Navigating The Literacy Continuum to Guide Responsive Teaching

by Helen Sisk, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Faculty

 

helen-siskTeaching in a responsive manner requires us to think reflectively about literacy growth by noticing and analyzing student talk and written work. We reflect on why students respond in certain ways and know how to help them take on next steps in building a complex and flexible literacy processing system. It takes a skillful teacher to do this effectively.

One tool that can guide our decision-making is The Literacy Continuum: A Tool for Assessment, Planning, and Teaching (Fountas and Pinnell, 2017) It is a valuable resource to support us in observing what students know and understand as readers and writers and it informs our teaching. It is organized around eight literacy learning continua that span grades PreK-8. Not only is it aligned with literacy standards, it includes detailed descriptions of student progress over time.

The Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University is excited to offer an introduction to this continuum during our summer institute for teachers of grades K-6: “Navigating the Literacy Continuum to Guide Responsive Teaching,” This institute is an opportunity to delve into the new, expanded edition of the Literacy Continuum, and learn how to use it as a guide to observe, plan, teach, and reflect on literacy teaching.

The reading focus in this institute includes extending teacher and student talk for effective processing during interactive read aloud and shared reading. Two other components that further address comprehension include guided reading and writing about reading.  All of these literacy elements will be explored.

The writing focus begins by understanding the continuum of word study and how it progresses over the school year and across grade levels. We will study student writing to develop purposeful mini-lessons and the talk surrounding teacher-student conferences to identify strengths and next steps to address in teaching.

Come hear Irene Fountas discuss the Literacy Continuum and its impact on teaching and learning. Work in small groups with literacy trainers and other teachers to refine your practice and expand your knowledge about the teaching of reading and writing.

We hope to see you here at Lesley University for our Summer Literacy Institute, July 10-13, 2017. Register now!

When Independent Reading Isn’t Working

by Guest Blogger Kari Yates, Educator/Author and Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

I can think of nothing in the school day more authentic, more differentiated, and more essential than the joyful time when students nestle in with self-selected texts for high-volume, high-success reading (Allington, 2009). Whether you call it independent reading, read-to-self (Moser and Boushey, 2014) or reading workshop, engagement is the priority for readers at every age and stage of development. This is the time of day students can grow leaps and bounds, applying what they’ve learned elsewhere to texts they are personally invested in.

Kari YatesYet, sometimes getting and keeping a whole classroom of diverse readers settled in and reading for real can be a challenge. And of course, if they aren’t engaged, this becomes nothing more than lost time.

So, what can you do to maximize every reader’s engagement during independent reading? Below are five suggestions to help you do just that (and without points, prizes, or prodding).

  1. Confer every day as much as you’re able.

When you confer, you pull up alongside a student in order to offer your partnership as a fellow reader. You engage in authentic, in-the-moment assessment, through observation and conversation. You listen with openness and empathy, working to identify interests, successes, and struggles. You celebrate efforts and strategic actions, nudge students forward toward next steps, and help them make plans and set goals to help themselves as readers. Regular conferring gives you a front row view of a child’s reading life; positioning you to make wise decisions for instruction across the literacy framework, including future conferences, flexible small groups, and whole group instruction. Without regular conferring, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever leverage the full power of self-selected independent reading. Conferring is just that powerful.

  1. Consider book choice first.

Engagement during independent reading begins and ends with the books students hold in their hands, as well as those they’ve selected for standby. Whether it’s a fancy basket, a simple plastic storage bag, or a cereal box, having portable personalized collections at their side provides students a direct link to engagement for independent reading. When every reader chooses and regularly curates their own good-ft collection, they will always have a variety of topics, authors, genres, lengths, and levels at their fingertips. When a reader finishes or needs a break from one book there’s no need to go searching; he can simply reach into his box to find something else. So, if you’re worried about engagement you’ll want to start by getting curious about that reader has chosen for this collection. A quick conference to get a peek in the book box and have some conversation with the reader can provide loads of information.  Find out what kind of texts they’re truly excited about and which texts aren’t really working for them, then provide strategic support. Every choice a child makes can provide clues as you work toward helping the student become a more strategic book shopper. Book choice deserves more than a few quick lessons in the fall of the year; it is crucial work that goes on throughout the year. Helping students become savvy book selectors can be a messy business, but is essential if they are to be able to carry on a reading life in the real world. Helping readers develop their capacity to regularly find books worthy of their time and attention – books that they both can and want to read- is a critical skill; one worthy of our time and attention.

