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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Preparing Kids For Many Kinds of Texts

A Few Posts Ago, Myra Mentioned Roni Jo Draper’s Research, And So I Asked Dr. Draper

to write a post aimed at the readers of his blog. Here she describes some of her current research interests — especially as they overlap with your work. The point that jumps out at me is the need to find ways to teach teenagers to critique texts, and thus to become part of the community that understands and uses them. But, as you can see, her interests are not limited to texts.

I welcome a chance to write informally about my work as a literacy teacher educator. My primary interest is content-area literacy. I am interested in helping teachers know ways to help their adolescent students negotiate, create, and critique content-area texts. I have adopted a broad definition of text that includes print and non-print material; language and non-language resources—mathematical formulas, drawings, graphs, paintings, films, speeches, music, photographs, models, architecture, and on. I believe this broad definition of text is useful for teachers because it is inclusive of all the kinds of resources individuals use to make sense and to participate as learners and knowers.

 The challenge that this broad definition of text introduces is that what it means to be literate must also expand. In order to be literate then, in say science, means that one is capable of negotiating (reading), creating (writing), and critiquing (often a skill that is neglected in K-12 education) a variety of texts that would include graphs, the periodic table, a newspaper article on the environment, a report describing a scientific inquiry, a graduated cylinder, and any of the other resources used by scientists to do science. However, it is less likely to involve poetry or paintings, as these are not the primary texts used by scientists to learn, communicate, or participate as scientists. Thus, the notion of multiple literacies, that represent multiple disciplines, becomes a useful way to conceive of the work that adolescents have before them as they move through middle and high schools.

 In my research I have come to realize that as I embrace these broad notions of text and literacy that I am less able to describe all the texts and literacies available to adolescents in secondary schools. Therefore, I am less able to prepare secondary teachers to support those various literacies. What I have done, here at Brigham Young University, is collaborated with other individuals—primarily content-area teacher educators—because they are familiar with the texts and the literacies of their disciplines. They, however, have not thought about the activities within their domain as having much to do with literacy. So we are learning together and preparing teachers together.

 As far as what this might mean to librarians…I think we ought to rethink (and I think this has been going on for years) what it means to make resources available to children and adolescents through the school library. Certainly those resources will continue to include books and print/language-based materials. However, they must also include non-print and non-language-based materials. And those materials must not be seen as simply vehicles to print or things folks interact with simply because they are learning. But rather these materials are the objects of participation in a community—a community of scientists, or musicians, or actors, or historians—and that as educators we must seek ways to help our students find successful paths to participation. Certainly this includes content and literacy instruction. But it also includes access to the materials themselves, which I see as a role that librarians play.

 I hope this is useful. I would be interested in knowing what kind of conversation this sparks.


  1. Lisa Keller says:

    I find this post fascinating and I’m very happy that someone is thinking about these multiple literacies. I have used the Hello, USA series of books to teach information finding tools and information presentations (table of content, map, graph, text, caption, photograph, recipe, timeline, etc.) because this series has such a great sampling of so many of these devices and formats. I am, by the way, the Head Librarian at an independent K-12 school in Seattle.

  2. Marc Aronson says:


    Welcome, I understand that NCTE is having an Institute for 21st Century Literacies in Indianapolis this July. Perhaps someone who comes to this blog will go and tell us about it.