a while and then sometimes your thinking changes.” –Fifth-grade student

Same Structure, New Topic
Students read a selection of my books and chose one to use as a mentor text. They created a book that emulated the structure and style of my book but presented information about a different topic.

Choosing Presentation Style
Students read mentor texts with a range of presentation styles, including narrative nonfiction, expository articles, infographics with expository text. Then they choose one style and use it to present information on a topic of their choice.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Expository Nonfiction: Talk it Up: Booktalks, Book Tastings, & Classroom Conversations

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

How do you go about looking for a new book to read? If you’re like most enthusiastic adult readers you probably take to social media sites like Twitter to see what other people are reading and what they are saying about the books. You might also be using the app Goodreads and share “bookshelves” with others so you can get recommendations from friends. Finally, you might be part of a book club (face-to-face or virtual) or just have friends and family that recommend books to you. These are authentic, real world ways readers find and discuss interesting new books.
These same ideas can apply to sharing expository nonfiction with students in the classroom. Here are a few ways:

Book Tastings
To expose young readers to different genres, make stacks of books representing various genres of children’s literature. Then create a sign with the name and brief description of each genre, and place the signs and corresponding books on tables around the classroom. Invite students to rotate from table to table and skim through the books to decide if they want to list any on their “menu” for reading later. (Decorating the setting to resemble a restaurant and serving a snack can make this activity more fun.) By including expository nonfiction as one of the genres, students who may not gravitate toward these books have a chance to be enticed by them and info-kids who love these books get exposed to new titles.

This year one of our schools held A Family Literacy Night with book-tasting stations in conjunction with our local town library. Families “tasted” books and discovered that nonfiction can make great bedtime read alouds. Families could borrow some of the books on their “menu” from the library. (This meant the families needed a library card, which was an added bonus.)

Book Talks

In their book, Disrupting Thinking, Kylene Beers and Robert Probst write, “Nonfiction should not suggest nonfeeling” (p. 49).  Get your students excited about reading expository nonfiction for the feelings—not just the information—they get from it with Book Talks during snack, right before or after lunch/recess, or when a classroom book order arrives.

Briefly highlight each book with a “hook” that captures students’ interest and gives them some details without giving it all away. Read a short excerpt or show a visual that will engage young readers. Then be sure to display the book so students can investigate it further. If you give a book your blessing, chances are students will want to read it.
As the year progresses, and students have seen you model expository nonfiction book talks in which you discuss the content and craft moves and also describe how a book makes you feel, invite students to lead book talks. Encourage the class to make a “someday list” of books they’d like to read.
For more information on book talks check out From Striving to Thriving by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward (Scholastic, 2017).

Classroom Conversations
To start conversations about expository nonfiction, use an Anticipation Guide by making a short list of 5 to 7 statements related to a book’s content, main ideas, or issues. They can be written so that students respond to each with “true” or “false” or “agree” or “disagree.”  Students can respond orally or in writing. The idea is for the teacher to choose statements that will get students thinking about the author’s purpose and move them from literal to deeper understanding of the text.

For example, before reading a book about dangerous bugs students are given the statement: A black widow spider is more dangerous than a rattlesnake. After students think and share their opinions, conversations can take place about differences of opinion, supported by reasoning or personal background that individual students may bring to the activity.
After reading the book, students return to the Anticipation Guide and respond to the same statements, this time using evidence from the text to support their reasons.
Infographic from Pinocchio Rex and
Other Tyrannosaurs
You can also spark conversations by displaying interesting or unique visuals (photos, graphs, infographics, tables) from different nonfiction books around the room and asking students what they notice. As students to pose questions, make predictions, and share their curiosity about the visual pieces, you’ll see the specific expertise and background knowledge of students in certain topics begin to shine. Then, with some fanfare, reveal the books associated with the visuals and display them prominently so students can read them.
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, September 26, 2018

Expository Nonfiction: It Motivates Students to Read!