  1. Bless many ways to read a book.

If every reader in the class is expected to read every book word-by-word, page-by-page, cover-to-cover engagement is likely to suffer for all readers, but particularly for readers who don’t yet have the skills or stamina for processing long stretches of text. However, when you make room for young readers to have choice not only about what to read, but also about how to read the books they’ve chosen, you open up a world of possibilities for meaning-making and critical thinking. To raise engagement levels of all readers, consider teaching students other ways to read a book such as read the pictures, retell, reread favorite parts, reread the whole book, choose sections of interest, focus on features, alternate time spent reading a more challenging text with time spent reading a more comfortable text, and occasionally decide to abandon a book altogether.

  1. Be sure the classroom library is well-stocked and well-organized.

Healthy independent reading practices develop in the context of a thriving, growing classroom library. The library, like all living things, needs regular attention including grooming, feeding, and occasional weeding. Take a moment and step into your classroom library. Imagine yourself shopping for books there each week. Is the collection inviting, well-stocked and well-organized or has the school year taken its toll? Are the baskets clearly labeled?  Do they contain topics, authors, series, or genres that reflect the interests of every reader in the class?  Without regular attention, classroom libraries can quickly fall into disarray, reducing, rather than increasing the likelihood that students leave the library equipped with good-fit texts.  And when students leave the library texts they are less than excited about, you can be sure engagement will suffer.

  1. Regularly take time for reflection.

How are we doing? What can we celebrate? What might we need to do differently? As a professional you likely use questions like these to you reflect on your practice, keeping the wheels of improvement in motion. But when you can involve your students you can multiply the positive effects of reflection. Taking just a few minutes at the close of independent reading to look back and reflect can serve invaluable in terms of shaping independent reading habits. As you scaffold reflective practices for your students, they learn to identify successes and struggles, learning from both and using what they notice to make intentional plans for the future. When we value reflection enough to take time for it even a few times per week, it impacts not only independent reading, but empowers students with a skill that can be applied to any setting or situation.

Independent reading can and should be a joyful and productive time of day for all readers. With these five suggestions as starting points, more engaged independent reading can be within the reach of every child.

Please join me at Literacy for All for more conversation about conferring with readers, embracing the messiness of choice, and taking your next move toward move toward high levels of engagement in a reader-centered classroom.

Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader Centered Classroom, Heinemann, 2015.

Simply Inspired Teaching

@Kari_Yates

Allington, Richard L. 2009. What Really Matters in Response to Intervention: Research-Based Designs. Boston: Pearson.

Boushey and Moser. 2014. The Daily 5 (Second Edition);Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Setting the Stage for ­­­­Joy and Independence in Reading

by Irene Fountas, Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Author, and Featured Speaker at the 2016 Literacy for All Conference

A classroom is a place where children can thrive in a language-rich, print-rich, social environment every day of the school year. When you support continuous inquiry, children’s fascination with people and the world, and multi-text based learning, you engage the hearts and minds of your students. They learn how to learn and develop a sense of agency that will propel their literacy learning across the year.

2-kids-choosing-books

 

The foundation of growing up literate in our schools lies in authentic literacy learning that brings together children’s language and background experiences with the world of print and media. It begins with getting wonderful books in every child’s hands and selecting high quality complex texts that capture children’s attention with the language, craft and ideas of fiction and nonfiction texts. And it continues when the fabric of the classroom is reading, thinking, talking and writing about books.

