Academic journal article Language Arts

Lessons from Research on Young Children as Readers of Informational Texts

Academic journal article Language Arts

Lessons from Research on Young Children as Readers of Informational Texts

Article excerpt

"What's the main idea?" is a question that reverberates through elementary school hallways during literacy block. In a variety of literacy participant structures-read-alouds, shared reading, guided reading, and literature discussion groups-elementary teachers direct students to locate the main idea of select narrative and informational text passages (Poole, 2008; Santori, 2011). Identifying the main idea of an informational text passage is a Common Core State Standard (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) articulated across multiple grade levels (e.g., RI 2.2, 4.2). For instance, the grade 3 Standard reads, "Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea" (RI 3.2).

Locating the "main idea" of a written passage is not the only informational text reading goal of the CCSS or the aligned assessments (cf. PARCC: http://www.parcconline.org; SBAC: http://www .smarterbalanced.org); the CCSS list a range of such goals, including that young students be able to make sense of both print and visual text features. However, in my experience in the last 20 years as a teacher, teacher researcher, and teacher educator, I have seen the aforementioned practice increasingly dominate literacy pedagogy and assessment. Across the same time period, quite perplexingly, a growing body of research documents the limitations of literacy pedagogies (cf. Larson, 2001; Saul, 2004) and assessments (cf. Moore, 1996; Zacher Pandya, 2011) that point students toward single answers paraded as neutral truths, regardless of a reader's context or purpose.

In this article, I highlight several findings from the last 25 years of literacy research to present a broad range of perspectives on what it means to develop young children (grades pre-K-4) as readers of informational texts. I begin by discussing limited conceptions of literacy embedded in pedagogies that treat informational texts as "self-sufficient bearer[s] of unadorned facts" (Poole 2008, p. 379). I then present research undergirded by sociocultural (Street, 2000) and multimodal perspectives (Kress, 1997) on literacy to illustrate that when it comes to reading and discussing informational texts for a variety of purposes, young children are capable of initiating and entertaining complex insights and inquiries.

Shifting Main Ideas about Informational Texts, Young Readers, and Literacy

"Information comes dressed in many clothes" (Kress, 1997, p. 1 )-words, photographs, illustrated drawings, charts, and diagrams-in as many forms as new technologies will allow (Salisbury, 2004). It has been argued that informational texts for children contain a wider range of linguistic (Pappas, 2006) and visual (Unsworth, 2001 ) features than do more familiar narrative genres and pose significant challenges for young readers (Chall, 1983). Furthermore, because informational texts potentially contain non-redundant verbal and visual features for any given topic (Lemke, 2000), reading informational texts requires reading multiple modes, such as words and images, and reading the relationships between and among them.

Given the theorized difficulties of informational texts, educators may feel obliged to scaffold young students' understandings of informational genres more explicitly than narrative ones (Farest, Miller, & Fewin, 1997). However, pedagogies whereby teachers direct students toward specific, single, assumedly correct answers have been increasingly called into question. Insights from reading theory and research indicate that meaning is never unambiguously coded in the text and that readers' purposes and contexts inevitably shape the meanings they construct, even from informational text (Aukerman, 2007; Poole, 2008). What counts as literacy-including what counts as proper sense making of an informational text and, consequently, who counts as literate-is inseparable from ideological and sociocultural constraints (cf. …

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