Today, I’m continuing the series of posts I’m writing with educator Marlene Correia. As you can see, the second item on the 5 Reasons to Share Expository Nonfiction with Students infographic focuses on student motivation. We all know that motivation matters. A lot.

Some students are motivated to read expository nonfiction because it can help them answer a question, solve a problem, or learn a new skill. These students have a purpose that is fueling their desire to read.

Students who prefer expository nonfiction tend read because they want to understand the world and how it works and their place in it. They aren’t particularly interested in making an emotional connection with the characters they encounter in a story—fiction or narrative nonfiction.

But because some students in your class do love stories and others enjoy narratives and expository writing equally, we need to find ways to bridge the reading gap that separates them. Game-like activities can help by adding fun and creating a community of readers. Here are a few suggestions:     

Nonfiction Smackdown!
Students read two nonfiction books on the same topic. They can be two narrative titles, two expository titles, or one of each.

Students evaluate and compare the titles, recording their thinking on a worksheet that other students can use to help them make book choices. Thank you to Judi Pardis, school librarian at Plympton School in Waltham, MA, for inventing this fun activity.

Sibert Smackdown!
A teacher or librarian selects 10 books (some narrative, some expository), using a list that post on my blog in late November or early December as a guide. (I'll post it on November 30 this year.) Other carefully curated Mock Sibert lists are available from Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy, Michelle Knott at Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook, and Anderson’s Bookstore.
The Sibert Smackdown worksheet, which you can download from my website, uses a kid-friendly version of the criteria considered by the real Sibert committee.
Educators across the country have found creative ways for students to record their thinking, including Padlet, Flipgrid, posters, and voting forms where students uses words and pictures to explain the rationale for their choice.

Educators share what they are doing and celebrate the books using the Twitter hashtag #SibertSmackdown.
Inspired by the annual March Madness basketball tournament, literacy coach Shelley Moody worked with the instructional coach at Williams Elementary School in Oakland, Maine, to develop this month-long, whole-school activity in which students read 16 nonfiction titles (some narrative, some expository) and select their favorite. For more details about the Williams School program, check out this post and this post on Shelley's blog.
If you wish, this activity can be combined with the Nonfiction Smackdown!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Elizabeth Partridge

Since I was a teenager, I’ve been haunted by the Vietnam War. During high school and college, I was passionately against the war. I hated the suffering, death, and destruction the war brought. My heart broke for the Vietnamese, for the Americans sent to fight, and for our torn, divided country.

After the war, protestors and returning vets didn’t mix. Veterans came home, let their hair grow long, and tried to blend in. I heard a few stories, but only scraps. I wondered, how had the young Americans fared when they came back home? I explored the idea by writing a historical fiction novel, Dogtag Summer (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2011). I filled my mind with research and set up a difficult premise: what happens when a Vietnam veteran adopts an Amerasian girl from Vietnam and their PTSD is suddenly triggered and tears the family apart?

With historical fiction, I needed to know the history of the period. I needed to have a realistic setting and characters who would act within the bounds of the past. But I was free to make up the characters and plot out their lives. 

I finished the manuscript and told my husband even if I never wrote another word I’d be happy.

That lasted for a few days.

The Vietnam War tapped on my shoulder again. The Americans who served, the real ones, what was it like for them to fight in the war? To be trained to kill, to fight, to lose friends in battle? This time I wanted to write narrative nonfiction—also called creative or literary nonfiction—to tell a true story, using real people. No making anything up. No weather, no dialog, no clothing, no thoughts. Nothing. It took me six years.

I began by doing a deep dive, reading much more about the war. Gradually, I focused on what really interested me, looking especially at primary source materials: oral histories, recordings, photographs, and documents. Then I set out to find veterans to interview from different parts of the country and from different ethnic groups to see how race played out in their experiences.

For Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam (Viking Books for Young Readers, 2018), I interviewed six men who had fought in the war, a nurse, and a refugee, then wove their interview chapters with alternating chapters on presidents and protestors. In every chapter, I added photographs. I love this place as a writer: up close, my nose pressed against the glass. Words, direct from people who were there, and photographs resonate with information and emotion.