The early milestones for developing students’ views of themselves as readers and writers include setting up an organized classroom library in a range of relevant and appealing categories, providing a variety of enticing book talks and teaching your students to do the same, teaching students how to select books that interest them and they can enjoy, teaching students how to talk to each other about books, and introducing the reader’s notebook as a place to reflect on reading through writing.

When students spend their time reading books, thinking about books, talking about books, and writing about them, they build the stamina and independence that places books at the center and promotes a lifetime of joy in reading.


Irene Fountas will be speaking at the upcoming Literacy for All conference, October 23-25, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. Her sessions include:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Celebrating the Twentieth Anniversary of Guided Reading: Elevating Teacher Expertise in Differentiated Instruction (Grades K-5) 

Irene Fountas, Author/Director, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University, MA
Gay Su Pinnell, Author/Professor Emerita, The Ohio State University, OH

 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Digging Deep: Teaching for Reading Power in Guided Reading Lessons (Grades K-5)

Irene Fountas, Author/Director, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University, MA
Gay Su Pinnell, Author/Professor Emerita, The Ohio State University, OH

Interventions: The Observant Teacher Knows That There Are Times All Learners Need Them

By Guest Blogger Laura Robb, Author and 2016 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

“I never thought that Josiah would need help,” Mrs. Kensey said. “He’s one of my best readers and he works hard. But he struggled to make inferences with informational texts.”  Like Mrs. Kensey, many teachers believe that students who work hard and excel at school won’t require interventions. However, if we look at our students through the lens of independent and dependent learners, we can adjust our view of intervention. Independent learners have the confidence, skill and strategies to solve learning problems while dependent learners lack self-confidence and the skill and strategies needed to support completing challenging tasks on their own. Students (and adults) move back and forth between being independent and dependent learners. Let’s understand this swinging pendulum by looking at a two examples:

  • When teachers present a new strategy such as inferring with informational texts, there will be students who can infer with fiction but can’t transfer the skill to nonfiction.  However, by modeling the process of inferring with nonfiction in an intervention conference and asking students to practice, you can observe their strengths and needs, scaffold their learning, and move them to independence.
  • If students lack the vocabulary and background knowledge to read and comprehend new information such as space geometry, nuclear meltdowns, or the Cold War, they will need interventions—scaffolds that build vocabulary and background knowledge so they can comprehend  unfamiliar information.

It’s important that teachers understand that independence is not a fixed point on the achievement scale. Instead, when a student who is a high achiever faces a learning roadblock, he or she will ask for and accept help without losing self-confidence and self-efficacy. It’s the student who lacks self-confidence and has negative feelings toward school and learning who teachers must continually observe and interact with because they are unlikely to ask for help when they encounter difficulty. To observe whether students have absorbed and can apply the strategies and tasks you’ve modeled, embrace and use the three interventions that follow.

Intervention 1: Two-to-Three-Minute Conversations

An important purpose of this brief intervention is to decide which students you can support during a two-to-three minute conversation and who requires a five-minute exploratory conference. Observe, listen, and ask students’ questions as you circulate among them while they are reading, writing, or working in small groups. Such daily interactions enable you to check on the progress of students you previously helped and continue monitoring all students as they practice new tasks and work independently.

As you circulate look for behaviors that show students are disengaged from the work: the student isn’t reading, writing, or sharing during a student-led discussion; a student is doodling in his notebook, slumping in her seat, or resting his head on the desk. Have an on-the-spot informal conversation with each student and decide whether you need more than a short conversation to scaffold the learning. Difficulty with applying a strategy, completing a writing plan, revising a journal entry, or taking notes, usually requires a longer conference. However, issues such as changing a text that’s too difficult, figuring out the meaning of a tough word, or getting started on a response to a text can usually be supported during a two-to-three minute conversation. Jot the high points and suggestions of this conversation on a sticky note and give it to the student as a reminder.

