Friday, June 13, 2014

Got a Minute for Nonfiction?

Many teachers around the country have ramped up their use of nonfiction in the classroom due to the Common Core State Standards. Even teachers who have always included nonfiction in their reading/language arts instruction have found the need to increase their students' exposure to nonfiction.

Nonfiction is very different today and it was when we were growing up. The use of archived materials and high resolution photographs has transformed the visual aspects that kids are so drawn to and the writing is no longer stuffy and boring. The new nonfiction is exciting, interesting, engaging, and makes kids wants to learn more. However, it can be difficult to stay on top of new releases and quality nonfiction.

This is were Interesting Nonfiction for Kids (I.N.K.) comes in. I.N.K. is a blog started by several authors of children's and young adult nonfiction (there are currently 27 authors who contribute posts to the I.N.K. blog). The authors take turns posting about their writing - topics, research, writing process - that give insight into the very interesting world of creating nonfiction. Kids can connect to nonfiction authors just as passionately as they do with fiction authors! Reading and responding to nonfiction authors' posts about their writing can encourage young readers to try writing their own nonfiction and to spark ideas for their own research.

There is also a website for the group, the i.N.K. Think Tank. The website houses a database of nonfiction books linked to the CCSS (free login required), video trailers of new nonfiction books, author interviews and profiles, podcasts of authors discussing specific topics, and information on how to videoconference with nonfiction authors.

Now, the authors at I.N.K. have a new resource for teachers: the nonfiction minute. The premise is that a nonfiction author will create a podcast that is no longer that 2-3 minutes on a topic about which they have written. The text of the podcast is included on the post. Teachers could start the day with the Nonfiction Minute and invite kids to discuss the topic and think about their own inquires.
A really exciting activity could be for students to create their own Nonfiction Minute using free audio recording software already available on most computers or programs such as SoundCloud or Vocaroo. After listening to several weeks or even months of Nonfiction Minutes created by nonfiction authors, students could discuss the important aspects of creating their own: engaging and interesting topics, what to say about the topic in 2 - 3 minutes (a summary? a hook? leave them wanting more?), use of prosody to convey meaning and engage the listener.

The website will not officially launch until the fall, but there are several examples available now. Every day a new nonfiction minute will be posted to the site.

The authors at I.N.K have given teachers and students great resources for finding quality nonfiction books and for learning more about topics, the authors, and their writing process. If you use any of the I.N.K. resources in your classroom, please consider sharing the ways you and your students use them.

Monday, June 2, 2014

An Inquiring State of Mind

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a group of teachers. They were talking about a new approach that the human resources department of their school district is taking to hiring new teachers. Rather than asking the candidate a series of questions about teaching - questions presumably they should have some knowledge -- the new approach places the candidate in a new situation to see how s/he will respond. The purpose is to provide insight into a new teacher's personality.

What's personality got to do with being a good teacher? According to an article published on MindShift and written by psychologist Thom Markham titled, Do You Have the Personality To Be an Inquire-Based Teacher?, personality has everything to do with being an inquiry-based teacher.

In chapter eight of Reading, Writing, and Literacy 2.0, I write about the importance of inquiry-based teaching, "Inquiry is a disposition that influences the way in which all classroom activities are approached" (p. 123). And, it is critical to preparing students for the job market.

I encourage you to read and reflect on the personality attributes put forth in the article as necessary for an inquiry-based teacher:

Are you optimistic?
Are you open?
Are you appreciative?
Are you flexible?
Are you purposeful?

Then, think about how the technology tools discussed in chapter eight might support inquiry-based teaching in your classroom. What books and articles have you read that helped prepare you to be in inquiry-based teacher? Post them in the comments below and I will collect them in a subsequent post.