Saturday, May 5, 2012

My New Love Affair with Non-Fiction

I was taking writer's workshop training this year when my instructors played a clip of a Tony Stead lecture.  If you haven't seen, heard, or read Tony Stead yet- by all means RUN, do not walk, to your closest source of information dispersal and load him up!

My school is very committed to the Lucy Calkins writer's workshop method; it's a school-wide endeavor.  Every teacher is equipped with the books, and it's so embedded in the curriculum that when anyone talks about workshop, Lucy is referred to by her first name.  So why we were played this clip I'm not so sure- because there is a moment where he really sort of hangs personal narrative out to dry- but regardless of that- he had me hooked.

There was this fact about how like, 85% of real-world reading is different forms of non-fiction.  But go look in your classroom library, and you'll probably find that 85% or more of it is fiction.  And then look at the non-fiction you do have, and notice how it's pretty much animals, biography possibly, and how to draw dinosaurs.  His discussion of the process of of teaching children researching and writing non-fiction pieces was mesmerizing.  I got his first book immediately, and then even went and bought the second.

It was an easy read, written in a very conversational tone, and delivered in examples of how it was taught in actual classrooms with all ages of children.  One of the methods I like the best is how you do a pre-assessment with the children by having them write what they *think* that particular form of nonfiction should look like.  Then you lead the workshop and in the culminating activity, they do that project again with all of their new found knowledge and you can compare the two pieces to see how much they actually took in.

So, yes, unequivocally- I love this book.  If I find his address I will be sure to write him my first ever fan letter.  As long as writing to Tootsie Roll Pops about whether or not they really give you a free pop if your wrapper has an Indian Chief shooting a star on it wasn't considered a fan letter...

As far as my personal library goes- I've started branching out to get more nonfiction resources.  At this moment, aside from my animals and biographies, and how-to books, I've added in magazines and newspapers, catalogs, brochures, take-out menus, and maps.  Something I never really thought the kids would want to look at.  But everyday- there goes one of them to pull out that big road map and completely unfold it and five of them gather around it in a little circle and run their fingers over the lines and talk about all of the words next to the "dots".  I went ahead and bought one of those fancy pop out maps of DC and they nearly went into hysterics to be the first to look at it.

And I must mention- with a great amount of appreciation- how my friends have been helping with this endeavor.  I messaged a great many of my Face Book friends around the country and the world asking them to mail in non-fiction samples as they came across them- and they have sent me the most amazing things.  And that is a simple request you can ask anybody you know- Hey, they next time you go out to eat, can you grab me a take out menu?  If you go for a drive this weekend, can you stop at a rest stop and grab me some tourist brochures?  On your trip to china can you pick me up every dang piece of paper you come across?

My kids still look at the fiction.  But I find it newly thrilling to see them get excited over investigating a plant catalog.  I will be expanding on this idea for ages I think, and find new ways to make this non-fiction obsession useful to both them, and me.

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