While you find the time to confer with a student, have him or her work on a task that he or she can successfully complete independently such as reading a self-selected book or working on a project with a peer partner. If you have time, schedule a five-minute exploratory conference that day or the next day, so you can decide the kind of support that student requires.

Intervention 2: Five-Minute Exploratory Conference

The purpose of this one-on-one intervention is to help you decide how much support a student needs to move to independence with a task. It’s possible that you can clear up the student’s confusion in one to two conferences. However, there will be times when your observations of the student practicing a task such as finding text evidence or comparing and contrasting two characters indicate the need for a series of three or more short conferences to move that student to independence.

Intervention 3: A Series of Five-Minute Conferences

If your exploratory intervention reveals the need for more in-depth scaffolding, schedule a series of five-minute conferences. Hold five-minute conferences in a quiet place in the classroom while other students are completing work independently. Set up a small table or a student desk away from other students so you have privacy while conferring. A student will be reluctant to share his or her feelings and concerns if everyone in the class can hear.

By spending five minutes a day with a student you gain the time to model, have the student practice and think aloud in front of you, then gradually release responsibility for competing the task to the student. These conferences support students if you focus the task. If students need help with text structure, decide what genre you’ll focus on and identify exactly what the student needs to understand.

Most five-minute conferences are between the teacher and one student. However, if there are two to four students practicing the same strategy with you, you might bring them together once they are close to achieving independence. Often, at this point in the scaffolding, asking students to practice together and share and discuss their process can quickly move them to independence.

Pre-Plan Five-Minute Conferences

Pre-planning asks you to carefully reflect on your observations of a student, focus the conference, but also develop several possible scaffolds. It’s beneficial to have several scaffolds ready to try because there is no one sure fix-up strategy for a student. This way, if one scaffold derails, you can immediately try another on your list of possibilities.

The conference form that follows provides you with a written record of what transpired during each scheduled meeting. Use this documentation to decide on your next teaching moves and to point out progress to students. As students experience success and learn to associate positive feelings with solving learning challenges, they will develop the self-confidence and self-efficacy needed to be independent learners—most of the time.

*All names are pseudonyms.


Five-Minute Scaffolding Conference Form

Student Name_____________________Date____________

BEFORE THE CONFERECNE

Focused topic:

Teacher’s preparation notes:

 

AFTER THE CONFERENCE:

Student’s comments:

 

Outcomes:

 

Negotiated goal:

 

Check one:

___schedule another conference

___have the student work with a peer

___let the student work independently

 

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Laura Robb is speaking at the 2016 Literacy for All conference in Providence, RI on:

Monday  (10/24/16)

10:30 am – 12:00 pm– Deep Reading, Deep Writing Using Multiple Texts (Grades 3-8)

3:30 pm – 5:00 pm–  Quick and Meaningful Intervention Tools and Strategies for Classroom Teachers That Can Move Students to Independence (Grades 3-8)

 

Tuesday (10/25/16)

10:15 am – 11:45 am– Deep Reading, Deep Writing Using Multiple Texts (Grades 3-8)

 

Resisting the Frenzy: Staying the Course of Common Sense in Literacy Teaching

3.20.15 Irene Fountas Photo

by Irene Fountas, Author, Professor, and Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University

In the past several decades, there have been a variety of movements that have shifted literacy teaching in our schools. Often the newest trend has meant a total mind-shift of instructional practice for teachers. Certainly something important can be learned from the emphases of each movement, but each swing of the pendulum has also left out some important areas of literacy teaching and learning. One cannot simply make the assumption when there is a new movement in the midst that the worthy new areas of emphasis are not already implemented in schools that are implementing a high quality literacy approach.

When we have articulated our values and beliefs about meaningful, authentic literacy learning in our schools, we can examine the contributions of each new movement in the light of well-grounded principles and stay the course of common sense in our responsibilities to our students, instead of shifting to a new bias that may compromise our commitment.

