Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Understanding the problem in fifth grade

I’ve been an apprentice in a fifth grade classroom for three weeks now. So far, there has not been a nonfiction book in sight. I don’t anticipate the next three weeks will be any different. As my understanding of the demanding schedule and curriculum requirements imposed by the district increases, so does my sense of the problem.

The students are currently completing a unit on realistic fiction. That means they are reading realistic fiction in their reading groups, writing their own realistic fiction stories in writing workshop and borrowing realistic fiction during their weekly visit to the school library. In other words, immersion as an educational approach.

While I can certainly see the value in this, I’m naturally drawn to what this leaves out. The school day is jam-packed and there is rarely any time for kids to just pull out a book and read. Half an hour of reading for homework is standard but, yet again, free choice within the boundaries of the literary unit. Is the average kid going to pick up a different kind of book during the week and do additional reading? I think we all know the answer to that.

Reaching for a good book of one’s choice. It’s so very personal and essential to foster a love of reading. We all know that kids love nonfiction and that, if given the choice, a kid will often choose it over fiction. Right now, in fifth grade, kids are getting their daily dose of nonfiction by studying reading comprehension passages for standardized tests. It seems like it’s come to this. Do we try, once again, to overhaul the imperfect system? How many voices can be heard? Difficult questions, to say the least. While we mull them over, I’m going to start small. But I’m definitely going to start. I don’t think I could teach any other way. I’ll report back.


Christina Kennedy said...

I'm glad you're there to raise your voice for those fifth graders! My two children LOVE nonfiction - they're 4 and 7. I got so discouraged by the daily fare at our public school that I pulled my daughter out to homeschool last year mid-way thru first grade. We have been having so much fun learning together, and it's so exciting to explore big ideas with the help of books. Thank goodness for our local library and their fantastic inter-library loan system!

Vicki Cobb said...

Isn't "realistic fiction" an oxymoron? What does that mean? That the story is generally true except where the author decided to embellish? How can the reader discern where truth ends and embellishment begins? Are kids supposed to learn how to do this? I remember a long time ago writers added fictional characters to nonfiction books to make them more accessible. Needless to say, these characters were extremely superficial and contrived and readers could see right through this ploy. The challenge for nonfiction authors is to tell a compelling story without artificialies and gimmicks. And the challenge for fiction authors is to tell a compelling story that has its own truth. I'm not sure what there is to be gained by genre that seems to be hedging its bets.

CC said...

Disinterest in reading anything beyond school requirements begins earlier than 5th grade.
How about the school and or library sponsored mind dulling "reading as sport" events. Prizes are awarded for the MOST books read during the event which could be over hours, days or weeks (how many books can you read this Summer etc). Often the stress is on fiction at this age. Can't think of a more organized way to kill the desire to read. Only when kids discover the wealth of ideas, information and inspiration found in books is the true reward, does appreciation and enjoyment of reading, fiction or non fiction flourish. As a child, non fiction (biographies) were my joy filled ticket into reading.

Irena said...

My kids are 5 and 9(in fourth grade),and they love non-fiction,plus she loves to write a lot on daily basis about everyday things.

Anna M. Lewis said...

Just asked my 4th grader what's been going on at school. But, of course, the main thing they are doing is practice tests. Grrrr!

His pick for NF unit was a book on Toy Inventions. Gotta love it!

Thanks for the great post, Linda!