Tag Archives: RCA2011

Position Paper

In middle and high school English classrooms across the country, nonfiction is too often used only as either reference material or a short unit mid-way through the year to fulfill state standards.  This was my own experience in high school, and it was not until I reached college that I discovered that there were entirely new worlds of literature I had never accessed.  Disregarding the genre and suggesting that it does not hold as much literary value as fiction does is detrimental to students’ learning.  By integrating it into the curriculum, English teachers can use engaging nonfiction to develop student self-efficacy while fostering creativity.

Douglas Hesse suggests three major advantages to integrating non-reference nonfiction into the language arts curriculum.  (I’ll refer to non-reference type nonfiction as creative nonfiction, which includes memoirs, essays, literary journalism, place/feature writing, biography, etc.)  Firstly, we should teach creative nonfiction to give our students a better map of the textual world.  It may be simple to boil down genres and teach nonfiction as only reference material, but that is not an accurate depiction of literature.  If you scan the shelves at a bookstore, there are thousands of books that don’t fit into our boiled down genres.

Secondly, he suggests that we need to teach our students literacy beyond the institutions.  Sure, it is vitally important that they can write an analytical essay, but reading nonfiction can offer them literacy beyond that.  (Though, as Jennifer Wells points out, reading creative nonfiction can help students on college admission essays and the like.)  Hesse writes, reading nonfiction can “shape our civic, social, and personal lives, our senses of the world and ourselves in it” (Hesse 20).  Reading nonfiction can give students our view of the larger world and help them form their own viewpoints.

Lastly, Hesse claims that reading nonfiction fosters creativity.  He writes, “creative nonfiction is especially valuable for teaching a kind of imagination that differs from pure fiction. Even if it deals with the world of fact, creative nonfiction demonstrates that this is a world rendered and shaped by someone” (Hesse 21).  Reading good nonfiction shows students how great writers can take something true, maybe even ordinary, and make it interesting to readers.  By studying the work of writers who can do this, students can learn from their creativity and use it in their own writing.

Reading nonfiction in the classroom also lends itself perfectly to autobiographical writing, which is a great way to increase students’ sense of self-efficacy.  An engaging memoir or autobiography could be used as scaffolding for students’ own writing.  Autobiographical writing offers struggling writers a voice—they all have something to say about their own experience.  As Spires and her colleagues suggest, “As students derive a sense of self through autobiographical readings and writings, they have the opportunity to create a foundation on which to build as they continue to develop their academic voices” (Spires 298).  Often, the prior experiences with writing that students may have had in the past with teachers taking a red pen to their papers, can leave students with a negative attitude toward writing.  If we, through autobiographical writing, can encourage them that they do have something original and interesting to write about, that negative attitude may change.  Using nonfiction in the classroom can be a means of encouraging reluctant writers.

Not only can nonfiction engage reluctant writers, but also reluctant readers.  Often, according to Marc Aronson, students who are interested in nonfiction are often labeled as “nonreaders.”  He suggests that boys, especially, have an innate desire to learn to master their own worlds, a mastery that nonfiction has the potential to offer them.  This is why boys are often seen reading car and hunting magazines written for adults.  He writes, “The problem is not that boys do not wish to read, but that what they wish to read—what, in fact, they desperately yearn to read—is not what we prefer to publish” (Aronson 99). Nonfiction offers girls, I think, something powerful too; many forms of nonfiction depict meaningful relationships between people that fiction often misses.

These value judgments placed on reading are often harmful students.  Myrna Hynes writes about a student of hers, Jeffrey, who thought he was a nonreader.  He said, ““I don’t read for fun. Like, most of the people here, they have novels that they read for—enjoyment! I read for facts. . . . So, if I find what I was looking for, I will do it.”  Out of context, it seems that Jeffrey was explaining what kind of reader he was.  He was, though, explaining why he considered himself a nonreader.  By not giving value to nonfiction, we alienate many of our students who do like to read, but might not like to read novels.  By teaching with nonfiction in the classroom, we provide different kinds of readers a sense of self-efficacy, which can open up doors to new kinds of reading as well.  RCA2011.


