Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind.
James Russell Lowell
Watching my son and his father before bed every night, I have learned a lot about how young readers can come to love nonfiction.
Full disclosure: my son loves the “thin” nonfiction as much as any boy does. That’s Gross! and The Guinness World Records come home in his backpack on library days. But he also adores other kinds of science and history books. Why?
Every night before bed, I read a book with my son and husband. Then I slip out and go tend to my daughter. My husband — a science and history lover — stays. The two of them pull out big, thick, grown-up books with wonderful pictures and rich nonfiction text. They set our iPad next to them. They begin to read and, most importantly, talk about what they’re reading. From across the hall, I hear conversations, and the questions my six-year-old asks are thoughtful and inquisitive: “Daddy, do you think anyone could live on Mars if we found a way to keep it cooler?” “Daddy, if the body is mostly water, what are bones made of?” “How can penguins live down there if it’s so cold?” When he asks questions, it often leads to some quick research on the iPad or a YouTube search for answers.
Watching this process unfold, I realized I never had these kinds of conversations with anyone as a child or young student. No wonder I had hated it. I was a fiction girl through and through.
That’s when it occurred to me: We can’t just give students nonfiction and expect them to enjoy it. We have to dive in and live it with them. Dig deep, find the information, ask questions, marinate in it with them. Act interested. Fake it if you have to. But if we ask students the right questions, and work with them in finding the answers, most of the time both students and teachers will find something really interesting to think about.
This week our focus is student engagement — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Jennifer Schwanke is a principal in Dublin, Ohio. She also blogs about her personal pursuits at http://jengoingbig.blogspot.com/
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Editor’s Note: We’ll be off next week for our annual winter break, with no publication of the Big Fresh.
Here are two features from the archives with tips on how to engage students.
Ruth Shagoury and Kelly Petrin find maps are a powerful tool for sparking interest in the youngest learners. They write about the experience in Engaged by the World:
Donalyn Miller has advice for Engaging Readers in the intermediate and middle school grades in this podcast:
Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts write about a disastrous experience from younger days and use it as an analogy for student engagement in Don’t Get Off the Bus, and Other Holiday Advice:
We are always grateful at this time of year for the Chicken Spaghetti blog, which compiles a list of lists with all the “best of” children’s books from many publications, organizations, and blogs:
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Are the terms stamina and engagement synonymous? Cathy Mere defines the terms by observing her first graders in A Closer Look at Student Engagement:
Franki Sibberson closes out her month-long series, Curating a Nonfiction Classroom Library, with the final installment on Rethinking Topic-Based Text Sets:
In this week’s video, Ruth Ayres confers with Rebecca about the power of illustration:
Megan Ginther and Holly Mueller focus on journeys and quests in the January edition of their year-long literacy contract series:
We’ve posted a new cluster on graphica and visual literacy with contributions from Mary Lee Hahn, Franki Sibberson, Andrea Smith, and Katherine Sokolowski:
That’s all for this week. Remember we’re off next week for our annual winter break. Happy Holidays!