Monday, May 19, 2008

The Importance of Linking Writing with Science and Social Studies

I came across an excellent podcast from Tony Stead on Miguel Guhlin's wiki. Tony Stead is an Australian educator who has written books about the importance of reading and writing non-fiction with primary/junior students.
I have always thought that we teach far too much fiction and not enough non-fiction in school and that is why we have comprehension difficulties with textbooks in the higher grades. Our schools have leveled books in classrooms and book rooms - how many of those texts are non-fiction?

Stead has found that:

In K-2 classrooms, 95% of writing experiences were with personal narrative and story.
By 6th grade, children will have spent 84% of writer’s workshop composing personal narratives, stories, and writing from prompts

  • 73% of students read nonfiction at least 3 Reading Recovery levels below that of their fiction.
  • 15% of students read nonfiction 3 grade levels below their fiction.
  • By third grade, only 7% of students struggled with decoding nonfiction at their grade level.

  • We teach decoding, how to get through text, but we spend little time helping them understand what the text is actually saying. ESL children can easily learn to decode but because it’s a 2nd language, they don’t have understanding of which words to use for concept. They can read at 28 level of Reading Recovery, but comprehension level of 4.
  • You know which kids who are going to be your strongest readers and writers—it’s about oral comprehension.
  • Students who were competent readers of nonfiction were also competent in reading fiction, but not vice versa (my emphasis).
  • Boys were more competent than girls in comprehending nonfiction but girls read with better phrasing and pace.
  • Boys slow their reading down because they want to make meaning of non-fiction. They do what every child should do—they fight to read.
  • Children can read 3–4 levels above what they’re benchmarked on topics they’re interested in.

You can read through the notes to get the flavour of the presentation. The podcast is quite long (it's the whole presentation he gave at the conference) but I listened to it while I was working on other things.

But the gist is integration of curriculum - combining social studies/science, inquiry-based learning and non-fiction writing.

He also talks about shifting the use of the KWL strategy to the RAN strategy. KWL is only useful if the student has sound background knowledge. If a student has weak or incorrect background knowledge, then the second category of KWL (what I need to know) will also be weak because really the student doesn't know the right questions to ask - his research questions will not be set up correctly.

RAN - Reading and Analyzing Non Fiction Strategy

What We Think We Know Yes we were right New facts Wonderings Misconceptions

  • Whatever the content area is—such as sharks—I am not going to start off with what do we know. As a class, I ask them, what do you THINK you know? Why is this better terminology than what we think we know?

This techniques allows for diagnostic assessment of background knowledge. This gives the teacher a way into kids' heads and allows the teacher to differentiate for the class. He says that kids will read books to confirm what they think they know - they are more engaged. This strategy changes the way kids read and is the basis of thinking and inquiry-based learning. When you use the RAN with social studies, this strategy will bring up bias and prejudices that the students have - a good thing to know so that this can be addressed in the unit.

Lots of really good information on this podcast - perhaps a personal summer professional learning opportunity as you'll need some time to listen to the podcast. Is That a Fact is available through our board's Professional Bookstore (only available to board staff).


pc said...

A confirmation once again of the value of incorporating additional non fiction reading material in a balanced curriculum. Most interesting. Thanks for the informative post.

Ben said...

I'm a firm believer that reading and writing should not be restricted to the English class, and your blog definitely confirms that. I've found several helpful downloadable ebooks at that address reading and writing across the curriculum. They've been very useful to me, as well as the site in general actually. Great blog!