Monday, May 4, 2020

Classifying Science Books for Kids

Recently, I had a chance to read “The Durable, Dynamic Nature of Genre and Science: A Purpose-Driven Typology of Science Trade Books” by Professor Laura May and five of her Georgia State University colleagues. The article appeared in the September 2019 issue of Reading Research Quarterly, which is published by the International Literacy Association.

I’ll be honest. The title gave me absolutely no hint of what the article was about, but I trusted the person who sent it to me, and the term “science trade books” sounded promising. So I decided to give it a whirl, and boy am I glad I did.


The article describes a study in which the six researchers read and analyzed the 400 children’s books that appeared on the National Science Teachers Association’s (NSTA) Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 (OSTB) list between 2010 and 2017. This list includes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry titles.


In a nutshell, the researchers identified two broad, function-based categories of science books for children:

Accepted Knowledge: These books explain/describe widely-accepted science knowledge or concepts and typically have an expository writing style. 

Lived Lives of Scientists: These books explore the nature of science or scientific inquiry (how people develop and change scientific understandings). They feature a narrative writing style and chronological sequence text structure.

The researchers divided each of these categories into various subgroups, which they call “genres.” Overall, the “typology” the researchers developed to better understand the range of OSTBs has a lot in common with my 5 Kinds of Nonfictionclassification system, which is both exciting and reassuring.
According to the researchers, the takeaway for teachers is that they can and should “leverage science trade book genres to support the different components of science education.” In other words, all the OSTB books have educational value, but should be used in different ways based on their characteristics. While Accepted Knowledge books work well for introducing and reinforcing NGSS’s Disciplinary Core Ideas, Lived Lives of Scientists books are generally better suited for demonstrating the NGSS’s eight Science Practices in action.

But there’s also a takeaway for the creators of these books. The researchers’ genre categories reveal patterns, or trends, that are worth studying because they show what works. They provide an overview of the techniques children’s book writers have used to present the “what” and “how” of science in manuscripts that were acquired by publishers and then selected as models of excellence by NSTA’s panel of experts. 

Thank you, Dr. May, for giving science writers a powerful new tool for thinking about how to organize the ideas and information we collect and then select a lens for sharing the science concepts and processes we’re passionate about with young readers. 

This post first appeared on Darcy Pattison's blog on March 17, as part of a blog series leading up to the 2020 NSTA conference.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, Melissa. Here is the link to read the article. Fee may be required. https://ila.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/rrq.274

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