Tuesday, October 30, 2018

KSLA Handout: Five Kinds of Nonfiction

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.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Seth Fishman

My dad didn’t know how to do anything.

Except, perhaps, read books, tell jokes, and find oil (he was a geologist in Texas).

Seth's dad riding an ostrich
But I never learned any of the basic cool parenting things that both moms and dads often teach their kids like how to fish, how to change the oil or a flat tire, how to camp, anything about gardening/lawn maintenance, woodworking (or, rather, how to handle dangerous tools), how to cook, or how to build or install furniture.

Before my son was born, I had something of a panic attack realizing that I had none of these bright and shiny stereotypical parental abilities. I even enrolled, with a friend, in a plumbing (very helpful!) and electrical wiring (helpful at teaching me not to do electrical wiring) course to learn useful skills for around the house to fill in some of the gaps in my dad knowledge.

I played soccer a little, and ultimate Frisbee. I have an MFA in Creative Writing (the most useful degree). I like to read. I know I have something to offer, but what I really wanted was to be competent in all things, no matter how silly that sounds.

Since I couldn’t do much handiwork, I decided that I would endeavor to answer all the questions my son would inevitably ask me.

Of course, I recognized that the key wasn’t knowing answers, it was learning answers to his questions together in a way that’s honest, interesting, and hopefully long-lasting. But back then, I remember thinking: what if he asks me how many stars there are in the sky and I don’t know? He’ll think me a failure. I know that’s dramatic, but, for a split second, it was true.

When I did the research and discovered the beautiful true number of stars—a hundred billion trillion—a picture book concept was born. The words and illustrations transition from the vast universe to the one person that mattered, my son. The book would do more than just list fun facts and big numbers. It would ignite a sense of wonder about things we don’t understand, and convey the idea that it’s OK to not know.  It would show that we all have a role to play, that we are a functional, important part of the vastness.

If I can help my son and other young readers gain a small moment of self-realization and universe-understanding, it seems like the book’s purpose is fulfilled. And maybe my father taught me everything I needed to know, after all.

Seth Fishman is a native of Midland, Texas (think Friday Night Lights), and a graduate of Princeton University and the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. He spends his days as a literary agent at The Gernert Company and his nights (and mornings) writing. He is the author of the Mathical Book Prize winner and Horn Book/Boston Globe Honor nonfiction picture book, A HUNDRED BILLION TRILLION STARS, along with two young adult novels. His next picture book—again with the New York Times Bestselling illustrator Isabel Greenberg—Is called POWER UP, and is out in March 2019. He lives in LA with his wife and son.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Three "D"s: A Simple Framework for Evaluating Sibert Medal Contenders, Part 1

I’m so excited that Melody Allen, a retired librarian who served on the 2007 Sibert Medal committee, has agreed to share the kid-friendly guidelines she developed for evaluating nonfiction books based on the ALA’s official criteria. They are perfect for the Sibert Smackdown and other Mock Sibert programs. Thank you, Melody.

2007 Sibert Medal and Honor Winners
When I was on the Sibert Medal committee, I read many, many informational books aimed at children through age 13. Since I did not work directly with children at the time, I felt it was important to see how young people would respond to books that impressed me. I met with a fifth grade class over a four month period, outlining the criteria for the award and listening to the students’ reactions to the books.  At the final session, the kids enjoyed voting for their winners. 

To guide the students’ examination of the books in relation to the official Sibert criteria, I devised a framework called The Three "D"s—Delight, Design, and Documentation. Here’s the handout I gave students to help them in their evaluation process:

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing posts that describe The Three "D"s in detail. Today, I’ll start with Delight, which has three components.

—Passion of creators for subject

—Engaging, lively writing style

—Clarity of explanations

Delight involves both the readers and creators of the book. Here are some questions to expand on the framework: 

—Was the book a satisfying reading experience, increasing your interest and expanding your knowledge of the subject? 

—Was the language used vivid, clear, and readable? 

—Were you drawn into the book by questions, dramatic moments, and connections to information and experiences familiar to you?

—Was the information presented so that you felt like a fellow researcher/explorer/scientist/creative artist/etc. on an exciting journey of discovery? 

—Could you sense the author’s enthusiasm for the topic? 

—Remember that the illustrator as well as the author is recognized by the award.  Did you enjoy the visual impact of the book? 

Next week, I’ll be discussing the second "D"—Design.

Melody Lloyd Allen is a retired librarian who worked in public libraries and schools, and for 30 years, as the state children’s services consultant in Rhode Island. She also taught at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Rhode Island, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College, and the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College. She served on the Caldecott Medal Committee twice and once on the Sibert Medal Committee.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Presenting Nonfiction: The Power of Student Choice by Amanda Schreiber

Confession time.

Nonfiction writing has been one of my biggest struggles as a fifth grade teacher. My students love reading true texts, but when it comes to the writing, they struggle to carry over all the wonderful craft moves we’ve learned from fiction writing.

Even though I allow them to choose a topic and decide how to gather research, in the past, most of the writing I received was just a string of facts. So this year I tried something new. I let them choose how they present the information. They create an (1) infographic, (2) an article with an expository writing style, (3) or a narrative.

We read all three kinds of text during Reader’s Workshop, so students had some familiarity with the various ways nonfiction could be presented. After students chose a presentation style, they had 2 days to become experts. They read at least three different texts in the style they selected “with a writer’s eye,” so that they could begin to notice important characteristics and get ideas for their own writing.