I will address a few of the key areas we have articulated in our work in supporting high quality literacy approaches that we believe have stayed the course of common sense for almost three decades.

First, every student deserves to have a meaningful and interesting reading life and writing life in school.

This means students read and write for real purposes every day in school and have choice in what they read and write. Choice breeds students’ sense of agency and promotes engagement, and furthers the development of one’s tastes in reading and one’s voice in writing. With the appropriate learning environment and scaffolding, students learn that reading and writing are thinking and that they can think about a variety of topics, authors and genres when they read and mentor with the thinking of the best of writers when they write. They experience some teacher-selected high quality literature and nonfiction, but also a good selection of self-selected material that builds their understanding of their selves and their physical and social world. They learn from their teachers how to make the good choices that offer enjoyment and expand their breadth and depth as readers, writers, and global citizens.

Second, students need a variety of structured opportunities to talk throughout the day.

Talk represents thinking. Students need to think and talk in school. This means pair and triad talk, small group talk, and some whole class discussions that have intent, not just talk for talk’s sake. This includes such instructional contexts as reading or writing conferences, literature discussion groups, guided reading groups, and interactive read aloud lessons that include pair or small group talk. Teachers sometimes don’t realize they are dominating the talk and robbing the students of the process of learning through verbalizing their understandings and building on or challenging each other’s ideas. The one who talks is the one who learns. Teachers play a key role in helping students learn how to use language that promotes conversation and the analysis of texts with others to achieve deeper understandings than any one reader could achieve on his own. When students discuss a variety of fiction texts, nonfiction texts, and poetry in a community of readers and writers, they learn how to use the language and vocabulary of literate people. These rich experiences build their background knowledge and academic vocabulary and put each learner in the role of a literate being.

Third, the text base for learning needs to include a variety of high quality fiction and nonfiction texts, primary and secondary sources, as well as poetry. 

The classroom text base needs to provide access to age appropriate, grade appropriate material that is of high interest and value. Sometimes the texts students are asked to read simply aren’t worth reading or don’t engage their intellectual curiosity. The texts need to be meaningful, relevant, developmentally appropriate and made accessible. Alongside this rich base, students need the opportunity to lift their reading powers with the precision teaching made possible with the teacher’s use of carefully leveled, challenging texts at the student’s instructional level. These texts allow for the differentiated, intentional teaching that each student deserves to develop an effective processing system and move forward as a self-regulating, independent reader.  Photo of Girl Reading

Fourth, students deserve to be acknowledged as unique learners.

Every student and every group of students is different. When teachers learn how to systematically observe the strengths and needs of individuals, the assessments can inform instruction and the teaching can be responsive. No assessment is valuable if it doesn’t result in better teaching. Good assessment gives information on how students process texts and what they understand about words, language, and text qualities. High quality literacy opportunities are built on the strength of the teacher’s expertise in assessing the readers and writers he/she is teaching. Some teachers fall into the trap of teaching students as if they are all the same or focus on teaching the book or program, not the diverse group of students in front of them. Effective teachers assess at intervals to document progress and assess by the minute to fine tune their decisions in the act of teaching.

Staying the Course 

These are some of the mainstays of high quality literacy opportunities for every student. Learning to read and write is complex and will require the complexity of teacher decision-making with sound rationales that are rooted in students’ observable reading, writing and language behaviors. Let’s look to the new movements for what they add to our expertise but keep our good sense about what really matters.

For more information about the Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative events and trainings, visit our website at www.lesley.edu/crr .

