Nonfiction Texts and Achievement

By Loertscher, David | Teacher Librarian, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Nonfiction Texts and Achievement


Loertscher, David, Teacher Librarian


Nonfiction, informational texts (the "true" books), real-life texts, and expository texts are about the real world, as opposed to the world of narrative and the world of story and fiction. Historically, fiction and narrative text have been used to teach children and English-as-a-second-language students to read, assuming that the relative simplicity of the text and the power of story help students who are struggling with decoding, comprehension, vocabulary, and other skills, therefore helping them become fluent readers. However, researchers have noted for some time that children who are fluent narrative readers do not automatically transfer their fluency to nonnarrative and expository text. Thus, an avid reader of fiction may not always score at the top of a reading test in which understanding from expository text is being tested. This is not surprising, because the test is measuring something other than what narrative provides.

It would be instructive to examine the various reading tests given to children and teens of all ages. What percentage of a typical test given to the children in your school is assessing narrative or expository text understanding? Teacher-librarians, who understand that entire schools are being judged on these tests, should respond to support the educational goal even when the love of reading is a central program element of the library media program. The two objectives need not be antithetical, competitive, or even enemies. Teacher-librarians realize that the informational texts are central to research and information literacy and that narrative is the foundation of enjoyment.

THE RESEARCH

Consider the following findings:

The calls to use nonfiction in the classroom are much more plentiful than the actual research supporting the idea, although it makes sense that learners who read expository text would score high on tests that assess understanding derived from that type of text.

Caswell and Duke (1998), in a case study of an English-as-a-second-language reader and a poor reader, note that major improvement in reading happens when expository text is used, rather than narrative text, particularly when the reader's interest is piqued by the topics in the expository reading (e.g., motorcycles, insects, animals, history).

Taylor and Beach (1984) note that middle school readers do much better in understanding expository text when they are taught how to recognize text structure (main headings, subheadings, summaries, charts, sidebars, etc.); in other words, teaching skimming and scanning techniques helps readers' understanding.

Meyer, Brandt, and Bluth (1980) note that ninth-grade students who use text structure clues score significantly higher on reading tests when compared to those who do not. …

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