Tuesday, November 27, 2012

December -- A Month of Nonfiction

When I looked over all of my fall assessments and I added that to observations of students over the last month or two, I knew that I needed to spend time on Nonfiction Reading. Even by 4th grade, my students have not really found nonfiction that they love. They read nonfiction only when they have to.  I have spent years building a decent collection of nonfiction books--books that are not connected to any content unit that we study, but just great nonfiction books. Even though I've tried to incorporate lots of nonfiction since August, I knew December would be the month that we really dug in.

Then I went to hear Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts at NCTE.  And I was reminded, as I was often at the convention, that I need to SLOW DOWN.  I have somehow pressured myself with a teaching pace this year that I know is not good for kids. So, in December, I am taking lots of time to help kids fall in love with nonfiction reading and to think about the kinds of writing that might go along with that.  Kate mentioned a yearlong study of notetaking and that idea was so freeing for me.  I am going to spend reading workshop minilesson time, writing workshop time and content time, really discovering all that nonfiction reading and writing has to offer.  A study on writing around nonfiction (notetaking and more without any finished product) will be part of this month's work.

Some goals for the month include:
-falling in love with nonfiction as a genre
-noticing different ways that authors approach nonfiction writing
-finding nonfiction authors and series to love
-developing tastes as nonfiction readers
-playing with notetaking with nonfiction--taking notes on thinking
-trying out various notetaking techniques and discovering how/when it makes sense to use them
-discovering nonfiction beyond text (websites, videos, slideshows, etc.)
-finding topics of interest (new and old)
-how we approach assigned reading differently from choice reading

As part of this study, I have decided to read aloud/think aloud a book from a series I love.  I love the Scientists in the Field series and I recently purchased The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity (Scientists in the Field Series) by Elizabeth Rusch.  I know almost nothing about the Mars Rovers but loved that this was the topic of a new book in this series.  So, I've decided to read aloud this book over the next week or two, without having really looked at it much at all.  I want my students to see my true thinking when reading a book that is interesting to me (a little) --one that I have very little background knowledge with.  This is a longer book so I am thinking my thinking, my notetaking, my questions, the resources I look to for more information will be authentic. This will be just one piece of our week but one that will be interesting for all of us, I think. This is also a longer nonfiction book so I am thinking the whole idea of stamina with a topic will come up---reading beyond short articles for more information. This is probably not the best place to start with my reading on a new topic.  So I may pull up some articles --Wonderopolis has a few related articles that might help.  (I'm also revisiting Chris Lehman's new book ENERGIZE RESEARCH READING AND WRITING--it is good to revisit it after I heard him speak at the convention.)

Another part of this week will be exploring lots of nonfiction books--getting their hands on books that have been sitting on the classroom shelves. I am hoping by the end of the week, they have discovered the genius of Steve Jenkins and Nic Bishop. I am hoping that a few kids have fallen in love with the Face to Face series.  I am hoping that we build some baskets around certain topics of interest.

This week is all about rediscovering nonfiction as readers.  I don't think it will be hard--there is lots of great nonfiction to fall in love with. I just need to give kids time to dig in with some minilesson support along the way.

Below are some tweets from Chris and Kate's session. Lots to think about.

: Chris is writing a nonfiction paragraph teaching about sharks... in his PBS voice   

Mentor text show how the author teaches. More options - but now about how to use those notes purposefully in writing. 
 &  doing an amazing job of helping us rethink the teaching needed for strong research reading and writing. 
Am anxious to revisit Energize Research Reading and Writing by  after hearing session at .
Am loving this idea on unit of notetaking outside of research project/units. So smart. Great way to end 
 is talking about ways to teach kids how to annotate drawings. 
Probably the most important skill my kids needs as notetakers, is to make a choice.  12 Expand
RT : "Do better things, not things better" says I like it.  
Across the ages, people have tracked their thinking and learning in notebooks.  
Think about doing a study of note taking in a unit outside of the research unit. Think about a yearlong study.  
If they've not taken notes before, they are not going to be very good at it.  
When am I going to teach my kids to be strong note taking in the midst of all of this?  
I like the idea of one person in mind when thinking about audience for research.  
What does your audience (individual person) need to know, or what is audience interested in knowing about the topic. 
It's important that a writer has a particular person in mind when thinking about audience.  
We have to help our kids deal with the texts they have for research. What's my first text (highly readable)? 
When we hand kids resources, we take away part of the process.  
We could just hand kids sources. Instead, we can think about how sources guide us.  
You start with what you know and help yourself finds slants or angles--what you want to work on.  
Instead of writing to PROVE that he read, let's have writing to teach.  
Right now, kids are taking notes from text. Instead, take notes from your learning.  
We're handing a lot us. Instead, let's start where research actually starts.  
We are trying to humanize research. Research can be as wonderful as it should be.  


  1. Franki--Thanks for this post! I'm looking forward to digging in to Energize Research Reading and Writing by @iChrisLehman...and am wowed that I got to sit a few seats over from him at dinner that night with you guys! Want to do a Twitter or Skype book study with his book? I have lots to learn! Thanks for sharing so much of your learning! I'm also excited about reading and reflecting on everyone's #NCTE12 posts! Thanks for rounding them up, oh great rounder-upper. :)

  2. I too am thinking about nonfiction this month. When I look at my class shelfari collection, nonfiction is not represented very much which is not honoring the Common Core or what I know is best. Today the turtle lady is visiting and we are going to see where that takes us with turtles and/or seasons changing and how animals adapt. I'm looking at some thinking from Lucy Calkins for reading and writing workshop ideas in her ebooks. You might want to check those out too for fourth grade.

  3. Love this thinking. I'm planning on a non-fiction unit in January when we get back from break. Will be following how it goes in your room and looking to you for advice. :)

  4. I just returned from a workshop at TC that focused on nonfiction and also blogged about http://tmsteach.blogspot.com/2012/11/notes-from-tc-part-1-increasing-our.html. Right now I am really thinking about ways to up the nonfiction reading my kids do. Your book was wonderful in this regard, Franki - a great resource.

  5. Can't wait to hear more about how this goes - I'm thinking once you get them started, they won't want to stop. That's definitely how my fourth graders felt last year. Two longer books that they LOVED were Cheryl Bardoe's MAMMOTHS AND MASTODONS:TITANS OF THE ICE AGE and AIN'T NOTHING BUT A MAN: MY QUEST TO FIND THE REAL JOHN HENRY. There was also one about tornadoes by National Geographic. Totally random subjects, but all three have really cool primary sources and textual tools, not to mention great voice. You might want to look for them.


Comment moderation is turned on.