“A game changer!” Dive Into the NCTE’s Position Statement on the Role of Nonfiction Literature
Did you miss it when it was released? Do you know how important it is?
Wait. Stop. Let me start in another way.
In a nation, where increasingly people ban and forbid the reading of children’s books that dare to tell factual information, can you think of a better time for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) to make a bold, declarative statement on the role of nonfiction literature in the lives of our children? Of course you can’t. We’ve never faced such an organized swell of misinformation, and the face of such willing ignorance the NCTE statement (available to read here) stands as a bold defense, not simply of children’s reading choices, but of the power, allure, and incredible love of nonfiction by kids.
It wasn’t long after the statement was released that I received an email from the doyenne of children’s nonfiction herself, Melissa Stewart. “This is a game changer!” she wrote, and she wasn’t wrong. But even better, she said that if I wanted, I could have her, Xenia Hadjioannou, (Co-chair, Penn State University, Berks Campus), and Mary Ann Cappiello (Co-chair, Lesley University) come here to the blog to say a few words about NCTE’s words. They’re a sampling of the ten writers who created the statement itself. Rounding out this panel? None other than NCTE Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick.
Folks, it is my very great pleasure to welcome them to the blog today.
Betsy Bird: Emily, I wonder if you could write out for me why you feel this statement was important for NCTE, not simply to consider but publish. How does it support NCTE’s ongoing mission and why is it important for something that some would argue is self-evident to be stated clearly and advertised widely?
Emily Kirkpatrick: NCTE leads the field of English language arts in a variety of ways. Position statements take a stand on policy and practice within the profession and are regularly tapped by literacy educators to assess current thinking and advocate for particular practices within the profession. All position statements are backed by peer review, research citations, as well as discussion and ultimately approval by the NCTE Executive Committee.
The new nonfiction statement speaks to growing the use of nonfiction in ways that embrace the expanded quality of nonfiction published to address some of the most urgent student needs. NCTE continues to address the varied opportunities, risks, and obligations around literacy in a digital age. Whether research, visual literacy, critical literacies, or media literacy, nonfiction should be a growing asset to all teachers and students. When NCTE’s Executive Committee discussed the necessity of this statement last summer (July 2023), substantial conversation included that students love nonfiction and may be dissuaded from embracing it due to a variety of factors. We seek to eliminate such barriers through this position statement as well as continued professional learning to come.
BB: Thank you. And to the rest of you, a question I’d like the rest of you to answer, but in your own way, is what needs to change. How is the NCTE Nonfiction position statement a step in the right direction?
Mary Ann Cappiello: For the last sixteen years, I’ve been teaching a course in nonfiction literature for young people. And each and every time, I see that it’s a paradigm shift for my students, who are either preservice or inservice teachers. While teaching this course is deeply satisfying for me… it’s not enough to change the field one teacher, one course at a time. There are children, tweens, and teens hungry for these books. Getting nonfiction into the classroom libraries, into the language arts, science, and social studies curriculum, is an important next step. It’s an exciting time for nonfiction, which has never been more innovative or creative, and it’s time to expand the role these books can play in K-12 schools. Nonfiction literature for young people is a great way to model information literacy in developmentally appropriate ways, to contextualize primary and secondary sources for children in meaningful ways. This, too, is an urgent matter.
Melissa Stewart: Right now, classroom libraries have four times more fiction than nonfiction. School libraries have two sections for fiction, but only one for nonfiction. This position statement gives educators an opportunity to pause and reflect about the choices that led to this inequity.
This statement is a win for the children I meet at every school who proudly spout strings of facts about marsupials or dinosaurs or the planet Mars. It’s for the third graders who raise their hand in the middle of my presentation and shake it at me until I call on them because they can’t wait to tell me they see a pattern in my book Can an Aardvark Bark? These students need access to the kinds of books that will fill them with joy and have the power to turn them into lifelong readers.
Xenia Hadjioannou: As a longtime children’s literature enthusiast, who reads tons of children’s books, I am continuously enthralled by the amazing new nonfiction books for young readers that are published every year. There is such vibrancy in language, artistry, and range of topics. There is so much interesting, compellingly organized information that can thrill, surprise, and engage readers. Information that can help readers construct more sophisticated and nuanced understandings of social and natural worlds and of their roles within them. Yet, nonfiction books typically occupy small sections of school and classroom libraries and home shelves. They are even less present in school curricula, where nonfiction literature tends to only find its way in during isolated units. And it is not because children don’t like nonfiction books. In fact, we know that most young children enjoy nonfiction as much as fiction, and some even prefer it.
It was therefore important to ask: What can be done to expand the presence of nonfiction in the reading lives of children and in their school environments? How can we reframe perceptions of what nonfiction literature looks and sounds like? How can we support teachers in envisioning a diverse and expanded range of options and opportunities to use nonfiction in support of their students’ learning?
Educators, like all professionals, look to their professional organizations for guidance and inspiration regarding their practice. NCTE is the organization literacy teachers look to. That’s why an NCTE position statement on nonfiction literature emerged as an important component in the effort to expand the presence of nonfiction literature in K-12 education. It cannot be the only step, but it is an important step in the right direction.
My hope is that teachers and teacher educators will be inspired to read more nonfiction literature for young people and consider how they can expand its presence in the reading lives of their students, alongside fiction and poetry. I hope that more exceptional nonfiction will be added to library collections, and that teachers and librarians will be just as likely to recommend a great nonfiction book as any other great book. I hope that teachers will consider, adopt, and adapt the statement’s recommendations for using nonfiction literature in their reading and writing instruction; in their pursuit of visual, information, disciplinary, and critical literacy objectives; and in nurturing their students’ interests and curiosities. And I hope that when these practices are potentially questioned by others, this position statement will be useful to educators in explaining and supporting their choices.
I cannot thank these four women enough for coming here today. As mentioned before, you can find the NCTE Position Statement on the Role of Nonfiction Literature (K–12) here. Find it. Read it. Internalize it. And then put it to good use.
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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