Nonfiction books motivate reluctant middle-school readers, reports a sixth-grade teacher and children’s book author. Judith Hendershot, working in collaboration with Barbara Moss, San Diego State University, describes the results of a two-year-long study of sixth-graders’ engagement and response to nonfiction reading.
Hendershot and Moss contend that even though research has shown that older students often prefer nonfiction to fiction and that nonfiction makes up 50-85 percent of the circulation in juvenile libraries, middle-school classes are dominated by fiction. Since continued improvement in vocabulary and reading comprehension is tied to the amount of reading students do, motivation to read is particularly important to continued growth as students get past the early elementary grades.
Becoming comfortable with nonfiction reading is also important for older students because learning increasingly requires independent reading of textbooks. Students who reported reading magazines and informational books had higher average reading proficiency than those who never read nonfiction.
Offering nonfiction choices for reading
Two classes of sixth-graders were followed in this study. Half the students were African American. Students included similar numbers of high-, medium-, and low-level readers. Prior to the study, Hendershot’s classroom contained about 150 fiction books and few nonfiction books. By the end of the study, approximately 40 percent of the 350 books in her classroom were nonfiction. (Additions to the class library were funded through the school, grants and private sources.)
Students had daily opportunities to select nonfiction books for voluntary reading. In addition, Hendershot assigned nonfiction reading that was discussed biweekly by the whole class. These nonfiction selections were often read in conjunction with a fictional story on the same topic. Students wrote in journals about nonfiction reading and also read and discussed nonfiction books of their choice in small groups. Students kept logs of all the books they read.
Discussions and journal entries revealed that students chose nonfiction books for a variety of reasons, including curiosity or interest in a specific topic, visual features of the text, knowledge of the author, book awards, personal connections to the topic, and recommendations of other readers. The majority of students reported that having choices was critical to their motivation to read. Students said that discussions with peers were also highly motivating, as was their “need to know” about many topics.
At the end of the school year, approximately 33 percent of the students in both classes reported a preference for nonfiction over fiction.
“Exploring Sixth-Graders’ Selection of Nonfiction Trade Books,” The Reading Teacher, Volume 56, Number 1, September 2002, pp. 6-17.
Published in ERN November 2002 Volume 15 Number 8