February 23, 2018

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What Do I Teach Readers Tomorrow? | Professional Shelf

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My idea of an exemplary professional title for educators is one that’s grounded in quality research, and, provides practical information. The author or authors should also have lots of classroom experience to draw on and to share. No armchair experts for me. Finally, the book should encourage and nudge me to improve my practice. Gravity Goldberg and Renee Houser’s What Do I Teach Readers Tomorrow?  Nonfiction, Grades 3–8 (Corwin, 2017) does all of the above.

The book is based on a decision-making approach to teaching. That is, it acknowledges the myriad choices teachers make every day and provides a practical approach to making good decisions. Good decisions, the authors suggest, are based on small, selected amounts of data that are readily available to teachers. This process, which the authors refer to as “thin-slicing,” focuses an educators’ attention. Teachers look at student notebook entries, listen to their conversations, identify the kind of thinking they are currently engaged in, and then decide what to teach next. Rather than follow a prescribed set of topics or lessons, this approach respects teachers as decision makers.

So, what are educators asked to decide? With its focus on nonfiction, the volume covers:

  • Selecting nonfiction books. Here the authors outline criteria for choosing books and the types of nonfiction texts to teach with. Examples of outstanding titles and the features that educators can use to engage students in conversations are given. (Included are specific pages, annotated and ready to use.)
  • Using reading notebooks. Specific techniques to engage pupils in authentic writing that builds an understanding of nonfiction are suggested and examples are provided.
  • Promoting conversations that clarify, confirm, and challenge thinking. Transcripts of actual student conversations help readers understand the process.
  • Helping young people synthesize information within and across texts and refine their thinking about a topic. Numerous examples of what this looks like are provided.
  • Facilitating students’ understanding an author’s perspective on a topic (and how it may be similar to or different from their own perspective).

These last two topics are especially important to anyone interested in promoting critical literacy.

This is a hefty list, and the authors accomplish it with substance and polish. They clearly explain what decision making requires by using a clearly elaborated sequence: introduce lessons on a nonfiction topic; show different ways to record thinking; confer with students and identify the type of thinking students are currently doing; and, make a choice about what to teach next.

While doing so, the creators provide excellent and abundant sample lessons and book suggestions. For example, when discussing narrative nonfiction, one book they highlight is Don Brown’s Odd Boy Out (HMH, 2008). This picture book biography of Albert Einstein was selected because it provides a variety of perspectives on the scientist and because readers need to synthesize information from both the text and the art to get the most out of the life story. Two pages of the book are reproduced and annotated to illustrate this point. An appendix provides additional, available resources related to this title and each featured work in the book. These sample lessons orient readers to viewing teaching as a way of providing students with choice and agency, but also demonstrate how to provide appropriate guidance.

In addition, the authors prompt educators to try out new ideas, no matter what stage they are in their teaching, offering suggestions for things to do tomorrow, and others that take more time and effort, while gently encouraging them to let go of practices that limit their decision-making abilities. And finally, each chapter concludes with a list of easily accessible videos depicting the authors working with teachers and students. These videos, like the book, are clearly focused, informative, and inspiring. VERDICT A well-conceived guide to teaching nonfiction, chock-full of book suggestions.—Myra Zarnowski, Queens College, CUNY

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