I had baskets of books pulled and ready so students could easily find titles that were narrative and expository. I also pulled infographic texts like National Geographic’s By the Numbers series and shared the link to the Kids Discover Infographic website.

As students read on their own or in small groups, they kept track of text traits they noticed on a Mentor Text Observations worksheet.

At the end of this reading period, we met in small groups and discussed what they noticed. Each group shared key features of their presentation style and any craft moves they wanted to try out in their writing.
Then we came together as an entire class to list things that all great nonfiction writers do. These were things we expected to see in all the students’ writing assignments, giving the class some voice in the grading criteria.
Students were enthusiastic and engaged as they drew up plans and outlines and began writing.
As a teacher, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get as final products, but I knew I had to trust my students. And they didn’t disappoint me.
I was amazed at the variety of writing I received. I had kids taking writing risks by employing craft moves and text features they noticed from the mentor texts. Students seemed to really think about their topics and their strengths as writers.
Here are a few of their pieces:
Narrative text about D-Day

Expository text about California wild fires

Infographic about tornadoes
I can’t imagine locking my students into a presentation style ever again. Allowing them choice and ownership not only made their writing better. It also encouraged them to do some critical thinking and decision making. And to be honest, it wasn’t any more work for me as a teacher. The only extra work was making sure I had enough mentor texts for students to read and consult.  
Were their challenges? Of course! Some students really struggled with all the choices, so I set up some scaffolds along the way. Graphic organizers and templates were available for students who needed help with the planning stages and organizing all their information.
Some students were a little overly inspired by mentor texts about their topic, so we had to talk about plagiarism and how they could put their own spin on their writing. Next year, I am going to make it a rule that students may not read a book about their topic during the 2-day immersion period. Hopefully, this will help students focus on craft and presentation style without enticing them to borrow features and wording for their own writing.
Ultimately, giving my students choices within their writing didn’t add any extra work to my plate. Instead, it renewed us all, and we saw the power of collaboration around nonfiction writing. Watching students celebrate and take pride in their work made me realize just how powerful choice can be, not only in reading, but also in writing.
Amanda Schreiber is a fifth grade teacher at Mason Intermediate School in Mason, Ohio. She blogs at My Shoestring Life and loves celebrating the work of her students. You can find her on social media as @msaplusteacher.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Sarah Albee

At school visits kids always ask me where I get my ideas.

I talk about how it’s important to keep a notebook handy. Ideas can show up suddenly, often when you’re busy doing something besides sitting at your desk, and snagging them can require lightning-quick reflexes, like capturing the snitch in a Quidditch game.
I usually tell them a funny story about how I got the idea for my book Poop Happened in a flash one day, just after my two-year-old son flushed his superballs down the toilet and stopped it up, an hour before fifteen people were due to show up at our house for a dinner party. 

But honestly? That’s kind of an incomplete picture of how writers get their ideas.  Ideas can percolate inside us for a long time. They can bubble up from our depths when we least expect them.

Because as every nonfiction writer knows, and as every teacher knows who reads a lot of student writing, the best writing stems from who the writer is, and what she cares most deeply about. Writing epiphanies are not random.

The fact is that questions about sanitation and other details about everyday life have interested me since I was a child. Yeah, I was That Kid. I wanted to know how a knight in a suit of armor went to the bathroom. I wanted to know what kind of real-life poison might have been in Snow White’s apple. I wanted to know why those kids in portraits I saw at the museum were wearing corsets and long skirts and crazy ruffled collars.

So here’s my backstory.

My grandparents on my mother’s side immigrated from Sicily to New York City in 1918. My mother, the oldest of five kids, grew up in a tenement on the Lower East Side. Her family shared one toilet with three other families on her floor. She learned English, but my grandparents never did. My grandfather was a street sweeper, working for the department of sanitation.

When I was a kid, I begged my mother to tell me stories about her childhood—the shared toilet, the bedbugs, the shabby neighborhood. Those stories became part of who I am. (Also, it wasn’t until about third grade that I realized other kids’ grandparents knew how to speak English.)

As for my father—he was a professor, and in some ways a rather eccentric man.
He wrote a lot about the power of preventive approaches to many public health issues. While other kids were sitting on their parent’s knee listening to Good Night Moon, I was hearing about how in 1854 John Snow deduced that cholera was water-borne, and convinced public officials in London to remove the handle of the Broad Street pump.

So the flash of inspiration I had the day of my dinner party was not random. Nor was my idea to write a book about epidemic diseases that happened at a time in the not-so-distant-past when insects were part of everyone’s lives.

Or about history through fashion. That book idea evolved to become less about the one percenters who wore the fashionable clothes and more about the people who picked the cotton, dyed the fabric, and sewed the clothing.

Or about the importance of regulations to prevent ordinary working people from being poisoned by radium, lead, arsenic, nicotine, and other toxins.

When I talk to new writers just starting out on a path to publication, I give them an exercise to do: Think about the authors out there that you admire. Now say their name, and quickly come up with a word or phrase that you associate with their writing. For instance:

—Melissa Stewart: a celebration of science

—Loree Griffin Burns: a love of nature

—Jess Keating: zoology/funny animal facts

Then I tell them: Play this word-association game about future-you. How do you want your future readers to describe you as a writer, five or seven or ten books from now? I suggest that they consider focusing on topics that help amplify to the world the things they truly care about.

This exercise works with student writers, too.

The best writing, both nonfiction and fiction, reflects who we are as people, and what we care about most deeply.

Sarah Albee is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 100 books for young readers. She divides her time between living at the library and traveling around the country, visiting K-8 schools and talking with kids about history, writing, and books.

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.