Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Notes From the Field

I've been away on a speaking jag recently and not near my computer (and thus out of touch -- not that anyone noticed, of course). Two of the places I spoke at were the Pennsylvania School Librarian Association in Hershey and IRA in Chicago. I went asking how the changes in the CC would alter their respective worlds and came away without much information. Yes, numerous publishers, packages, and whatevers had signs up saying they already produced materials compatable with the changes, knew everything that would be happening regarding the CC, and inviting folk to chat them up. And I did meet a few people who were very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the changes. Susan Bartle, who oversees scads of libraries in NY, was particularly eloquent on the subject (and set a record for purchasing somewhere between 40 and 60 of my Scholastic books to give to various librarians she works with!!!). But what about the rank and file librarians and teachers?*
   * Most had a wait and see approach. No one had yet told them specifically what would be happening, so they were moving forward cautiously, essentially expecting a change but not initiating one on their own. One teacher did say she was moving the teaching of nonfiction from the end of her school year to the beginning (which I saw as an amazing and positive move). Others cited budget cuts as a problem (they couldn't just revamp what they do without a certain amount of expense and administrative review, so, while positive about the chnages and hoping they come about, they were sitting tight). *
   * What was heartening was the interest in how we put our books together. At IRA I was on a panel with Sneed Collard III, who spoke eloquently and with great authority about his work and it's use in the classroom; my talk was much more anecdotal in nature. But I think it fair to say that we both wanted to communicate a similar message -- that we do more than simply provide information in our texts, that they are works of art where we think about, worry over, re-work and fret about every word we write, every image and caption, everything. Of course, neither of us said that "work of art" phrase; we just painted a picture of how we work and hoped the audience would make that connection (and, in some small way, understand that what we do is as creative as, say, writing a novel). Maybe I should have been bolder and just said it or suggested it. I'm not sure. I'm not big on self-promotion so that sort of proclamation seems a bit unseemly to me. What was interesting and positve were the many librarians and teachers who came up to me and asked nuts and bolts questions (where do I get ideas, how long does the research take, where do you find information, etc.) so they could go back to tell their kids. The world is changing, sometimes startlingly quickly, sometimes grindingly slowly, but at the center is an interest in our process. And that I find very comforting.*
   P.S. Sorry, I couldn't figure out how to create paragraphs.


Jen Bryant said...

You're right, Jim. There is absolutley as much fretting & worrying over works of non-fiction as there is over novels and other forms of fiction. More, in fact, if my own experience is any indication! Your comments here (and at IRA) are much appreciated
& I do believe that there's some upside for us in the changes ahead regarding the CC.

Vicki Cobb said...

Jim, what the CCSS are asking students to do is all about process and not about curriculum. Education will be interested in us authors because we are masters of CCSS processes. They will want to know how do we do what we do. I believe in the future a lot more attention is going to be paid to our "unpacking" (as Myra Zarnowski defines it) our process so that others may emulate it. In effect, students are being asked to think like a scientist, or an historian, or a mathematician, not just sit and listed to what such people present to them through their work. Students will now have to read to learn. Something we do in spades.

Jim Murphy said...

Yes, Jen, I think nonfiction will benefit from the changes, though I think it will be a while (years?) before it becomes apparent. And, yes, Vicki, more and more about our process is being revealed, asked about, and studied. A very good thing, in my opinion.

Myra Zarnowski said...

As Vicki pointed out in her comment,the CCSS directs teachers to pay attention to the process of writing nonfiction. These standards deal heavily with the "craft of writing" as well as the message of books and other material. As someone who has been straightforward with his readers about where you stand on historical issues, you are a natural to now be even more transparent about how you gather and interpret information. We teachers will also be looking for several accounts of the same topic to show students that accounts can differ. We will be discussing an author's point of view. I find this very motivating. Don't be put off by teachers' "wait-and-see" attitudes about CCSS. Many have seen "new" ideas come and go. They will get on board when they see how stimulating it can be to really read and think about nonfiction.

Loreen Leedy said...

Jim, you should be able to hit the Return button twice and get a line between paragraphs. : )

Loreen Leedy said...

P.S. You may not be able to see the empty line in Edit mode, but hit Preview and it should be there.

Jim Murphy said...

Loreen -- Thanks for the helpful suggestions. I tend to hit all sorts of buttons and sometimes they work and sometimes.... But I do appreciate the suggestions.

Myra -- Yes, I'm actually hoping that what you foresee happens (and I think it will). I thought reporting about what the folk I interacted with were saying might be helpful on some level (I worry that some NF people expect that the CC changes will be implimented immediately, while I think a longer view might be a better way to experience all of this).