Teacher Tuesday

I’ve had the pleasure of writing two nonfiction picture books with my friend, Mary Nethery. It’s been such a rewarding experience as a writer and also as a reader, because it has opened my eyes to all the great nonfiction literature for children. That’s one reason I was especially excited that Cindy Beggs not only agreed to participate in Teacher Tuesday, but she wanted to chat about nonfiction. Cindy currently teaches  sixth grade at Yorbita Elementary, in La Puente, California; in the past, she’s also taught first and fourth grades.

Let’s first take a peek at Cindy’s past:
  •  Favorite school lunch as a kid: I loved the turkey and gravy our school offered. (and now looking back I have no idea why… 
  •  Best friend in grade school: I had two: Melissa and Sandi – we were three peas in a pod.
  • Times you were the new kid in school: Fortunately – never. 
  • Teacher who inspired you to stretch: My 6th grade teacher was amazing! (Mrs. Habermehl) To this day I remember vivid images of being in her classroom.  I also loved my high school math teacher: Mr. Baumunk.  I was not the best math student but he was always so patient and never gave up on us. 
  • The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved: This is a tough question… school came easily to me.  Something I always wanted to do, although not school related, was play soccer.  My mom wouldn’t let me – she thought it would be too dangerous. 

Now let’s dive in to how you connect kids and books, specifically nonfiction books. Talk a bit about nonfiction in your classroom.

Basically, every Friday, we focus on Non-fiction texts/books only.  Students can choose what they want to read, either from books they already have checked out from school or classroom library, or the book bins I put at each table full of non-fiction. Sometimes they are given a Scholastic News issue to read.  They read independently for some time in class, I observe and confer as they read, and then we come together for a mini-lesson that focuses on a non-fiction concept, skill, or reading strategy.  Students then either go back to their independent reading, or they do a partner share.  I also will read aloud to them from a non-fiction selection.
Can you talk about why you instituted Nonfiction Friday?

I instituted Nonfiction Friday for several reasons.  I implement Reading Workshop in my classroom and used to have a non-fiction unit but realized that this wasn’t enough.  Some students love non-fiction and would read this independently during the week at times, and wouldn’t always have the strategies, skills, or schema to navigate the text.  I felt like these students were being left behind.  I knew I needed to work in non-fiction sooner in the school year or more often in some way and then just had the epiphany to do Non-fiction Fridays.  

Other reasons were that I also wanted to support my readers who love to read non-fiction (mostly boys) and also wanted to incorporate Non-fiction read alouds throughout the year as well.  Non-fiction Fridays allows the opportunity for those who love and prefer non-fiction to deepen their love for NF and also gives strategies to navigate more challenging texts.  I also thought it was importa
nt for students to broaden their schema and I think NF helps that.

Non-Fiction Friday also encourages students who almost never pick up non-fiction to read non-fiction at least once per week. I still teach a non-fiction unit now in addition to our Non-Fiction Fridays. 

Tell us a bit about what NF Fridays look like. What is required of you to prepare for them?
NF Fridays starts with students choosing to read a NF text that they can finish within the class period.  I have buckets at their tables or they may read something they may have checked out from the library.  Students read the text independently first and complete a reading response that I created so they are interacting with the text.  That form changes somewhat as the year progresses but the basics are for the students to jot down new learning and wonderings. I then plan a mini-lesson for that day – I usually have a series of them for NF Fridays.  These mini-lessons are either strategy based to navigate NF, lessons to teach NF text structures, and/or lessons to teach our state standards.
I prepare the book buckets ahead of time – making sure there are a variety of topics, text layouts, and some biographies and autobiographies (most of these are picture book narratives).
What is required of the students?
In addition to what was mentioned above, students are also expected to be prepared to “teach” another student that day what they learned during their NF reading.  Whether it’s based off a new topic or a text feature or a strategy they tried.
Why do you think this is a worthwhile addition to your curriculum?
First and foremost, NFF helps build their world wide knowledge.  Also, much of the reading we do as adults is NF and I want to prepare them for the real world as much as I can.  Or at least, plant seeds. (Will also help support our Common Core standards…)
I can see how this might help students who already love/read nonfiction. But what about the kids that aren’t drawn to this genre?
For those who aren’t drawn to the genre: I do mini-lessons with the students introducing them to the Dewey Decimal system which I think opens their eyes up to topics they may not have thought about before.  I encourage them to think about people they want to know more about or periods in our history.  I find that eventually most of my students look forward to NFF. 
What skills do you see your students gaining from nonfiction Friday?

They are expected to learn the state standards for NF reading for CA and also life-long reading skills and strategies to navigate NF. 
Do you have a favorite anecdote of how Nonfiction Friday has changed a student?
What I hear often from many students: “I really like NF now.” – That’s a winning statement for me every time!
Would you encourage other teachers/librarians implement this program? Why or why not?
I think it depends on what their reading program looks like in general.  I know many of our teachers on staff incorporate NF in some way whether it’s through something like Scholastic News or TIME for Kids or current events.  I have done a quick overview of what I do with NFF to our staff at a meeting once – I think some teachers took some ideas away from that, but I think most teachers still do a NF unit.
What has most surprised you about Nonfiction Fridays?
The excitement from the students wanting to share what they learned during their reading.  I also love just observing their faces and reactions as they read NF – those moments where they are like, “Oh my goodness! That’s amazing! I had no idea that…!”
What do you wish you could tell publishers/authors about nonfiction for younger readers?
I think, overall, there is great NF being published nowadays.  And quite the variety as well.  So first, I would love to tell them, “THANK YOU!” And second, “Keep writing and publishing great NF!” 

For more of Cindy’s thinking about nonfiction int he classroom, visit her blog Paper Two Ways or follow her on Twitter:  @cb6luvs2read