Just as I was finishing the book, Susan Campbell Bartoletti asked me if I would contribute to the anthology she and Marc Aronson were editing, 1968: Today’s Authors Explore a year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change (Candlewick Press, 2018). Something, she said, about 1968 that really has stuck with you.

I said no. Thanks, but just . . . No. I was done with 1968 and the war and the protests. I’d already written a prologue for Boots on the Ground where I recounted several of my experiences in high school and as an adult, and what lead to my urgent need to write a nonfiction book on the war.

But Susan is very persuasive, and she knows me really well. You could, she said casually, write something memoir-style. Maybe a prose poem.

I’d never written a long prose poem. And Susan knows I love a good challenge.

A prose poem about my life would be memoir writing, which some people consider to be a subgenre of narrative nonfiction, but others consider it to stand alongside narrative nonfiction, its own genre of nonfiction. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is a terrific example of a young adult prose poem.

Memoir writing is more subjective than narrative nonfiction, told directly from the author’s perspective. It’s more raw, more supple, more intense. It’s all true—at least from the author’s perspective. Often in memoirs there is dialog. It’s unlikely they were the exact words spoken, but they are true to the spirit of the conversation.

I found, in the boiled-down prose poem I wrote, “Nightly News,” the essence of my own anguished feelings during the war. And by writing in all three genres, I’ve finally explored everything I needed to say about the Vietnam War.

Sorting out these different genres can be challenging. To clarify what genre you are reading or writing, or to help your students, ask a few questions. Is it a real time and place, but the characters are from the writer’s imagination? That’s historical fiction. Are the characters real people, but they say and do things the writer made up? Still historical fiction. Real people, real times, real places with nothing made up? Narrative nonfiction. Told from the point of view of the writer about their own life, the way they remember it happening? Memoir.

Each one is strong and powerful. Each one is a wonderful challenge. Enjoy!

Elizabeth Partridge's books for young adults include Restless Spirit: The Life and Work of Dorothea Lange, John Lennon: All I Want is the Truth, and Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Get Weary. She is the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Michael L. Printz Honor, and the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award. This Land was Made for You and Me: The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie was a National Book Award finalist, and Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam has been longlisted for the National Book Award.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Expository Nonfiction: Display It in Classroom Libraries and Read It Aloud

For the next few weeks, educator Marlene Correia and I will be discussing two infographics we created to help get teachers excited about using more great expository nonfiction children’s books in the classroom. On Fridays, we’ll focus on 5 Ways to Share Expository Nonfiction with Students.

Since today is the beginning of this Friday series, we’ll start at the top of the infographic. Displaying expository nonfiction more prominently in your classroom might seem like a small step, but it can have a BIG impact. Here are a few tips:

—Feel free to borrow books from other teachers and the school or public library to enrich your book displays.

—At the beginning of the year, rotate the books you display once a week. During Week 1, feature fiction titles. For Week 2, display narrative nonfiction (such as picture book biographies). And for Week 3, feature expository nonfiction. If you repeat this pattern a few times, students will begin to get a sense of the different kinds of books available to them. They will also get the message that you value all types books equally.

—As the year progresses, display text sets that are related to your current science or social studies unit. Include both fiction and nonfiction titles to appeal to a broader range of students.

Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2 and Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, Grades 3-5, which I co-wrote with veteran educator Nancy Chelsey, can help you identify high quality science-themed picture books that align with the Next Generation Science Standards. You can also look at the annual lists of recommended books from the National Science Teachers Association and the National Council for the Social Studies.

—When your class seems ready, allow teams of students to create their own text sets for display. The books the teams select must have something in common—a theme or concept, a text structure, a writing style, the voice (lively or lyrical) etc. Encourage students to be creative in their choices and then summarize their thinking on an index card. The teams may enjoy asking the rest of the class to guess what the books in their text set have in common.

