What we often forget when considering the importance of nonfiction reading is the pleasure, the art, the wonder of it. We do not want to develop students who read nonfiction just for function, or for school success, but students who read nonfiction for enjoyment, to be fascinated, to discover.
Recent years have seen an emphasis on nonfiction reading for students of all ages. Franki Sibberson, Curriculum Support Teacher in Dublin, Ohio, realized that her students were rarely choosing nonfiction for independent reading time, in part because much of her nonfiction library was tied to content curriculum themes. To change that behavior she devised a strategy of establishing a morning nonfiction reading time, and a booklist for moving nonfiction library choices beyond curriculum themes.
“I realized years ago that my 4th and 5th grade students were not choosing nonfiction for their independent reading time. When we discussed this as a class, the kids were honest. They had found many great novels to enjoy and they were hooked. They didn't want to give up reading the fiction that they had come to love in order to read nonfiction. This made a lot of sense to me. When I think about my own reading, I make time for nonfiction reading, but it never gets in the way of my fiction reading. I set aside separate times for each.”
Reflecting on this conversation, Sibberson realized that although they did a lot of nonfiction reading in class, almost all of it was in some way connected to the content they were studying. Although sometimes she read aloud a book or an article just because it was a fun topic, or something would be in the weekly news magazine that was unrelated to the curriculum in science or social studies, most often, she chose books that were connected in some way to social studies or science content. Furthermore, as she looked through the large nonfiction library in the classroom she realized that most of the books she had purchased over the years were somehow linked to science or social studies content. “It was no wonder that my students saw nonfiction reading as ‘school reading.’ I knew I had to do something to hook this class on nonfiction."
Sibberson started a nonfiction reading time. Each morning when the students arrived, the day began with nonfiction reading time instead of a more traditional morning assignment. For about 15-20 minutes each morning time was set-aside for students to read the nonfiction of their choice. She also made time (2-3 minutes each day) for informal sharing of great nonfiction facts and books that students wanted to share. This routine was one of the simplest things Sibberson implemented in her twenty years of teaching. The impact it had on students' reading lives was huge. Students became readers of nonfiction because she provided time and great nonfiction books. They quickly fell in love with nonfiction, and many began choosing nonfiction books for their reading workshop time. Their nonfiction reading skills improved because they were reading about topics of their choice. Nonfiction Reading Time has allowed her students to become independent readers of both fiction and nonfiction.
Sibberson looks for books that are visually appealing as well as books on topics that will interest her students. She also looks for books that can be read from cover to cover in a few sittings. She further suggests that teachers pay close attention to books the kids are interested in and talking about. With that in mind, you might want to check out the CYBILS award nominations. This is the second year of this award program from the online "kidlitosphere," The link http://dadtalk.typepad.com/cybils/ takes you to the nomination thread for this year, as well as last year's winners.
An ongoing frustration for teachers and literacy specialists is how quickly many quality children's books go out of print. Book Closeouts specializes in out of print and remaindered editions of books, and they've created a section at their website highlighting award-winning children's and adult books at 30-80% off list prices. If you're looking for an out-of-print finalist for a recent award, you may be able to find it here: http://tinyurl.com/338ekh.
A list of Franki Sibberson’s articles and books is available at www.choiceliteracy.com.