Dead Presidents and Whales

Tuesday, January 27, 2015
explained by Suzanne

We spent a wonderful, productive weekend in Houston for the TCTELA conference!  By productive, I mean we learned a lot, got to present in front of a room full of new friends, and didn't frizz too much in the Houston humidity!  That is a winning weekend, friends!

One of the keynote speakers was Donalyn Miller.  Whenever I read her writing or hear her speak, I am amazed by her vast book knowledge.  She can match a book to any student's interest, lexile, and background knowledge because she's read them all.  Okay, maybe there are a couple she hasn't read, but they're in her reading stack as we speak.

Something to think about:

  • Do you, as a reader, have a favorite genre?
  • Do you have a least favorite genre?
  • What about your students?  What would they say is their favorite? Least favorite?
Would your answers match your students'?  Think about why or why not.  Donalyn warned, "Don't let our personal reading preferences become biases that limit our students' exposure to texts."

She tells the story of one of her widely read students, Ashley.  Although Ashley was a voracious reader, she avoided nonfiction at all costs.  When asked, she quipped, "I hate nonfiction.  It's all about dead presidents and whales."  Let that sink in.

It makes sense that more academic success comes to students who read widely, so what can be done to overcome genre avoidance (non-fiction or any other)?

1.  Seek our nonfiction that connect to personal interests.
2.  Add more nonfiction to book talks.
     Kids read what we bless with our words and actions.  Model reading nonfiction in your own reading selections and...
3.  Read aloud nonfiction texts.
4.  Use nonfiction as mentor texts.  
5.  Introduce students to nonfiction authors and series.
     This is a new way to think about expository reading.  Typically we search for expository by subject/topic.  However, to create wide reading of nonfiction, encourage students to make selections based on author or to continue a series.
6.  Pair fiction with nonfiction.
     Don't neglect the author's note in a picture book.  It makes a natural paired passage for the text.  Who's not always looking for good paired passages?? Holla!!
7.  Value the experience of students' nonfiction reading 

So, what are some nonfiction titles for students to sink their teeth into?  

Show students that nonfiction has a lot more to offer than just dead presidents and whales.

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