Displaying expository nonfiction books prominently in your classroom is an important first step in showing students that you honor these books. But to really bring that point home, be sure to feature these books as read alouds too.

One of the best ways to incorporate a rich assortment of read alouds into your classroom routine is #classroombookaday, an idea developed by Wisconsin educator Jillian Heise (@heisereads). It involves taking 10-15 minutes a day to read aloud and briefly discuss a picture book.

Jillian recommends displaying the book covers on a wall or bulletin board, so it’s easy to refer back to them later in the year. For example, students can make thematic connections between titles. They can also compare craft moves employed by authors and artistic techniques employed by the illustrators.
Jillian also maintains a vibrant Facebook group where educators discuss logistics and make book recommendations.

And here are some tips that you might find useful as you develop strategies for sharing expository nonfiction titles as read alouds.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Expository Nonfiction: Some Students Prefer It!

Last fall, I wrote a series of blog posts with one goal in mind: To raise awareness about research into children’s nonfiction reading preferences. Why? Because the results are surprising.

In recent years, narrative nonfiction has been basking in the limelight. It receives more starred reviews, garners more awards, and ends up on more classroom and library bookshelves than expository nonfiction  because gatekeepers—the adults who make up the children’s literature community—tend to have a natural love of stories and storytelling. That’s why they chose jobs as librarians, literacy coaches, reading specialists, editors, book reviewers, etc. rather than accountants or engineers.

To prove my point, here are the results of a survey I conducted with more than 1,000 educators.
These results are supported by an analysis of American Library Association’s Youth Media Award winners since 2001 (when the Sibert Award for Informational Books was first given).  
But a growing body of research shows that many children think differently. They prefer reading books with an expository writing style.
Rather than craving an emotional connection with the central figure in a book, these info-kids read with a purpose—to understand the world and how it works. They’re captivated by fact-filled books that include patterns, analogies, concepts, and calculations. For these students, expository nonfiction is the gateway to literacy.

But that’s not all we can glean from the research. It turns out that expository nonfiction also builds content knowledge, leads to success in school, and prepares students for those dreaded standardized tests.

To explore these topics in greater detail, I’ve teamed up with Marlene Correia, director of curriculum and assessment for the Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District of Lakeville, MA and past-president of the Massachusetts Reading Association. Over the last few months, we’ve created two handy dandy infographics.

The first one (shown above) highlights 5 Reasons to Share Expository Nonfiction with Students. The first reason—Some Students Prefer It! —is what I blogged about in depth last fall and is summarized with the visuals above.

Over the next few weeks, Marlene and I will be discussing the other four points—one per week—in greater detail on Wednesdays.

On Fridays, we’ll share ideas related to our second infographic 5 Ways to Share Expository Nonfiction with Students. Here’s a sneak peek.

We hope you’ll come back on Friday to find out more.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Barb Rosenstock

The question I get asked most at school visits is, “Why do you write biography?” Early on, that question caught me off-guard—the “why” of it never occurred to me.

Barb and Grandpa Stan
To know why I write biography, you’d have to have met my grandpa, Stan. He was the kind of Chicago character who spent his life connecting people to jobs, tickets, schools, charities, and each other. He understood where people came from, and where they wanted to go. He knew how to keep a confidence and when to reveal. He connected people through stories—hilarious, tragic, or tender. He told people’s stories better than anyone I have ever met.

I loved listening to his stories, and I was a voracious reader as a kid; but “author” was a job for fancy people in New York or Paris. As an adult, I worked in corporate marketing, had a family, and read a good deal to my sons. They too tended to like stories about people—explorers, inventors, and athletes. Although there has always been great children’s nonfiction, most of the biographies I read to my sons (going back about fifteen years) disappointed me.

None of them sounded like my grandpa’s stories. Few of them seemed connected to real kids’ struggles or larger themes. They were essentially illustrated encyclopedia entries. So instead of reading the books as they were written, I used what I’d learned from my grandpa to turn the facts into stories my sons would love. At some point, I transitioned to writing.

