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Taking a closer look at nonfiction

One of the results of the Common Core State Standards is an increased push to have students reading widely in non-fiction texts beyond the textbook in all core academic areas. As many of you have found, finding quality, complex texts that address your specific curricular needs can be time consuming. Then, once you've found a text you like, you have to decide what to have students do with it.

Kylene Beers and Bob Probst have written a follow-up to their book Notice and Note, which focuses on close reading of literature. Their new book, Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies, focuses on the close reading and analysis of nonfiction texts. Beers and Probst present practical, easy to understand explanations of the ways people interact with nonfiction texts and signposts - markers that alert the reader to important information. The signposts for non-fiction can be used in any content area, and while not all signposts appear in all texts, teaching students to notice, pause, and think about these signposts can lead to deeper thinking about a piece of text.

The nonfiction signposts (p. 117) are:

  • Contrasts and Contradictions: The author presents something that contrasts with or contradicts what the reader is likely to know, think, or have experienced, or shows a difference between two or more situations, events, or perspectives.
  • Extreme or Absolute Language: The author uses language that leaves no doubt about a situation or event, that perhaps exaggerates or overstates a case.
  • Numbers and Stats: The author uses numbers (2 or two) or words (several, a lot, few) that show amounts or statistical information to show comparisons in order to prove a point or help create an image.
  • Quoted Words: The other quotes others, directly, with what we might call a Voice of Authority or Personal Perspective. The author might also list others in citations.
  • Word Gaps: The author uses words or phrases that students recognize they don't know.

In addition to the signposts and other resources to go along with teaching them, Kylene and Bob have developed a rubric for determining the complexity of a piece of text. This is available for free from the Heinemann website. They have also developed a checklist for Rigor and Talk About Nonfiction. Using this checklist, you can develop lessons for and specifically assess student use of high-quality discussions about nonfiction.

Watch for information about a future book study on this book!

Assessing for Background Knowledge

When scaffolding texts for striving readers, one important piece of the puzzle is figuring out what they already know about a topic. From there, teachers can work with these readers to use their schema as one way to fix a comprehension breakdown. The following infographic offers 27 ways to assess for background knowledge. You can find the original file here.
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Speaking of infographics....

Over the past several years, we have seen an explosion of infographics used not only on websites, but also in newspapers, magazines, and even advertisements. These are complex texts in themselves, and we need to teach our students how to read, interpret and analyze the infographics they see in their lives, but also how to analyze data and information and create infographics of their own.

Instantshift.com defines infographics as "visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics are used where complex information needs to be explained quickly and clearly, such as in signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and education. They are also used extensively as tools by computer scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians to ease the process of developing and communicating conceptual information."

While this seems like a straightforward definition, when you consider the skills needed to interpret and evaluate infographics, you realize that there's more to it than meets the eye.

Students need to be taught to step back from the visual and consider what type of information is being presented? Where is the data coming from? Is there a bias? What is the purpose of the statistics and information being presented? In fact, many of the signposts discussed above can be applied to infographics as well.

Want to learn more about infographics? Check out this New York Times Learning Network article on teaching with infographics.