I am guilty, as a female, of reading mostly fiction. So when someone asks what I am reading, I invariably default to the novel in which I am engrossed despite the fact that at any given time, I am probably perusing at least 2-3 nonfiction texts as well, the internet daily, and a few journals or periodicals. On a daily basis, I probably share more about my nonfiction reading with friends and colleagues than I do my novels. We know as teachers that we need to engage our students in both fiction and non-fiction text. We also know that many of the boys in our classrooms may gravitate towards nonfiction more readily than fiction. A friend of mine was wondering about literature circles with nonfiction text and how those discussions might look. And, as a teacher, how might one respond to reader’s notebook entries about nonfiction text.
As always, I began to think about how real readers (usually me) interact with nonfiction. We need to treat our students like real readers and give them the same authentic experiences. When we read nonfiction we are generally looking for information. So when students discuss that information they might:
discuss the cool and interesting things they discovered
talk about how their new learning fits in with what they thought before
reread any confusing parts and try to make sense of new information or things they don’t understand (often we reread nonfiction many times as we grapple with new concepts)
talk about how the diagrams or pictures support their new learning
evaluate whether they think the author is reliable (and this is very important when doing research, reading websites, looking at primary sources)
think about other texts or places to gather information that they may now wish to know since their interest has been sparked
If part of your literature circles or readers’ workshop is to have students write letter to you about their reading, the above points could also be part of their letters. As a teacher, it is important to write back as a reader. When other readers tell me about their nonfiction reading, I usually relate it to things I already know about the topic, questions I might have about the information, and why the person is interested in the topic. So if a student was reading about hurricanes and had written to me, I might respond back with some comments about the facts s/he had told me, some questions I may have about hurricanes, and maybe a confusion that I might have. I could ask the student to tell how his/her interest in hurricanes had come about and what, if anything, they were planning to do with this new information. I might relay some information I had about hurricanes and wonder if it were correct according to the student’s source. We could even chat about whether depictions of hurricanes in film and literature were truthful according to the facts.
Don’t shy away from talking about nonfiction text with your students just because your comfort level is fiction. Next time you are reading some nonfiction, think about yourself as a reader and how you are interacting with the text. That is always the best way to guide how you can help students to learn to be a proficient reader as well.