Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Day 2 at NCTE: Critical Encounters with Non-Fiction

Maybe our favorite session at NCTE this year (okay, besides our own excellent session) was “Critical Encounters with Non-Fiction: A Literature Lover’s Approach” with Deborah Appleman, Carol Jago, and Rachel Malchow-Lloyd.

If you missed the session or are curious, here are the slides.

Some stand-out moments:

  • You need to find the sweet spot of proximal development – texts that are challenging but not too challenging.
  • Use visuals to provide entry to informational texts. We so agree on this one.
  • Find the narrative thread in non-fiction.
  • Use jigsaw technique to offer different perspectives (critical lenses) on an informational text or to cover different sections.
  • Decontextualized close reading is necessary (Common Core) but not sufficient for complex text.
  • Think of intertextuality and text bouquets as you bring multiple texts into conversation. (Don’t you just love the image of text bouquets!)
  • Look for moments to contemporarize – to bring in texts that allow for a contemporary perspective
Finally, Appleman drove home the importance of non-fiction: “Knowledge is the lens through which we view ourselves and our world.”

But how do we offer students this knowledge when so much of what we read is fiction? Carol Jago noted that only 10% of classroom libraries is composed of non-fiction. And that includes a lot of material on dinosaurs and baby animals. This needs to change.

To that end, Jago offered a wonderful survey of some great non-fiction titles. Here are some we jotted down as quickly as we could:
  • Moonbird by Phillip Hoose (author of Claudette Colvin) on climate change
  • Tommy: The Gun that Changed America by Karen Blumenthal about the automatic weapon developed too late for WWI
  • Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow
  • Invisible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure by Jim Murphy and Alison Blank
  • Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights by Ann Bausum
  • Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dimitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad – by the amazingly versatile M. T. Anderson
  • Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of the 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle that Set Them Free by Hector Tobar
These titles can serve as independent reading, but we also need to find ways to include bits and pieces, whenever we can, in connection with our anchor literary texts to add color (our metaphor) to our text bouquets. Tobar’s volume would likely be a valuable addition to a discussion of Lord of the Flies paired with the story of the Chilean miners. The possibilities of interesting connections with these high quality, timely, and engaging informational texts are vast.

And, as Carol Jago pointed out, just as it’s okay to jigsaw and excerpt when we work with these informational texts, it’s also okay to do so sometimes with our literary anchor texts.

We want to build our students’ reading stamina, but building wonderful bouquets out of the intertextual connections of a variety of fictional and informational complex texts will create the robust learning and deep-thinking students we most want.

Thanks for this great session! We can’t wait to get ourselves and our students reading!

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