I knew I had struck a teacher’s goldmine when I brought what I had learned from Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s Notice & Note into my sixth grade classroom. The signposts, together with “What we know/What we wonder” from Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton’s What Readers Really Do, transformed the way we approached reading fiction, as well as the way we talked and wrote about our reading. So, I was thrilled to learn that a nonfiction Notice and Note was in the works, and waited (and waited…) until that day finally arrived and a copy of Reading Nonfiction:Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies was finally in my hands.
And not a moment too soon.
I would be the first to admit, that teaching my kids how to read nonfiction in a strategic way, especially in the content area of Social Studies, has always presented unique challenges. Secretly, I have always harbored the distinct feeling that my nonfiction reading instruction was hit or miss, sometimes (judging from the faces of my sixth graders) more miss than hit. Even my most fluent readers seemed to skim the surface of informational texts,
I love that Kylene and Bob begin by acknowledging the challenges teachers like me face in our instruction – not only do we have to teach our kids strategies to help think through and comprehend their informational texts, but we also have to create an instructional atmosphere that nurtures a mindset for reading nonfiction, described here by Kylene and Bob:
This book had to discuss a stance that’s required for the attentive, productive reading of nonfiction. It’s a mindset that’s open and receptive and receptive but not gullible. It encourages questioning the text but also questioning one’s own assumptions, preconceptions, and possible misconceptions. This mindset urges the reader both to draw upon what he does know and to acknowledge what he doesn’t know. And it asks the reader to make a responsible decision about whether a text helped him confirm his prior beliefs and thoughts or had enabled him to modify and sharpen them, or perhaps to abandon them and change his mind entirely.
That is a tall order for teaching! Thankfully, Kylene and Bob guide us through this involved and complicated process with wisdom and humor. Reading Nonfiction is organized into four sections in such a smart way.
I. Issues to Consider: Here, Kylene and Bob present ten issues that collectively helped formulate their ideas in writing this book. These issues span ways in which we can define nonfiction, the developmental demands we need to take into consideration when choosing appropriate texts for our students, and the issue of rigor and relevance ( “rigor is about relevance and not about a Lexile score” – let’s have a collective amen for that! (p.49). I loved this thoughtful section, which addressed so many of the questions and concerns I have been mulling over for some time.
II. The Importance of Stance: In some ways, I consider this to be the heart of this book. Kylene has been blogging about the thinking in this section since last Fall, and I took advantage of this by trying out some of the ideas in my own sixth grade classroom with amazing success. Here’s how they introduce the importance of stance:
The reader needs to remember that a work of nonfiction will try to assert something about his world, and he needs to take those assertions with a grain of skepticism. They may be perfectly true, they may be somewhat slanted or biased, or they may be flat out lies. (p. 76)
This questioning stance is shaped by three “Big Questions”:
- What surprised me?
- What did the author think I already knew?
- What changed, challenged, or confirmed what I already knew?
This questioning stance was a game changer in my classroom, it gave us a lens through which to view the text, a perspective with which to read more attentively and therefore more meaningfully. The discussions that these questions opened up for us were amazing for I could see real, purposeful engagement with the content of the text. As Bob writes, these questions allowed my students to think “more deeply about what we’d read. Perhaps that’s because we weren’t just reading facts on a page. We were thinking about how information fit with what we already knew. That helped make the reading more relevant.” This is exactly the kind of reading that sticks, because kids own the process.
III. The Power of Signposts: Having used the six signposts for fiction with such great success, I looked forward to learning what these nonfiction scaffolds may be. There are five, and here’s the graphic which Kylene so helpfully Tweeted out in last night’s Twitter chat (here’s the link to the archive:https://t.co/AXxw7v0ni8):
These signposts dovetail perfectly with the three Big Questions, “they help students think about the Big Questions with more specificity” (p. 118). I am so looking forward to introducing them to my students, knowing that they will help us dig deeper into all the informational reading that we will be engaged in, especially when we begin our nonfiction unit of study. As with the signposts for fiction, these will enrich not only our reading work, but also our writing work.
IV. The Role of Strategies: This was an eminently useful section – hands on ways in which we can “make the invisible thinking processes visible” (pg. 182). These seven strategies have common aims:
…these strategies have two things in common: they require students to do some rereading of a text, and they encourage students to talk about what they have read. Both practices – rereading and talking – have been shown to be important in improving students’ comprehension” (pg. 184).
Some of the seven strategies were familiar to me, but I confess that I have not used them in as targeted a way as Kylene and Bob describe. So, I look forward to giving them another go this year, with better success.
The appendices are filled with lists of resources, text samples, links to templates, and QR codes directing the reader to videos of classroom discussions – a wealth of useful information!
So, there it is, a guide to another Beers & Probst must read, must have in your library new book. It was hard waiting for it…but so worth the wait!