Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Bridge to the Classroom

As most of you know, the questions I’ve been asking for many years, the questions behind the database of our books aligned to national education standards on the Ink Think Tank website and the questions behind the formation of Ink Think Tank itself are: Why aren’t our books used as primary reading sources in classrooms? Why are our books usually considered “enrichment” not to be read as part of the daily fare? Why are teachers so intent on “covering” curriculum material that has a good chance of showing up on assessment tests rather than on engaging students in a true learning process? One possible answer is that “covering the material” is entrenched tradition shored up by lesson plans, questions for discussion, and tests provided by textbook companies. Teachers fear that in straying from this path they’ll miss something crucial for the tests. (Never mind that the tests are made up of reading selections excerpted from our books.) Is one of reasons that our books are not used as widely as they should be this the lack of support materials? Do teachers need help in understanding how to use nonfiction literature in the classroom? Is the prospect of creating one’s own support materials, figuring out how to use nonfiction literature in the classroom, overwhelming for the overworked teacher?

According to
Dr. Myra Zarnowski, who teaches nonfiction literature to prospective teachers, both graduate and undergraduate students at Queens College, CUNY, the resounding answer is: Yes! They do need a bridge to know how to effectively use our books. And Myra is just that. She is our “not-so-secret-weapon” at bridging the divide between authors/teachers/students. In recent days I have come to appreciate what she brings to the mix. We didn't do so well on our own. Let me explain.

Last school year, Ink did an experiment. We tried out a couple of “Computerside Chats” where authors talked online about using our books in the classroom. Myra listened and felt that our chats were not as focused as they could be. So we asked for her help.This year Myra is hosting a series of CILC “Spotlight” webinars where she is interviewing us with real strategies and guidelines for teachers. It has been an eye-opener for me! While there is some overlap between authors and teachers,the skill set needed by teachers is not the same as those used by authors. Myra suggests using our books in three different ways.

1. The author as co-teacher. How does the book help illuminate the content you have to teach?
2. The author as exemplary writer. How does the author bring the “magic mix’ of being funny, friendly and factual to connect with the reader?
3. The author as inquirer: How does s/he know what they know?

How do I know Myra’s approach so well? We’ve been working together. I’m in the first of four free “Spotlight” webinars produced by CILC along with Alexandra Siy. Science Writing that Makes You Question What You Know will be live on November 30, 2011 from 4 to 5 pm EDT. It will be recorded and archived.

The other upcoming Spotlight events (all from 4-5 pm Eastern Time) where Myra interviews INK authors are:

Person-Centered Views of the Past: Penny Colman, Jim Murphy, Andrea Warren 2/1/12
Innovative Picture Book History and Social Studies: Trish Marx, Roz Schanzer 4/25/12
Math and Science for Young Thinkers: Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, David Schwartz 5/16/12

For more information and to register for Science Writing that Makes You Question What You Know go
here. Hope to see you there.


Peggy T said...

Thank you for this kind of insight, Vicki. I was once asked how I wanted teachers to use my books, and honestly, I was dumbstruck. Read them, of course, was my first reaction. But then I started to think about what the question implied -- there needed to be a reason to use my nonfiction titles. They wouldn't be considered just fun to read like fiction would be. Since then, I've thought hard on how I can help teachers 'use' my books, but, since I am not a teacher, it is hard for me to think up lesson plans, etc. These interviews will be enlightening for teachers, but also for other writers like me.
Peggy Thomas

Myra Zarnowski said...

I think that the authors' contributions are enormous. Great nonfiction really enlivens the classroom and helps us all think and learn. I don't expect the author to be a teacher too, but I do expect to tap into the author's considerable expertise.

The big issue for me as an educator is that reading a book for pleasure--as wonderful as that truly is--is not teaching with books. If we want to teach with books, we need a plan for how to effectively do this with approximately 30 children. Last year I introduced fifth graders to "reading with an inquiry minded stance." We all read to find out how scientists were trying to solve the problem of colony collapse disorder-the reason why honeybees are dying. We read great nonfiction. We focused on (1) the problem, (2) the problem solvers,(3) what they were doing, (4) what they found out and what questions remained. This focus was productive and interesting. We made a big chart of our findings and we did lots of other related reading and writing. We took a trip to a bee hive too. It all fit. So, in short, I am interested in have a big, interesting purpose for learning. Within this, I also want to teach reading, writing, vocabulary, and content skills kids need. The content that nonfiction authors provide makes my life as a teacher varied, interesting, exciting, and just a plain pleasure! But I need to use that content as the context for instruction. And, of course, I want to do that respectfully--without beating your books to death. I want the kids to love reading your books and make learning irresistible.