It may seem obvious to you, dear reader, but not everyone knows that the library is the heart of the school community, the place where student and faculty life converge—where children race to reserve the latest installment in that must-read series, to find that just-right book, to explore online resources, to work and collaborate on research projects, to reread a favorite fiction title before the movie is released, and to talk about the books they love with people who care. It’s the place where teachers discover new resources to incorporate into lesson plans, gather to discuss and map curriculum, and to attend professional development workshops after school hours.
As the center of the school, the library is also the logical place to educate teachers, parents, and students about the quality materials available for children and young adults, and to develop a culture of nonfiction within your school. While many librarians already offer breakfast booktalks, provide curriculum-related booklists, and brief teachers on the latest reference materials, we would like to add a few of our suggestions for creating a community around nonfiction.
Consider kicking off the year with a “Nonfiction Tasting” one day at lunch or before or after school. Think of this as the equivalent to a wine tasting or a chocolate sampling. The goal is not to determine the best chocolate, but to taste the range of differences between milk and dark, 50 percent cacao versus 80 percent. You might want to introduce your tasting menu with a chocolate menu to take advantage of this metaphor. After sampling the treats, have teachers explore several informational picture books on the same subject. (It’s helpful to have multiple copies of each book on hand. Think interlibrary loan, if necessary.)
Again, the object is not to select the best of the group, but to expose teachers to the variety of texts available on a topic, and to begin a conversation about scope and approach: narrow versus broad, narrative versus expository. What media is used to illustrate the works: reproductions of oil paintings, photography, sketches, diagrams, or a combination of these styles? What points-of-view are explored?
You might want to follow up your “Nonfiction Tasting” with a “Nonfiction Book Club” for staff. Start small, offering a club that meets three times during the first quarter. To capitalize on the work that you started, continue to look at multiple titles on the same subject as a way of furthering teachers’ knowledge of nonfiction. Once the first group is launched, you can be more strategic about how future groups can operate. Plan with grade-level teams to run a nonfiction book club during team meetings once a month, or, combine your nonfiction club with a monthly vertical subject area team meeting. Because you know your school, you’re aware of the best ways to increase both interest and expertise in nonfiction by using time that is already set aside before, during, or after school.
Once teacher book clubs have been established, you might want to gather a group of avid nonfiction readers of different ages together to create “Team Nonfiction.” You probably already know many of those students because they return to the library again and again looking for books. How can they help you spread the word among students? Team Nonfiction can create book displays based on milestone anniversaries of major events or school-wide activities, and recommend nonfiction authors to spotlight for others. Members of the group can help you design an interest inventory. Once the inventory is complete, you’ll have information on the personal interests and hobbies of your school population—a useful tool for both reader’s advisory and collection development.
Finally, the students can help you develop a community of nonfiction book recommendations. Start your own school version of Goodreads by creating a review site on your school webpage and/or a bulletin of student-authored book reviews within the library itself. A number of online catalogs have this capability built right into them. The concept of Team Nonfiction can be modified to work with single grades (one per month of the school year), to sponsor events, to curate displays, and to write reviews.
In January, when the American Library Association and the National Council of Teachers of English both announce their annual nonfiction award winners, host a “Mock Orbis Pictus/Sibert/YALSA Nonfiction Award” program, working with grade-level teams on book selection. If you’ve created a book review culture in your school, you can start the selection process by returning to the titles already recommended by students.
Sometime during the academic year host a “Nonfiction Family Night.” Parents want to support their children’s reading, but they often don’t know where to begin, and most know very little about children’s and young adult nonfiction. They assume that they should be reading fiction aloud to their children, because that’s what they’ve traditionally done. But for many school-aged children, and their parents, nonfiction is what they prefer. By organizing an event for families, you can capitalize on their interests in hobbies or seasonal activities, and show them how they can spend time together as a family reading, and connect to their life and interests outside of school. It might be helpful to invite local experts from science and nature centers, history museums, construction trades, and restaurants to share their expertise on a topic about which you have a great collection.
Once you have established a community around nonfiction, you can begin to help groups of teachers think more strategically about the ways in which the Common Core State Standards challenge all of us to think deeply about content over coverage and the resulting curricular implications.
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