Each Friday for the past two weeks, I have been on the road providing professional development on nonfiction literature. On Friday, October 26th, I was at the School Library Journal 2012 Leadership Summit in Philadelphia, serving as moderator of a panel of nonfiction authors (Steve Sheinkin, Sally Walker, Barbara Kerley, and Deborah Hopkinson) discussing nonfiction and the new Common Core State Standards. As moderator, my role was to frame each of their latest books in the context of their similarities and differences, and the connections teachers can make from those similarities and differences to specific aspects of the CCSS. As a teacher educator, I was speaking with nonfiction authors about how teachers can use their work in the classroom, but for an audience of primarily school librarians, who will be the catalysts for this approach to nonfiction at their own schools. Teachers, authors, and librarians coming together to best serve kids: a great model, and one that here at the Uncommon Corps, we are trying to spread. As participants in the Summit as a whole, Sue Bartle and I got to network with passionate school librarians from across the country; there was a great sense of possibility regarding the role of nonfiction in classrooms.
This past Friday, I spent the day in Mayville, New York, again with Sue Bartle, as well as Marc Aronson, and Lee Berger, the paleoanthropologist in South Africa who discovered the two most complete partial skeletons ever uncovered thus far of our pre-human ancestors. Marc and Lee have coauthored a new book for the intermediate-middle grades with National Geographic, Skull in the Rock, and our workshop was grounded in providing professional development for schools teams (librarians and teachers of all content areas) on nonfiction literature, with an emphasis on disciplinary literacy. Sue Bartle was the orchestra conductor for this workshop, as well as its brainchild. Myra Zarnowksi, our Uncommon Core colleague, was originally part of this planning as well. Lee launched the day with a discussion of australopithecus sediba and the unfolding discoveries teams of scientists are making based on the skeletons at Malapa. From there, Marc walked the audience through the book itself, and how Lee's research and life history helped to shape and frame the structure and format of the book as well as the writing style. After lunch, I presented on the ways in which Skull in the Rock can be used for a variety of roles in the classroom, as well as the more general models from Teaching with Text Sets for scaffolding nonfiction into language arts and the content areas. If you're interested in learning more about what we explored, you can go to the blog we created for the event: http://www.skullintherock.blogspot.com/.
What did these events both have in common? Cross-pollination. It's not enough anymore for language arts teachers to just meet with language arts teachers, or librarians to just meet with librarians. Authors can no longer be on the periphery of professional development for teachers and librarians, the window dressing of an end-of-day book signing. We also need to bring content specialists, including world-famous scientists like Lee, into the fold. Friday's model consisted of a content specialist, and an author, followed-up by a teacher. Our audience was a combination of teachers and librarians, and in the best case scenarios, they were teams of teachers and librarians from the same school. What other models like this are out there? What kinds of interesting professional development have you been doing in your district that also involves this kind of cross-pollination? For new nonfiction books, it seems that publishers and school districts should seize this opportunity to have the specialists featured in the books speak directly to teachers and librarians along with the authors. We can take students to a deeper, richer level when we collaborate together with a common purpose. When we bring content specialists in who are, quite literally, changing our world for us, or allowing us to see the world anew, it serves as a catalyst and creates tremendous energy. On Friday, we were all channeling our inner Indiana Jones. Isn't that what we want for kids, too?