Friday, August 7, 2009

Thinking about Nonfiction & AR

Nonfiction is on my mind these days. It is an area of reading that students love and I believe that they need. I'm currently searching online vendors for nonfiction books for my two 1st-4th grade schools. Criteria includes subject matter, reading level, quality information and illustrations, the inclusion of a contents and index page, and an Accelerated Reader (AR) quiz.

Last year, my 3rd and 4th teachers joined me in an experiment where we allowed students to take an AR nonfiction book with them to the computer to use as they took the quiz. This is not our normal AR protocol but we wanted our students to have a hands-on experience with nonfiction books to build the skill of "locating the answer" and of actually using the table of contents/index/glossary pages to find that information more efficiently.

Students were required to read the book before taking the test to become familiar with the book's content and organization. They were also required to mark the quiz as "W--I read this book with someone" since students were using the book WITH the quiz. This helped us group quiz results separately from the fiction books the students read Independently (I) and from books the teachers read To (T) the class for listening comprehension.

You would think that this would be a no-brainer experiment but we found that students had to be taught to use the book. You might be surprised that initially students preferred to "guess" at the answers rather than take the time to look them up. But after a couple of failed tests, they were finally willing to use the parts of the book to locate answers and were quickly rewarded with passing scores. I believe that we should see improvement in reading scores as students learn to better utilize text information in making answer choices. So I am getting excited/worried as I wait for our administrators to share test results with classroom teachers as I hope that our reading experiment made a difference.

As I'm running through email and RSS feeds, I came across a Big Fresh article by Franki Sibberson that has me thinking about what constitutes "nonfiction" these days. Things that I'm thinking about include:
what is necessary tech/info text for my age group of elementary students;
how do we address teaching tech/info text with one dedicated computer lab and only one or two computers per classroom;
what is my role when I'm divided between schools.

Although No Child Left Behind has pushed administrators into a corner of focusing on math and reading to achieve test scores, I believe we must support a broader curriculum to include social studies and science. Social studies and science topics provide great informational text that supports reading skills and naturally creates interest with students.

So I will continue to try to find avenues to intersect the focus of reading with great nonfiction texts involving social studies and science information to meet the needs and interests of our students and satisfy the goals of our administrators with NCLB. Somewhere along the way, I hope to find a way to include more technology in our reading goals. Although higher test scores is not my goal, I believe that higher test scores will be a direct result of these actions as well as to interest students in reading and learning. Good for students--good for schools.

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