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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

News From NCSS

This is my second visit to NCSS in two years, and I am liking what I am seeing. The conference was in Washington so perhaps it was to be expected that Mt. Vernon, and Colonial Williamsburg, and the Newseum, and the Spy Museum would have have booths. But taken as an overall trend, it was striking how many spaces were devoted either to actual sites like those where students could experience history or use primary sources, or were designed to facilitate student travel to archaeological sites or foreign countries. The large textbook booths which used to dominate NCSS were not there, and so many relatively small opportunities for hands-on learning filled the aisles. I tried last year and got my toe stubbed, but I may again suggest to NCSS that they create an author strand — so that the program is as favorable to authors as the exhibit space is to student experience.

We all do have a long way to go in bringing our books to classroom teachers. As many of you know, Language Arts teachers have always had some comfort and familiarity with using novels with students. They know the authors, they know the books, the classroom reading matches the reading teachers do, and were trained to do. But that is not so at all with either Language Arts or Social Studies teachers shifting from textbooks to trade books. After the conference we met an friend who works on leadership in education. When I mentioned the problem that teachers do not know trade books, he asked if Lexile rankings would help. I said no, but contact with librarians would. And that is the problem — our books, our approach, even the experienced librarians who could help out, are so unfamiliar to concerned, engaged, educators that they are likely to turn to scale, a metric, of readability — rather than reviews, experience on student engagement.

If book publishers were smart, they would send a delegation to every state meeting where district level educators gather and present lists of all of their books that have won awards — whether from reviewers or student votes — and say “here, here is the pot of well-reviewed, student-tested trade nonfiction books all of your teachers need to know, and it is updated every day by librarians in your building or nearby in a public library. Use this list and their knowledge, report back to us so we can update the list, and all will be well in the kingdom.” We need that macro-level education to help teachers realize what a treasure, what a resource, they have in our books. They have a problem, we have a solution, but we are out of touch.


  1. Myra Zarnowski says:

    NCSS does work with the Children’s Book Council to create a yearly list of Notable Children’s Trade Books in Social Studies. Having served on that joint committee for several years, I know the care members take to complete this list. The problem is not access to trade book information, it’s connecting this information to curriculum and–above all–it’s access to the books. These are two major problems. The curriculum problem is about seeing the potential connections between books and curriculum AND taking the time to pursue these connections. That means slowing down to teach for depth. The access to books problem means having enough books to give children the material to read. Not every trade book used should be a read aloud simply because there is only one book. And one more thing: We need convincing demonstrations that teaching with trade books works.