Nonfiction Writing in the Primary Grades

Fellow edublogger and San Antonio ISD Director of Instructional Technology Miguel Guhlin wrote today about Tony Stead‘s presentation in his district concerning the literacy needs of primary age students.  Having been a primary teacher in my early years, I know the struggles educators encounter in this arena. 

Tony’s book, Is That a Fact?: Teaching Nonfiction Writing K-3, seems to be a wonderful step in the right direction to overcoming those struggles.  Tomie dePaoloa says in the foreword that Snead’s books is the “first, middle, and maybe even the last word on nonfiction writing for young, young children.”  Wow!  Strong words from a respected author.

Miguel points to several interesting statistics from Stead’s presentation.  The one that jumped out at me was that in K-2 classrooms, 95% of writing experiences were with personal narrative and story.  Now I love the fact that these two writing styles are covered.  There is nothing easier for a child to write about then what they know best: him/herself.  And at this point we are all well aware of how important story is for the development of right-brain-engaged students.  But I see Stead’s point here.  What type of writing do you do most now?  Me?  Persuasive passages/narratives (grants), blog posts to inform others, blog posts as a brain dump for reference personally, and last but not least, emails.  Nonfiction writing is at the forefront for me because I need to present facts in everything I write in my professional setting.  Even grants, filled with dreams and hopes, are based on facts as we know them and predicted outcomes based on research.  While I can include a personal narrative about my learning experience, it would mean little to nothing to a grant reader.

His research showed that 96% of all read alouds were with shared fiction.  Yet how many kids incessantly about their vast knowledge of dinosaurs, bugs, alligators, etc?  Should we not share more of these types of nonfiction books with them at the earliest stages?  The library generally is loaded with them, so why not take advantage of them?  Then load up Google Earth and show the kids where the animals originated or currently are found (remember Google Earth is on those flash drives we gave out during inservice).  Stead even has a modified KWL-ish chart in his book for these types of read alouds. He gives students manila folders to keep track of their own learning. Linda McKinney and Peggy Rains taught me something similar when I began teaching.  They used a spiral and the kids self-selected topics to read about and learn from. Personal Research on Basically Everything (PROBE) Journals is what they called them.  The great thing about Stead’s approach with his chart being used in this manner is that the students share their thoughts and new knowledge and can cross check facts in a group discussion. 

You can read Miguel’s notes of the presentation here.  Or you can listen to the podcast of Stead’s talk here.  He was gracious enough to record himself for Miguel. 

Thanks for posting this, Miguel.  And thanks to Tony for allowing it to be shared.  You know sharing knowledge like this is what makes our virtual community better and our classrooms stronger.

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