Balancing Opportunities for Children to Think and Talk About Text

Kathleen-FayGuest blog post by Literacy for All Conference featured speaker Kathleen Fay, Primary Literacy Collaborative District Trainer for Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia

When I taught Reading Recovery, I remember being blown away by the question, “What is the child’s theory of reading?” I hadn’t thought about interpreting behaviors to reveal a possible reading theory for each child. One child may enter school with a solid foundation that books make sense, we talk about them, and we have favorites. Another child may think that reading is getting the words right, or remembering the words. School situations, testing situations, home interactions, bedtime stories, listening to a funny story, being asked about ideas… each interaction has the potential to contribute to a child’s theory of reading, positively or not, regardless of intention. As teachers, we only have control over what goes on in our classrooms. As such, what we say to children, how we listen to them, and how we respond to them, can contribute to their identity as a reader (a writer, a learner, a person) and how they perceive what reading can do for them. It is as exciting as it is daunting.

Here’s an exaggeration to illustrate my point. A child reads a text during a guided reading session and is asked a series of questions to follow up: What happened? What happened next? What happened at the end? What was your favorite part? Why do you think the author wrote this story?

Regardless of the intentions behind this interaction, there are possible contributions to the child’s in-the-head theory: Reading is about remembering what I read. I have to prove to them I just read the text.  My responses are either right or wrong. I should like what I read. Once I figure out what my teacher wants me to say, she’ll be happy with me, or she’ll leave me alone.

We want kids to be active and genuine in their thinking. To reveal this thinking, we have to have authentic conversations with them. Yet we have to be careful of our tone and that even open-ended questions don’t feel like a barrage. I have to constantly remind myself to be genuine. Wait. Listen. Talk with. Especially with tentative children, I’ve tried to use statements instead of questions:

  • I wonder what you’re thinking…
  • Let’s pick a part to talk about…Let’s talk about…
  • I wonder why [the character] did that.
  • Wow, I didn’t know that! That makes me think …

Interacting this way, the theory we hope to be building is: Someone cares about what I think. I have something to say. My ideas matter. It’s okay not to know. Sometimes people aren’t sure, but they share what they are thinking anyway. There are books we like and books we don’t like. I can learn something when I read.

It’s not about which prompts or opening moves are right but the importance of balancing opportunities for children to think and talk about text and that the joy and pleasure in books may not be about the author’s message or the main idea of the story. Sometimes it’s just about enjoying a few quiet moments of undivided attention that isn’t scripted or defined by standards. I’m reminded of this when I read with my daughter. For the past few weeks we spend time every night searching for the ten hamster children, noticing another parallel in the illustrations, and playing with different voices in Peggy Rathman’s Ten Minutes Till Bedtime (1998). In these moments, books bring us together. My hope is that our quiet (or very loud) talk, impromptu reactions, and play with texts build her theory that reading is worthwhile and what she contributes is valued and brings meaning to this enjoyable experience.

becoming-one-communityKathleen has more than 20 years of experience working as a classroom teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, and most recently, as a Literacy Collaborative Coach in Title I schools. She is co-author, with Suzanne Whaley, of Becoming One Community: Reading and Writing with English Language Learners (Stenhouse, 2004). She will be presenting at the upcoming Literacy for All conference in Providence, RI. Her sessions on Monday, November 3 and Tuesday, November 4 include: 

LCD-5 — Keeping Meaning at the Forefront of Book Introductions (Grades K–2)

LCF-3 — Keeping Meaning at the Forefront of Book Introductions (Grades K–2) 

LCG-2 — Using Small-Group Read-Alouds to Support Young Readers (Grades K–2)

Originality—the Nonfiction Advantage

by 2014 Literacy for All Featured Speaker and Guest Blogger, Sneed Collard III

FireBird.finalCovOnly lo-resLike many people, I enjoy reading before going to sleep every night. Lately, a curious thing has happened. Despite a stack of novels next to my bed, I’ve found myself exclusively reaching for nonfiction books to wrap up my day with. Many factors could explain this phenomenon, but I think I’ve figured out the real reason. Nonfiction, unlike fiction, is more likely to offer me something I crave: originality.

