I was presenting it as something new but, I must confess, nonfiction children's trade books have been noticed for quite a long time. Who, exactly, has discovered these wonderful books? First, the creators of standardized tests. They excerpt our writing for reading comprehension passages. Second, educators of kids with learning challenges and the gifted. My question is: if these books are used by educators at each end of the learning spectrum, what are the great masses of "average or normal" kids in between compelled to read in school?
- Textbooks with worksheets, study questions, and quizzes
- Schoolbooks with worksheets, study questions and quizzes.
How come this is happening?
- If we're going to give standardized tests to compete with the way kids perform in other parts of the world, we have to standardize education, right?
- In order to standardize education we have to make it teacher proof. We have to assume that teachers can't be trusted to seek out their own study materials to fit curricula. We've stopped giving them creative autonomy. (Ask a public school teacher, " So, how's that working for you, lately?")
What happens when you give kids a taste of writing that is compelling, (not compelled)? Let's experiment and find out.
(Drum roll) Presenting the Nonfiction Minute --Short, self-contained essays written by award-winning children's book authors with an audio file so that the more challenged readers have access to content. Make them multi-media by including art and video as appropriate plus information about the author so students can get books at the library by an author whose Minute has whetted their appetite for more.
What are the results?
Five million page views and counting. Lots of letters and comments from teachers and students. We've added a Transfer to Teaching for each Minute (T2Ts), giving suggestions for using the material with students. (Don't know if any real kids actually went to the library, maybe someone can fill me in.)
March is Standardized Test Month. It creates so much anxiety that teachers are given instructions on how to preserve test answer-sheets with vomit on them. We hear our Minutes are used for test prep. That was not our intention.