Aronson, M. (2003). Beyond the pale: new essays for a new era. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, INC.

Bishop, W. (2003). Suddenly sexy: creative nonfiction read-ends composition. College English, 65(3), 257-273.

Hesse, D. (2009). Imagining a place for creative nonfiction. English Journal, 99(2), aZ18-24.

Hynes, Myrna. (2000). “I read for facts”: reading nonfiction in a fiction world. Language Arts, 77(6), 485-495.

Spires, H.A., Williams, J.B., Jackson, A., & Huffman, L.E. (1998). Leveing the academic playing field through autobiographical reading and writing. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 42(2), 296-304.

Wells, J. (2008). “it sounds like me”: using creative nonfiction to teach college admissions essays. English Journal, 98(1), 47-52.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


My name is Hannah Weaver, and I’m in the MAT program for middle grades English.  I got my bachelor’s from the University of Pittsburgh in nonfiction writing, and my only teaching experience has been 4 months as a kindergarten teacher’s assistant.  An interesting fact about me is that I studied classical ballet for 14 years and took a year off of school after I graduated HS to dance full-time with Pittsburgh Ballet Theater.

My earliest memories of reading and writing are fond ones.  Before I could read, my parents read to me regularly.  Books were an important part of our lives since before I can remember.  The transition to reading on my own was seamless, and I was gorging on books as soon as I could.  I read series of fiction books when I was in elementary school—The Boxcar Children, The Wizard of Oz books, Nancy Drew.  I was the kid who begged to get more books than I could carry on a library trip, but I ended up reading them all before they were due anyway.  My fiercely competitive nature came into even my reading, as I remember that once I found the longest book in the school library, Little Women.  It took my 2nd grade self nearly 6 months to read the 754 pages, most of which I didn’t understand, but I was proud to have read what I considered a “grown-up book.”  Reading, then, gave me a sense of accomplishment.  I recognized the power of reading and the world that literacy opens up, and I was proud to have that access.

Even after I could read, my family still did a great job of setting aside time to read aloud to my brother and me.  As older kids, my dad read us Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Alice and Wonderland, Treasure Island, and all kind of other classic children’s series.  I think it was this ritual of reading aloud in my household that both fostered a vivid imagination and planted the seed for the love of literature.

Writing also started out on a good note for me.  Before I could write, I used to illustrate books—drawings on construction paper that I would staple together like a book.  As I grew older, my fourth grade teacher in particular played a huge role in my development as a writer.  She structured her classroom much like a writing workshop, and we wrote creative pieces daily.  One exercise I particularly remember is that every day for a week, we would pick out a paint chip from a bucket and have to write a poem inspired by the name of that paint color.  She also recognized the value of students seeing their work published in some way, so we all submitted at least one poem to a national children’s poetry anthology.  When my poem got published, and I saw it printed in that hard cover book, I truly felt like a writer.

As I entered middle and high school, reading and writing became a different experience for me.  The focus of literacy became performance.  Any sort of creative expression was traded for the five-paragraph essay.  Still, I liked English class because I was good at it, but I didn’t feel that love for literacy that I’d felt in late elementary school.

It wasn’t until college that I truly felt that again.  As my tastes in reading and writing became clearer, I began to do it for fun again.  I grew interested in literary and creative nonfiction reading and writing, and began journaling regularly.  Currently in my literary journey, I’m trying to widen my array of reading, especially reading books that my future students might be interested in.

My own experience with literacy can inform my teaching in many ways.  When the imagination and creativity was sucked out of English class, I lost my passion for books.  As a preservice English teacher, I recognize the importance of preparing our students for state standards, but it should be our goal to do that in the most dynamic and engaging method possible.  Also, I think student choice is a huge part of nurturing literacy in the classroom, because when I was given a choice about what kind of reading I wanted to do, I grew interested and was more likely to produce a meaningful response.

