Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Beyond the Backmatter: Nonfiction Equivalents of Bonus Features and Director Commentary

I've very much enjoyed reading Marc's explanations of the decision-making behind the visual composition of If Stones Could Speak and Skull in the Rock. In the future, when I have my graduate students read these books, I will send them to these blog posts, so that they can better understand and unpack what is happening within the fixed boundaries of the text, how they are being shaped as readers/viewers of the book as they move through it, making meaning. 

But I'm selfish. As a teacher, I want something like this for every nonfiction book. Whenever I have a nonfiction author visit or Skype in to one of my classes, whenever I moderate a panel of nonfiction authors and illustrators, I am as interested in what got excluded from the final text as what was included and why. I learn even more about what is in the text from hearing about what isn't and why.

One of the exciting challenges of the implementation of the CCSS is the focus on writing. I worry that, for many reasons, teachers are paralyzed by what the PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessments sample questions look like, and writing for the test will continue to dominate classroom writing, rather than the authentic writing and composing possibilities that the standards themselves suggest.  

We have long understood the interconnectedness of the reading and writing experience. When we ask students K-12 to write authentic nonfiction texts, they can better access and understand author's craft. When writing nonfiction, genre and craft study is as important as learning the content about which you are writing. How does one shape and convey meaning through visuals and text? What does that look like for a third grader writer? Seventh grade writer? Eleventh grade writer? 

We have many examples of nonfiction books and digital texts for students to draw from as mentor texts. But as a teacher, I would love to have more information on the back story of the text, from both the writer and the editor/book designer, and in the case of nonfiction picture books, the illustrator. What if publishers recorded conversations about the research, writing, and book creation process, including a visual "walk through" of the book, such as Marc wrote in these blog posts, as an audio file that can accessed from the publisher's webpage? For ebooks, they audio file could be embedded in the end or at various points within the text itself as a annotated reading, a voice over if you will, should the reader choose it. These features would be the nonfiction trade book equivalent to the bonus features on a movie DVD.

These recordings would be a portrait of the process of putting the books together, modeling for teachers and students alike the deep thinking that goes into composing, and the decisions to include and exclude information, visuals, sources, etc. In the meantime, and the INK blog continue to be a resource for curated "back story" on texts. 

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more. I would really like to share the decision-making processes that underlie many of the books I am sharing with teachers and children. What better way to talk about the craft and structure of nonfiction that to talk about actual works and actual decisions.