Monthly Archives: July 2016

Summer Professional Reading – Reading Nonfiction: Notice and Note

Time to make the invisible visible. My goal with my next few posts is to document my thoughts from the professional books I read this summer, both to help me synthesize ideas and have a record I can check after the craziness of back-to-school is over.

Reading Nonfiction by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst could be called a companion to their first book, Notice and Note. In Notice and Note, Beers and Probst examined fiction, articulating six signposts – commonalities between many works – which readers should watch for, pause, and think about. They offered sample lessons for each signpost and questions students should consider when they notice these signposts. These were very beneficial to students in my classroom this year.

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In Reading Nonfiction, Beers and Probst tackle nonfiction reading. I expected the authors to name and explain six signposts for nonfiction, but the differences in various forms of nonfiction led them down a slightly different path. In addition to five signposts, they offered three “stances” and seven “strategies” to use with students.

Beers and Probst’s nonfiction stances will affect my teaching the most. The stances are questions students should keep in mind when reading. They  set a purpose for students’ reading of nonfiction and give them somewhere to go with their discussion. This is extremely important and will help facilitate discussion. Right now, my go-to nonfiction question to ask, “What did you learn from this?” Unfortunately, I often just receive a rereading of one random sentence when I call for an answer. This doesn’t leave much opportunity for in-depth or interesting discussion. The stances will improve this.

My favorite stance question is to ask students to read to answer the question, “What surprised me?” I tried this out on my six-year-old and found it an effective way to jumpstart a conversation after reading. Usually, the surprising information is the most interesting. The second stance question is, “What did the author think I already knew?” The goal of the question seems to be to help kids identify confusing parts. If a student says they think the author thinks the reader knows what photosynthesis is, then it is photosynthesis that is causing comprehension to breakdown. The third question leads to more higher-level thinking. As they read, have students think, “What changed, challenged, or confirmed what I already knew?” These questions could lead to the types of critical thinking we all want students to develop. (Note to self: Teach these early and often!)

The next section of the book moves into the five signposts students should notice and think about:

  • Contrasts and Contradictions
  • Extreme or Absolute Language
  • Numbers and Stats
  • Quoted Words
  • Word Gaps

While I think the stances were the most valuable takeaway from this book for me, I do think I will teach these signposts during a nonfiction unit. I will likely make a few changes to simplify and clarify these for my fourth graders. The first signpost, Contrasts and Contradictions, will receive a new name to distinguish it from the fiction signpost of the same name. The fiction signpost asks students to notice when a character does something you don’t expect while the nonfiction one is more about a contradiction between what is read and the reader’s prior knowledge. While these certainly are both contradictions, they are different enough to need a new name. I’ll probably also simplify the name of the second signpost a bit, though I’m not sure how yet.

With each signpost, the authors attach a question for readers to consider. For elementary classrooms, the authors suggest using just one question for each of the signposts — “What does this make me wonder?” I will likely add to that because I feel upper elementary students are capable of a bit more. My suggestion is for students to ask themselves, “Why did the author include this?” So, if a young reader notices a statistic, a quote, or an extreme claim, asking “Why did the author include this?” might help them look at the selection in a new way and think critically about the decision the author made.

The final section of the book strategies you could consider using with students. Because I was most interested in the during-reading aspect of reading, these weren’t as applicable for me, but I think content-area teachers in middle and high school could make good use of them.

Check out Reading Nonfiction by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst for much more detailed ideas and explanations!