I should explain here that I make my living as a writer, and have been writing both fiction and nonfiction children’s books for thirty years. And while I’m very proud of my novels, I’m the first to admit that the stories in them have been told before. Sure, I offer new characters, voices, plots, and twists, but the basic barebones stories are as timeless as storytelling itself. I recognize this in my favorite adult novelists, too. I enjoy their work, but I rarely encounter something fresh and original.

The same cannot be said of nonfiction.

Unlike fiction, nonfiction has the potential to offer readers almost limitless refreshing, thought-provoking, and often delightful experiences. In the past month, I’ve read three amazing books: Scott Anderson’s Lawrence in Arabia, Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat, and Mark Karlansky’s Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. Each of these books provided pleasurable, surprising reading while inducing me to think about the world in a slightly different way. How can that be?

Simple.

The world is an astonishingly complex and fascinating place. Furthermore, it is filled with the myriad experiences of more than seven billion people. Almost every thing and every person has a fascinating story to tell—one that probably has never been told before. For the nonfiction writer, it’s not too difficult to come up with a story that breaks new ground. Nowhere is this more true than in my primary field of expertise, the biological sciences.

About two years ago, for instance, I got interested in woodpeckers and heard that Professor Dick Hutto, an ornithologist at nearby University of Montana, happened to work on them. I called him up and asked if I could buy him a coffee, and find out exactly what he’d learned about these birds. Our chat amazed me.

It turns out that, although Dick Hutto did know a lot about woodpeckers, what he knew even more about were burned forests. After the fires of 1988, he and his wife began poking around burn areas all over the West. All the press had been negative about the fires, and he wanted to see for himself if the fires really were the terrible, destructive force everyone was claiming.

Turns out, they weren’t.

In his first year of looking through burn areas, Professor Hutto observed more than 100 species of birds nesting in and using the burn areas. That launched him into studying the importance of burn areas not just to birds, but to thousands of other species of animals and plants, too. Over the next few years, in fact, Dick would discover that burn areas aren’t just important, they are essential for many species of life. In the West, for instance, dozens of bird species use burn areas, and 15 species use them more than any other habitat. These birds include American Robins, Mountain Bluebirds, and the ultimate “fire bird”, the Black-backed Woodpecker.

Not surprisingly, once I heard this story I knew that I had to write about it. I began reading scientific papers, going out into burn areas with Dick, and interviewing other scientists as well. The result is the book Fire Birds—Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests (Bucking Horse Books, Missoula, 2015). I’m very proud of this book, and not only because it’s a fun, engaging story. What I love about it is that the book offers young readers—and, I hope, adults—a topic that they’ve never seen before, one that has the potential to change how they think about our world.

And that’s the beauty and power of nonfiction. We humans still know so little about the world. What some of us do know often isn’t ever transmitted to the rest of the world. I am so excited when I discover a new interesting person or historical event or natural phenomenon, and children are too. Recently, there’s been a big push to incorporate more nonfiction books into classrooms and to me, this is a no-brainer. While fantasy and other fiction books are often shoved down young readers’ throats, I’ve never found one half as interesting as the real world around us.

If you are an educator, I encourage you to look beyond Common Core requirements in choosing the books to share with your students. Instead, embrace the remarkable complexity and diversity of our planet. When you start sharing real stories with your kids, you won’t need to force them to read. Instead, you’ll join them in a great journey of discovery.

Sneed Collard will be presenting at the 2014 Literacy for All Conference in Providence, RI:

LCB-2 — Common Core Canines: Great Dog Books to Use in K–8 Curricula (Grades K–8)

LCD-3 — Exploring the Frontier of Children’s Literature (Grades K–8)

In addition to Sneed’s sessions, there are two other sessions at the conference that will focus on nonfiction literature:

LCF-11 Best Nonfiction Literature (Grades K–2) with Catherine Desjardins, Julie Connors, Julie Murray, and Nicole Daly

LCD-14 The Reality Is: Nonfiction Books Kids Will Want to Read (Grades 3–6) with Susannah Richards