Our Nonfiction Genre Study Cycle Concludes…For Now

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Late into the night, and again early this morning, I’ve been reading my students’ nonfiction book club presentations – the culminating project of our nonfiction genre study.  As I’ve written about here, and here, we spend a lot of time working our way through this unit of study; we begin with a great deal of scaffolded think alouds and read alouds, then move into book clubs reading the same books, and end with topic based book clubs – where each member of a group reads a different book about the same general topic.  We spend so much time on nonfiction because my alumni (now either in high school or college) tell me that the bulk of their current assigned reading is nonfiction, and they need to feel prepared to read it in volume and with efficiency.

This year’s nonfiction unit was driven by another angle – the nonfiction work in progress by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst that I’ve been following through Twitter chats, webinars, and (most recently) Kylene’s sessions at the Rutger’s Literacy Conference (where I managed to summon up the nerve to ask for a picture!

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Kylene’s blog posts and Tweets led me to reevaluate the way I had structured this unit, which I wrote about here, especially because my initial student survey yielded these answers to the question: why do we read nonfiction?:

  • to collect facts about a topic
  • to find out facts that are important about something
  • to take notes and copy down facts about stuff

…you get the picture. To my kids, the whole point of reading nonfiction was to collect facts. How boring. No wonder they didn’t like reading nonfiction!  How much better to have kids read nonfiction because, as Kylene and Bob suggest, this was the way to :

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 7.14.51 AMin other words, to engage with a text in a meaningful way, to take a Really? stance.  So, for every book club meeting or note taking, my kids tried to approach their texts with the above questions in mind: where did the information surprise you? why? what made your thinking change? what questions remain?

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As a result, book group discussions were much more question and surprise centric, too (also, they were more animated and just plain “fun”).  Often, group member pushed each others’ thinking about their “reallys?”, leading to richer conversations and connections.  And now that I am reading my kids’ final presentations (on Google Classroom, so that we can continue to share the learning and comment on each others’ topics), I am seeing the fruits of all that labor:

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We have, I believe, I found our way to reading nonfiction like residents:

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5 thoughts on “Our Nonfiction Genre Study Cycle Concludes…For Now

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this thinking, Tara. Several things struck me about the student work you show here. One, I love the way the ideas they present have some rich elaboration and explanation. I’m having a hard time getting that idea across to some in our classroom, so it is nice to have some examples to show the kids (beyond my own writing, which I show them all the time…). Second, I love the way the writers feel free to explore an idea; I’m speculating that it might be connected to you asking them to think about surprise? Describing a surprise doesn’t appear to require a thesis. Rather, it can cause one to step back and ask why it was surprising, or why the idea might be important. Nice work on these students’ part, and nice work on your part to give them space for that kind of exploration.

    Thank you again for being so generous with you thoughts.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Steve! As you’ve surmised, we spent a lot of time wrapping our heads around this idea of reading and being surprised by what one learns. This was a big leap for me, because although I do this for myself intuitively, I hadn’t really thought to teach it this way to my kids until I began reading Kylene and Bob’s work. It took quite a bit of modeling and group work for my kids to begin making this shift for themselves. Of course, the work has just begun and I have to make sure that it continues and develops. The key is to step back, isn’t it? Our children need that space to explore for themselves and inch towards such a goal in their own way. It’s exciting, if sometimes frustrating, work!

  2. This idea of looking at surprises will fit with my gifted kids who sometimes believe that know everything. Thanks for linking up today.

  3. Tara- My favorite line: “in other words, to engage with a text in a meaningful way, to take a Really? stance.” By taking a new approach, you have changed the way your students will think about nonfiction in the future. Are you planning to survey the students again? I’ll bet they’ll have different answers now. I love how you’ve applied Kylene and Bob’s work with nonfiction!

  4. Pingback: Charts and mini charts to anchor writing moves | TWO WRITING TEACHERS

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