My background knowledge about reading in content areas before taking this course was limited, but through this course I have gained a much deeper understanding of what literacy is and how it can be taught across the curriculum.  I’ve learned several strategies for scaffolding my students’ reading, which I believe is a crucial component of comprehension.  I grew more conscious of how important it is to use writing to learn, rather than just lead my student to learn to write, which is a risk as an English teacher.  Most importantly, though, this class has served as an example of how I’d like my own classes to be:  a genuine line of inquiry that provides students with the scaffolding to use authentic tools collaboratively.  If I can give my students the opportunity to be stakeholders their own educations, then they will be able to attain the literacies necessary to be successful.

One of my goals for the course was to learn more about how non-English teachers use reading.  In my own experience, the only reading I did for middle and high school was in English class, because though other teachers assigned textbook reading, I did well on tests relying only on lectures and discussions.  I’ve been encouraged, though, by reading all of your blogs–thanks so much for your understanding of how important literacy is to all content areas!  It’s been a pleasure to be in class with you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Telling True Tales Webquest

Here’s my webquest!  As I’ve said before, this is designed to lead students in their exploration of different ways to tell nonfiction stories.  It then asks them to use what they’ve learned to create their own nonfiction story in the medium of their choosing.  Hope you enjoy!



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

New Literacies

As teachers, we are responsible for making sure that our students are fluent in the methods of discourse they’ll need beyond the classroom.  In the last decades, these necessary literacies have changed drastically with the arrival of the digital era.  No longer can students thrive in the real world without an understanding of how to use digital tools in a collaborative, meaningful way.

Digital tools, by nature, make readers into more active participants in the text.  “Traditional printed texts such as books are written for readers to proceed from front to back, reading from left to right.  However, readers of electronic texts have the option of clicking on any one of a number of hyperlinks that can take them on a path that digresses completely from the path that other readers might take” (V,V,&M 33).  Just the act of reading a digital text is inherently more active than reading a printed text.  Also, in the digital world, readers have the opportunity to interact with other readers and writers through commenting and social networking.  This leads to the participitory learning that creates an “self-correcting, collaborative environment.” (Henry Jenkins)  As we’ve experienced through this class through blogging and commenting, digital tools allow us to be more active readers while helping us learn collaboratively.

The concept of learning collaboratively has been around for a long time, but the today’s digital technology has provided it so much more potential.  The theory of connectivism suggests that we learn best from making connections between our learning and the learning of others.  According to George Siemens, “we can no longer personally experience and acquire learning that we need to act. We derive our competence from forming connections.”  As I mentioned before, I would not have had nearly as an enriching experience in this class had it not been collaborative in nature.  If I had to be entirely autonomous in my reading and learning, it would be very shallow and unrewarding.  Instead, when learning in a community and making connections to the learning of others, a deeper and more complex understanding of a concept is attainable.

As Jenkins points out, unfortunately teachers and administrations often place self-imposed limits on the kind of 21st century literacies they can teach their students.  It was refreshing to read about the environment that Eric Sheninger fostered in his school, and it’s these kinds of risk-taking efforts that lead to a rich learning environment in the new century.  It is a shame that YouTube, Twitter, social networks, and other potential learning tools are banned from many schools.  It is true, as Jenkin says, that harnessing the digital tools for necessary for collaborative, participitory learning can be scary because it takes some power away from the teacher and puts it in the hands of the student.  But the risk is worth the reward, because when students have power and can develop respected voices in collaborative conversations, they become stakeholders in their own educations.  Which is what we want, isn’t it?  RCA2011


Filed under Uncategorized

Layer 1: Portfolios and Formative Assessment

The discussion of assessment is a tricky, but important one to have.  It’s an issue that cannot be avoided–students must earn grades based on their performance in your class.  We live in difficult times, as the Vacca, Vacca, and Mraz text discusses, because of the increased emphasis on standardized testing scores.  While we want our students to do as well as possible on these tests, we risk losing sight of our students’ best interests.  If the emphasis switches from being on what students learn to how students learn, as the Reis
 text suggests, then I think we’ll witness an indirect positive effect on test scores.  Methods of assessment that I’ve thought a lot about using to accomplish these goals in my classroom are portfolios and formative assessments in various forms.

