I’ve just finished skimming the Stenhouse title A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades, which you can read in full-text online here. It is, quite frankly, great and full of great ideas that we could extrapolate from classroom-only environments and into classroom-and-library environments. Among my key takeaways:
- Consider starting a wonder center where kids can write wonderings on Post-Its and others can answer them.
- Have a place where kids can deposit wonder items for others to enjoy.
- When planning a non-fiction piece of writing, have kids use a table of contents page as a way to organize the order of their thoughts.
- Distinguish between heart questions that can be answered with your inner knowledge (e.g., “What makes a great friend?”) and research questions (e.g., “How do whales breathe?”).
Like other books designed for classroom teachers, like Debbie Miller’s Teaching with Intention, the authors of A Place for Wonder describe a world of research that is primarily classroom-based, not library based. In fact, the Wonder authors talk about their “amazing librarian” who gets books for them, but then who does not appear in the classroom when the work happens. (That’s when the literacy coach steps in.)
So this book – as wonderful as it is, and it is wonderful, leaves me with these questions:
- I see “wonder” as a great way of describing “inquiry” in primary grades. How can we be better partners in developing the sense of wonder? (I see this as a huge opportunity for those of us who have fixed schedule with young children.)
- Many of the books for classroom teachers (including the above and Nonfiction Mentor Texts, among others) indicate that the gateway to meaningful non-fiction work (which they define often as nonfiction writing and we librarians would describe as nonfiction research) is choice. But in many districts, including mine, there’s a perception that the research work that happens with our young students, even during release time, must parallel the content being studied in class. Interested in researching trucks? Too bad, because that’s not part of the first grade curriculum, but you can research the mammal of your choice. Passionate about the Constitution? Wait until fifth grade, because you’re in second grade, and it’s gotta be reptiles for you. Proponents of this Garanimals approach (e.g., matching the content of the classroom with the content of our projects in the library) say that it is this matching that keeps us viable.�But can real inquiry happen when the topic is forced? And must the topic be forced? Or is the real content of our instruction the process of questioning, investigating, and reporting, regardless of whether or not it focuses on mammals or reptiles? (And, in truth, is the insistence on mammals and reptiles part of what makes so many of us cling to bird units, even though it’s not the most meaningful instruction?) I feel like this is one of those elephant-in-the-room questions.
I’m curious to know what you think. In the meantime, I’ve whipped off an excited email to our phenomenal first grade teachers — I think this book could really help us deepen the kind of work we can do together, mammals or no mammals!