Looking Back on Elementary Nonfiction Literacy

This year, SURN held its inaugural Elementary Nonfiction Literacy initiative.  Two elementary teachers in grades 3 through 5 from each of SURN’s member school divisions were invited to participate in a series of three workshops designed to enhance teachers’ nonfiction literacy strategies and skills.  Each workshop focused on specific strategies for promoting elementary nonfiction literacy, while the themes of student engagement and student choice in nonfiction literacy overarched and were integrated across the three workshops.

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The first workshop, held in December, focused on integrating Power Tools strategies in the elementary grades, both in content areas and in literacy instruction through the use of nonfiction texts.  Also occurring during this session was an introduction to Edmodo, an online platform that participants used for between-session networking and assignment submission.  Participants were introduced to current research on elementary nonfiction literacy that highlighted the importance of helping students to develop nonfiction literacy skills.  Participants left the session charged with the task of constructing a text set and energized to begin integrating Power Tools strategies for nonfiction literacy into their classrooms.

When SURN Elementary Nonfiction Literacy participants returned for their second meeting in February, they arrived with shining examples of texts sets.  After sharing these with peers, participants engaged in a full-day workshop focused on the importance of student engagement and choice in nonfiction literacy.  During this session, participants were introduced to John Hattie’s work on high yield teaching strategies, and participants were provided with a framework for assessing student engagement through the use of SURN’s observation protocol.  The importance of student choice in nonfiction literacy was emphasized through an experiential book sorting activity, following which each teacher received approximately $100 worth of nonfiction trade books to keep and use in their classrooms.  With these new resources, participants were tasked with creating and teaching a lesson that integrated nonfiction literacy strategies and skills.  Participants were also asked to observe their co-participant teaching her lesson using SURN’s observation protocol, and to provide each other with formative feedback based upon the observation process.

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Participants returned for the final session with high-quality lesson plans to share.  The final session focused on developing classroom procedures conducive to student choice and engagement.  Presentations highlighted real-world classroom practices modeled by SURN member school teachers that provide clear structure and organization to promote student engagement and choice.  Additional information on differentiation strategies for nonfiction literacy was shared with participants to ensure teachers could begin the 2014-15 academic year with a clear plan for integrating nonfiction literacy practices across the curriculum from the first day of school onward.  The remainder of the final session focused on affirming the work of the teachers throughout the Elementary Nonfiction initiative.  A Gallery Walk allowed teachers to describe changes they’ve made and would like to continue making to promote student engagement through nonfiction literacy.  Teachers left with an invitation to apply for one of several SURN Elementary Nonfiction Literacy book grants, which will provide teams of teachers with $750 in nonfiction books for their classrooms.

Between each session, teachers were actively engaged in submitting assignments, providing feedback to peers, and exploring connections between workshop content and real-world classroom practices via Edmodo.  The ongoing dedication and commitment of the teacher participants was evident and impressive, particularly given the impact of multiple snow days on the teachers’ classroom schedules and plans.  The teachers were supported throughout the process by the Power Team, a group of three teachers and one SURN staff member who shared first-person reflections and feedback on the importance of topics addressed throughout the Nonfiction Literacy initiative.  Additionally, the Power Team members served as allies for the teachers, validating the challenges encountered and providing ideas for overcoming obstacles inherent in trying something new.

Next year, the SURN Elementary Nonfiction Literacy initiative will embark on year two.  The capacity, motivation, and enthusiasm of the elementary teachers who participated this year makes SURN eager to continue to support elementary teachers in channeling their motivation and excitement toward promoting student success in and engagement with nonfiction literacy!