That maxim that you learn something new every day? Seems like these past six weeks or so have been making up for all the days I was loafing around learning nothing.
Here are a pair of gems separated by a few years that got me thinking of non-thesis (but still relevant) ideas. A researcher found that despite the desire by first-graders in her study for more informational picture books only 3.6 minutes a day were spent on nonfiction. The problem, apparently, is that teachers and researchers are unfamiliar with the genre (nonfiction) and found the material in nonfiction picture books initially difficult to “manage or discuss.”
In short, the adults don’t have the familiarity, experience with, knowledge or comfort with nonfiction picture books.
This all comes from an article called “A Unique Visual and Literary Art Form: Recent Research on Picturebooks” by Carol Driggs Wolfenbarger and Lawrence R. Sipe, as published in Language Arts in January of 2007. But then I run into this blog post by Marc Aronson published on the School Library Journal website not just a few weeks ago:
Books about, say, Galileo, the Curies, George Washington Carver, and even Columbus, Washington, Lincoln, TR, FDR, Jane Addams, Clarence Darrow were all essentially the same narrative — a far sighted individual grasped a truth, battled the prejudices of his or her time, and, eventually led humanity towards a better, brighter, future. We as a society agreed on that master plot line as either true, or, certainly, the kind of truth it was important to bring to young readers.
Because there was a generally agreed upon master plotline for biography… We have precisely the same situation today in epic film where, since Star Wars, we have been in the land of the Hero’s Journey. Because that master plot is so known and assumed, it is as available to be used for a father fish searching for his lost son as a chosen child training at a school for magicians. The shared master narrative makes it easier to craft individual movies.
Ah! So we’ve had a history (since the late 19th century, I’ve discovered) of this shared narrative that only recently has been changed in children’s books, especially picture books. Aronson points out that since we no longer have this master narrative, since we now feature biographical subjects with a more balanced hand at humanizing them (Aronson’s term), that adults no longer know how to read or decode these new narratives. The result is that adults say they don’t like nonfiction (or for boys, don’t acknowledge it as “legitimate” reading) with the consequence being that those in charge of children’s education spend fewer than 4 minutes a day highlighting the importance of nonfiction.
What could you learn in 3.5 minutes a day? I had my youngest daughter work it out. In the year she learned how to play the recorder at school, dividing that time she spent with music lessons twice a week, from first lesson to spring concert, it would have taken her nearly five years to cover the same ground at 3.5 minutes a day.
When we hear news reports about how the US lags in math and science scores, and about how there’s no interest in science in general, is it any wonder if we give emerging readers and learners short shrift when it comes to nonfiction?