At a school visit
When I visit schools as an author, I find that most teachers and students make false assumptions about the process of writing biography. First off, they assume I have some “file of famous folks” in a desk drawer. They believe I go to the list, choose a person, do some research, and plug facts about the subject into some sort of formula. But biography isn’t a formula (birth+3 facts¸death =fame). It’s a way of thinking about art or science or sports or any topic through the lens of understanding who did what, why, and how.

Why do teachers and students have these misconceptions? Because that’s how students often write reports in school. But that’s not how professional writers work.

For me, the process of choosing a subject is much more complex and deeply rooted in who I am. In fact, I don’t typically start with a person at all. I begin with an idea or a memory or an experience that has personal meaning to me. Here are the personal connections that launched a few of my titles:

Fearless: The Story of Fearless Driver Louise Smith: I built go-karts as a girl.

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library: In 8th grade, I wandered off on a field trip to Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home).

The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky's Abstract Art: Until I was 8 years old, I thought numbers had personalities.

Blue Grass Boy: The Story of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass Music: A friend’s grandfather played mandolin at her birthday party. 

Otis & Will Discover the Deep: The Record-setting Dive of the Bathysphere: As a child, I was fascinated by a TV cartoon called Diver Dan.

As you can see, my topic choices are influenced by what I want and need to write about. The biography subjects are just the way I present an idea I’m passionate about.

That’s why no two biographies are the same. Even when two (or more) authors write about the same person, each one brings something different, something unique to the process. A finely-crafted biography offers much more than a Wikipedia entry because, at its heart, is an idea the author has carried deep inside (sometimes for years). The author combines that idea with accurate research to craft a creative product that contains parts of the author’s story within the subject’s.

I write biography, not because of who my subjects were, but because of who I am. I wish each child in every classroom the same opportunity to discover their own interests, backgrounds, and experiences—to use their own stories to connect to others.

Barb Rosenstock loves true stories best. She’s the author of award-wining nonfiction and historical fiction picture books including the 2015 Caldecott Honor title The Noisy Paint Box, illustrated by Mary Grandpr√©. 2018 titles include: Blue Grass Boy with Edwin Fotheringham, The Secret Kingdom with Claire Nivola, Otis & Will Discover the Deep with Katherine Roy and Through the Window with Mary Grandpr√©. She lives near Chicago with her family and two big poodles.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Rethinking Your Book Collection

Take a moment to evaluate your classroom or library book collection. Do you have enough nonfiction titles? Experts recommend a 50-50 mix of fiction and nonfiction.

How diverse is your nonfiction section? Does it include a healthy selection of expository nonfiction? Experts recommend that at least 66 percent all nonfiction titles should have an expository writing style that explains, describes, or informs rather than a narrative writing style that tells a true story or conveys an experience.

(Why is it important to have more expository nonfiction? Because narrative nonfiction  appeals to the same group of readers who love fiction. Libraries need plenty of books for the 42 percent of students who prefer expository nonfiction.)

Sadly, studies evaluating U.S. classroom libraries show that only 17 to 22 percent of all titles are nonfiction, and that only 7 to 9 percent have an expository writing style.

While similar statistics aren’t available for school libraries, according to 2016 report from the National Education Association, only 61.9 percent of elementary schools have a full-time state-certified librarian/media specialist. As a result, it’s likely that many school libraries do not have a well-balanced, up-to-date collection. 

In recent years, children’s book publishers have published many wonderful picture book biographies with a narrative writing style. Because they’ve received starred reviews and won awards, they have ended up on bookshelves across America. Some students love these books, but others don’t. So to re-balance your collection in a way that makes sense in terms of student reading preferences and how the books can best be used in a school setting, I’d like to suggest striving for the percentages included in this table:
(This table assumes that your school has a makerspace with plenty of active nonfiction. If this is not the case, aim to add a bit more active nonfiction to your collection.)