August 2, 2008

Nonfiction Author Studies in the Elementary Classroom

By Abdullah, Amal

NONFICTION AUTHOR STUDIES IN THE ELEMENTARY CLASSROOM. Carol Brennan Jenkins & Deborah J. D. White (Eds.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007. 160pp. $19.00. Are you an elementary educator searching for methods to effectively integrate nonfiction books into the classroom curricula? Then you should read Nonfiction Author Studies in the Elementary Classroom, edited by Carol Brennan Jenkins and Deborah J. D. White, each of whom has several decades of experience in the education field. In the initial chapter, Jenkins discusses the importance of nonfiction author studies, as well as the three pivotal perspectives associated with reading nonfiction literature. She advocates for "a model of nonfiction author study as multiple response that respects the layers of response-personal, text-based, and biographical response-that readers bring to an author's corpus of works" (p. 2). Furthermore, the book supports the notion that students' efferent responses to nonfiction texts should be preceded by personal responses. The remaining chapters, written primarily by teachers, highlight five units based on the nonfiction texts written by the following authors: Gail Gibbons (Chapter 2); Ann Morris (Chapter 3); Jim Arnosky (Chapter 4); Jean Fritz (Chapter 5); and Sandra Markle (Chapter 6). The nonfiction author study units were created and implemented by the classroom teachers, and the units support the literacy development of students, including students with special needs and English language learners. Also, the book contains thorough curricular maps and helpful suggestions for Internet search strategies.

The nonfiction author studies presented throughout the book are impressively detailed, providing samples of students' written assignments, useful examples of literacy mini-lessons, biographical information about the nonfiction authors, and much more. The units highlight how nonfiction author studies can foster numerous opportunities for students to engage in meaningful writing activities, in addition to enhancing students' comprehension skills and vocabulary acquisition. Nonfiction author studies extend beyond learning mere biographical information; they enable students to explore the content written by the author and gain insight into the author's writing style/techniques and the motivation behind an author's published books. Hence, students are ultimately motivated to research, write, and become "authors" themselves.

I was particularly impressed with the unit titled "On the Go With Ann Morris," which was developed for and implemented in a classroom consisting mostly of English language learners. Using Morris' nonfiction texts, classroom teacher Joanne George and teacher educator Julie Coppola created literacy lessons that embraced the rich diversity of the classroom, thus providing meaningful literacy experiences for the students. In George's classroom, the students created family trees, conducted research, wrote reports on countries of their choice, and explored the writing of personal narratives.

As a note of constructive criticism, the nonfiction author study unit devoted to the nonfiction texts (biographies) of Jean Fritz appeared rather subjective at times. While biographies are regarded as nonfiction literature, the selection of facts to include in a biography is a subjective process. Thus, I highly suggest that educators include opportunities for students to employ the use of critical literacy skills in order to analyze the historical events and the actions of the historical persons studied in biographies.

Reading nonfiction books encourages students to activate and retrieve prior knowledge, while simultaneously expanding their knowledge. Nonfiction author studies facilitate invaluable opportunities for educators to seamlessly integrate content-area knowledge into literacy curricula. Thus, I highly recommend this informative educational text to lower and upper elementary grade teachers, as well as to literacy specialists and special education teachers. The five units presented in the book could be easily altered and/ or enhanced in order to support the interests and literacy development within any elementary classroom. Most important, nonfiction author studies increase students' incessant thirst for knowledge! Reviewed by Amal Abdullah, B.Ed., Substitute Teacher, Sylvania Schools, Springfield Local Schools, Oregon City Schools, Lucas County, OH.

Reviewed by Amal Abdullah, B.Ed., Substitute Teacher, Sylvania Schools, Springfield Local Schools, Oregon City Schools, Lucas County, OH.

Copyright Association for Childhood Education International 2008

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