Synthesis for Session 8: Nonfiction, the Neglected Stepchild?

25 10 2011

The first book club products of The Change Project are in. First category of books: Nonfiction.

Nonfiction books selected by the clubs were . . .
Jeanette Walls’s The Glass Castle (click for project page)

Susan Kuklin’s No Choir Boy (click to see project page)

On the project pages, you’ll learn about the social justice connection the clubs identified in each book and see some similarities and differences in the clubs’ approaches based on their responses to the books. The Glass Castle Club was impressed by how important geography was for Jeanette’s nomadic family and chose to create a Google Lit Trip. While the No Choir Boy Club shared personal interviews reflecting the interview format of their book. Both responses were creative and empathetic. And very much in keeping with our Learning Through Literature With Young Adults Framework with the principles of “teach the student and not the lesson,”” teach each objective so it’s accessible to different learning styles,” “use technology to allow students to create,””express your creativity in your teaching,” “make a real world connection to the literature” front and center.

The Change Project is off to a great start with sequential art YA books (book clubs) to be added and speculative fiction (independent projects).  We’ll culminate with an interview with speculative fiction writer (horror, specifically zombie apocalypse) Jonathan Maberry on December 5th in the Bookhenge.

We also culminated our nonfiction collaborative critical inquiry by discussing themes and essential questions for each book and how we might cultivate creativity, empathy, and social justice through our teaching with the book.

Theme and essential question:

The Glass Castle

Theme:  Poverty

Essential Question:  How would a teacher make the poverty (and really the rest of Jeanette’s life) real to students?  How to help them empathize?

No Choir Boy

Theme:  Justice and current limitations and issues of our current capitol punishment

Essential Question:  Is our justice system fair?

I’m curating a Scoop It that I think will be helpful for thinking about the creativity-empathy-social justice connection — “Cultivating Empathy”

pic of scoop it

Finally, to synthesize our inquiry into nonfiction, specifically the boys and reading connection.  I think we all agree with Ryan’s statement that “a good memoir has an edge that fantasy never will.”  Many of us accept to some degree Aronson’s theory that boys need to have more books that help them act forcefully on their worlds.  And we reviewed the recommendations from Guys Read, a project to encourage boys to read created by former Children’s Laureate and renowned children’s book author, Jon Scieszka.  Foremost might be in what are often female-gender-centric schools, role models for guys so they can overcome what Annie describes as some of the “social conditioning” they receive that reading is not cool.  We also considered that it’s not always that guys are turned off to the topics of books but that the pedagogy may not meet their needs.  Recommendations from the Ontario Ministry of Education’s synthesis of the research on boys and reading were shared.  Specific strategies included making the learning more social (collaborative learning), incorporating music, adding a strong visual language component, making the learning “exportable” or of value in the real world, engaging with powerful ideas, and facilitating opportunities to experience  “flow” or total immersion.  We also touched briefly on Siddulph’s (cited in the Ontario report) theory that boys are often positively influenced to become more literate because of their relationships with their teachers.

We had fun with the recommendation to integrate popular culture as a way to engage guys.  Here’s a video that uses popular culture to generate interest in the founding fathers of the United States — “It’s Too Late to Apologize: A Declaration” by Soomo Publishing.  This is what this generation’s Schoolhouse Rock looks like”

One way to integrate nonfiction and, hopefully, make it more palatable, is to use fiction as a bridge.  An excellent example is Katie Moore’s interactive WebQuest (WebQuest plus Web 2.0 tools for student media production), Dr. Benjamin Rush:  Philadelphia’s Savior or Vampire Doctor, that includes both Laurie Halse Anderson’s YA fiction, Fever 1793, and Jim Murphy’s An American Plague.  A spinoff project by Krystal Chambers demonstrates effective pedagogy for boys (and girls) with group projects using Dipity to create digital timelines of the period.

More next time on “writing as the most open space in the curriculum” (Newkirk, 2001) and its connection to creativity and empathy.

Video archive of the class . . .




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