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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


I enjoyed my visit with the 4th and 5th graders yesterday. As ever they are lively, bright, full of questions, ready to go out and do research, find answers, come up with their own new theories and explanations. I was intrigued to learn that this paricular school is already doing some interesting prep for nonfiction. I didn’t catch the names of each of these programs — surely some of you can fill them in — but they suggest that schools are starting to address the story gap — although I did see one large problem. This school uses a Teachers College program in which 3rd graders do a first NF “All About Me” essay, then 4th graders do a second kind of fact-based essay, and then 5th graders have their research project. The good news is that this creates a structured placed for NF writing. The bad news is that it can become (and this was the large problem I saw) rigid when teachers treat it as a formula, a step-by-step menu in which kids essentially learn to fill in NF blanks, rather than to think.

In the presentation the contrast between teachers and students was striking — the kids full of questions, eager to explore, the teachers treating a visiting author as a coffee break, a chance to schmooze. I sound peeved, and I was. And yet the librarian was great,as was the media and social studies coordinator. The key difference is that both of them realize that as we bring kids to NF we are not just training them to work within our formulas, we are turning them loose — giving them tools to surpass us. I hear my old Progressive education background in my own words — but I really believe it. When we educate young people in reading and writing nonfiction, we are giving them the tools to be scientists, historians, social reformers, critics of society. That is the spirit that goes with the flesh of learning citations and how to look things up and how to write a good topic sentence. That is the intellectual passion, the unbounded curiosity, that NF can set free — if the teacher models it.

I also heard about a Scholastic program that pairs fiction, which may be film or other visual format, with nonfiction. Another good idea, especially in the ages where kids are reading picture book NF as well as picture book or easy reader fiction. Anyone recall the name of that plan? The more all of us know about the resources teachers and librarians are already using, the better job we can do in linking our books, presentations, and school visits to real kids and real classrooms.


  1. Stephanie says:

    Is this the program you were thinking of? It’s called Non-Fiction Focus.

  2. Pat Dixon says:

    Hi, I couldn’t help commenting about the pairing of fiction and nonfiction, a technique that I think should not be limited to elementary students. I know it was extremely effective for me when I was in university and I recommend it to teachers at the secondary level as well. There is nothing like a well thought out narrative be it in film or print format to knit together disparate pieces of the past. I am forever nudging my students toward good historical fiction to help them find context for what they are learning.
    As a librarian who has organized a number of author visits I can understand the frustration in seeing a teacher treat the occasion as a chance to grade papers or chat. I am always grateful to authors for making the effort and as you mentioned, the students are almost always eager and enthusiastic.

  3. Marc Aronson says:

    perhaps, or at least related, though what the person mentioned sounded as if the fiction part was more digital than print. In any case, it is clear that Scholastic is very aware of the need for NF and is using pairing as one way to help teachers.

  4. Marc Aronson says:

    thanks for joining in.

  5. I love the idea of building bridges between non-fiction and fiction. I’m glad to see something is actually happening…

  6. I believe Lucy Calkins of TC is pretty involved in developing curriculum for the NYC schools and her program recently did a mini-institute on nonfiction:

  7. Marc Aronson says:

    thanks, I was looking at that institute lineup myself

  8. Jane Folger says:

    The Scholastic software that pairs picture book fiction with nonfiction is called BookFlix.

  9. Marc Aronson says: