Yesterday I attended a lunch where I had to meet the heads of various New Jersey state library associations — ranging from school librarians to law librarians to those who work closely with ALA. The good news from that meeting is that they are all aware of the new focus on nonfiction literacy — that announced shift in national policy has already had a real impact on schools, teachers, and thus libraries. In the many long cycles of books and book young readers, nonfiction is back. That was the good news. The bad news is that my wife recently attended a 5th grade social studies presentation and all too many of the students gave the monotonic recital of crashingly boring quickly downloaded facts. Only a very few students had figured out that history is about questions, not lists of dates and mispronounced names. Fifth graders are fifth graders — the problem was the teacher had not guided them. She did not seem to have that wider view of what history is and can be.
To the teacher, getting kids to research and write those lists was enough, she had done her job. She had no sense of inquiry to impart to her students. And so now we come into the very problem that is sure to come with the new standards that, in fact, focus on inquiry: if teachers themselves are not trained to think like a historian, they cannot pass that approach on to their students. Friends do you know Sam Wineburg and his site? If not, explore here and pass the link on to others: http://historicalthinkingmatters.org/why/ My concern is that even as the schools swing back to nonfiction, unprepared teachers — especially in the elementary grades — will be desperate for guidance which, surely, some form of textbook will provide, and we will be back to square one.
If we want teachers to use trade books, we have to think about how to train them to do so — much as, for years, middle and high school teachers have gone to sessions where they are introduced to new YA novels. There are, as you know, entire companies devoted to sending YA fiction advocates on the road to hold teacher development sessions in which they show and tell. We have none of that, we have no active conduit to teachers — either to show our wares or to give them ideas and insights for how to use our books to promote historical thinking. That’s a problem. We should all be making podcasts or youtubes showing us with teachers in class using our books — spreading the good news, winning coverts, demonstrating how its done.