Teacher Nonfiction Book Clubs

Article excerpt

Teacher Nonfiction Book Clubs

Lindsay, an intermediate teacher, commented, "All of my professional development is with fiction. We hear about new fiction titles and how to use them in the classroom. I joined this nonfiction book club to help me gain insight into the genre before I used it with my students." Lindsay joined a book club to help her explore nonfiction literature and to think about the use of this genre in her classroom. It is impor- tant for teachers to examine their use of nonfic- tion literature because we live in an era charac- terized by a "globalized flow of information," (Luke, 2003) and students will work within a world that relies heavily on their ability to criti- cally read nonfiction materials and make deci- sions based upon what they have read (Duke, 2000; Freeman & Person, 1998; Johnson, 1970; Moss, Leone, & DiPiIIo, 1997). In order for students to do this well, they need explicit instruction from their teachers and extensive time to engage with such texts. Unfortunately, many students have little to no experiences with nonfiction texts in their classrooms (Duke, 2000; 2004; Flood & Lapp, 1986; Hiebert & Fisher, 1990; Hoffman, Roser, & Battle, 1993; Moss & Hendershot, 2002; Palmer & Stewart, 2003; 2005; Saul & Dieckman, 2005; Scharer, Peters & Lehman, 1995; Trabasso, 1994).

Students' limited exposure to nonfiction may result from teachers' personal preferences and attitudes towards this genre (Trussell-Cullen, 1999) or from teachers' limited experiences with and uncertainties about how best to use nonfiction with their students (Morgan, 2001). Forming a nonfiction teacher book club is one way to help teachers become more familiar and comfortable with nonfiction. As form of professional development, book clubs allow teachers to explore and expand the use of nonfiction in their classrooms together. Book clubs offer a way for teachers like Lindsay to investigate nonfiction literature in a supportive group.

Shelley Harwayne says "...book discussion groups remind teachers how rewarding it can be to read and discuss books" (as quoted in Micklos, 1992, p. 1 1) and she describes book groups as a "...painless way to grow professionally." Book groups help teachers:

* explore their own literacy

* make time to read and discuss literature

* analyze their personal preferences

* explore what they do as readers

* share quality literature with colleagues

* learn from their own experience by being a member of a book group

* share concerns or questions with colleagues

* modify or enhance classroom practices

* demonstrate being lifelong readers

Researchers who have studied teachers' book clubs report that participating teachers increase their personal enjoyment of reading and change their classroom practices to reflect what they learn from book clubs (Goldberg & Pesko, 2000; Flood, Lapp, & Panck-Buhr, 1995; Morgan, 2001; Zaleski, 1997; Zaleski, Duval, &Weil, 1999).

Our Book Group

While many school-based book clubs focus on reading professional literature or reading children's fictional literature, I lead a nonfiction book club with six teachers, grades 3-6, who volunteered to read and discuss nonfiction literature appropriate for intermediate grade students. The teachers ranged in teaching experience from 2 to 19 years and worked in elementary schools in urban, suburban, and rural school districts. We met approximately two hours every other week for a total of five sessions at an off- school location during the second half of the school year.

Typically, book club participants decide what they will read. However, in this book club, many of the teachers expressed having limited knowledge of nonfiction authors and titles; therefore, I selected the books. I chose the books based on well-known authors, such as Russell Freedman, Patricia Lauber, Jim Murphy, Laurence Pringle, and Seymour Simon. …

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