I see many advantages to the portfolio method of assessment that directly benefit the student.  As the Gillespie article put it, “the major advantage of portfolio assessment is that it allows students to actively participate with teachers in the assessment process.”  This, I think, helps students both develop a sense of ownership of their own work while nurturing metacognition in the classroom.  Another advantage to using portfolios is an increased emphasis on the writing process.  If teachers are involved in taking a piece of writing through the process, then students have more opportunity to learn and improve their writing.  This becomes, in a sense, formative assessment, which is the form of assessment that most directly benefits the student.  An additional advantage, if desired, is the opportunity to have students publish their work.  In today’s digital world, you can use a blog or a Google site to host the portfolio, which gives students the opportunity to have people outside of the classroom read their work.

Because I’ll be an English teacher and my class will have a lot of writing, having students keep a portfolio of their work is fitting.  Like I mentioned before, I think a great way to do this while also teaching digital literacy is through portfolio blogs.  Much like we do in this class, students will publish the work they choose to include in their portfolio to a blog.  Reflective assessment will also be a regular part of my class.  Strategies like exit slips and “The Week in Review” that the Bond, Evans, and Ellis piece suggest foster metacognition and fit perfectly into a portfolio method of assessment.  Students will also be asked to reflect on their writing through its various stages, and this too will be a part of their portfolio.  This will help students take ownership of their work while helping me grade it.  RCA2011.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

WebQuest Prelim

For my webquest, I’ll continue to investigate the genre of literary journalism and the many forms it can take.  The question for students will be “How can you creatively tell a true story?”  Students will investigate forms of storytelling–visual, text-based, multimedia, etc.  The purpose of the webquest will be to expose students to multiple forms of expression throughout the genre.  I’ll keep you updated on my progress!  RCA2011

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Layer 2: Writing and Studying

The readings provided a diverse group of examples of how writing can be better used in the content area classroom.  I was interested in the way the textbook put it in chapter 9: not only can you learn to write, but you can also write to learn.  In my classroom, I hope that both of those two things happen.

Something I’ve always known that I want to do is have my students write in academic journals during the class period.  I think that writing without necessarily taking the piece through the writing process can be a great way to digest thinking while getting practice with writing.  I hadn’t thought much about the many different ways I could use those journals, though.  I particularly liked idea of also using them as response journals while they read, which would help with comprehension as well as serve as notes to spur on classroom discussion.  The key is, as the text points out, not to tear apart their journals for mechanics or spelling errors; the journals will be purely a process thoughts and play with words.

I also plan to explicitly teach many of the study skills outlined in chapter 10.  I think the key to functional literacy in today’s society is metacognition, so explicit instruction about these skills is crucial.  For example, talking about text structure and clues to help us figure it out can teach students to map their own thinking.  If we can come up with lists of words that signify transitions to a different structural component, students can more easily think of the text as a whole.

Another way to use writing to enhance learning is to have students write autobiographically, as the Spires article suggests.  “By creating classroom conditions that teach students to acknowledge what they already know and hold it sacred as they learn to negotiate new academic environments, we affirm that our students’ lives, their knowledge, and their language are legitimate and valued” (Spires 297).  When students feel like they have something valuable to say, they are more likely to say something.  Writing autobiographically promotes students’ sense of self-efficacy, which is linked to motivation.  There are many times when I plan to ask students to write autobiographically.  Activities like the “Where I’m From” poem, bookcasts, and journal responses allow students to interact with language to express their own selves.  I plan on using these activities, among others, to foster literacy in my classroom.

Just like reading should be scaffolded, as we’ve discussed in previous CCIs, so should writing.  Wray and Lewis point out the  value of having students write various forms of nonfiction in the classroom to support learning, but they suggest an apprenticeship-style teacher-student relationship along with writing frames to help.  Writing frames are skeleton outlines designed to help students structure their nonfiction writing.  The authors write, “not only do writing frames help students become familiar with unfamiliar genres, but they also help students overcome many of the other problems often associated with nonfiction writing” (Wray & Lewis).  If we are to use writing in the classroom to enhance learning and comprehension, as we should, we need to scaffold that writing just as we do reading.  RCA2011.


Filed under Uncategorized