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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

This Should Not Be So hard

Marina and I Met With the Curriculum Coordinator of our School District Yesterday

It was a very good meeting. The coordinator showed the district’s plan for for integrating non fiction into their classroom reading and writing. The plan was well thought out and most promising. But, the coordinator stressed, it would only work if teachers had ongoing professional development so that they could put it into practice. Doubtless that is true, and yet I could not help thinking that everything the 3rd-5th grade teachers are now going to be expected to model is exactly what nonfiction writers for those ages already do — find information, evaluate it, figure out how to write in an accurate, engaging, fashion. I just keep seeing this weird and damaging split: teachers feeling daunted and unprepared to use non fiction, even as non fiction authors who have exactly the skills and experience the teachers need have no entry into the classrooms. 

We are in these parallel worlds that, once upon a time, might have intersected through the school library — or you, the school librarians. But now the teachers seem swamped by requirements — taking their cues and book selections entirely from the administration — while the libraries become media centers (which is fine as as it goes, but further distances the teachers from knowing anything at all about appropriate books). But then teachers and administrators grind their gears in trying to figure out how to integrate non fiction into Language Arts, while we who practice the craft of writing non fiction as literature look on from the outside and wish we could get in. This just does not make sense.

I am an optimist. I believe that when something is out of kilter it should be re-aligned, and it can be fixed. For now, though, I don’t know where to start. Maybe the problem is that we need to br bringing books to the attention of administrators, not individual teachers anymore. We need a forum for showing people who make district-wide decisions what books are out there and how they can be used. Now, where could that be?


  1. Susan T. says:

    Marc, at my son’s public elementary school, a lot of research and use of nonfiction is handled through the Library Media Center, with the LMC specialist teaching research skills like you describe.
    I’d like to see more emphasis on reading nonfiction for pleasure. My 9 year old comes home from the public library with big stacks of nonfiction books, but I don’t seem much emphasis on NF in terms of independent in-school (non-research) reading.

  2. Susan:

    I’ll keep the LMC link in mind — I agree completely on NF as pleasure reading — that was what my post the other day about “inner emotional experience” was about.

  3. Eighteen of us NF writers are presenting “Non-fiction Bookblast: Booktalks for Reluctant Readers” on Sunday, July 12, 2009, 10:30 a.m.-noon at the ALA Conference in Chicago. Books will be for all grade levels. I tried to include the wiki we’ve developed with our booktalks on it but got a message no html! But we are showing a PowerPoint, lots of handouts. Hope to see some of the readers of this blog there–a small but encouraging step to speak to librarians only about NF.

  4. Mary:

    Send me the wiki and I’ll post it in the column.