Wednesday, November 7, 2012
“Too often, teachers assume that students are more comfortable writing stories instead of nonfiction, but researchers . . . have provided compelling evidence that children, even those in kindergarten and first grade, can write expository text. Other researchers have reported that through instruction and reading and writing experiences, children grow in their ability to differentiate among genres (Donovan, 2001; Kamberelis, 1999)” (Tompkins, 2012, p. 202).
Tompkins’s chapter on expository writing coupled with the expository genre presentation gave me a deeper understanding of the importance of information text and the role non-fiction plays in the classroom. With the development of the Common Core, non-fiction texts are heavily emphasized as beneficial text that can span across the curriculum and into several subject areas. The use of this expository reading and writing provides limitless possibilities for the ways students can access new information and learn content. In my current classroom, we’ve combined our science and writing unit. The students explored a number of tradebooks and expository texts on weather. They used organizers, such as those listed in the Tompkins (2012) chapter, for example data charts. Once they collected this information on weather, they then had to write an expository piece on one aspect of weather they found interesting, whether it was hurricanes, different types of precipitation, or even the water cycle. I found that students who struggled with writing really enjoyed this expository writing because it was really scaffolded to their needs. So often students whine that they have nothing to write about or that they have writers block. This unit on weather allowed students to do their own exploration through reading, formulate ideas, record, and then transfer the facts they’d learned into writing. No student could say they didn’t know what to write because they had the information directly in front of them. I also noticed that when I took groups of students to the book room, they were moving away from narratives and stories, to information texts on topics they found interesting and engaging.
As is important for every genre, my teacher did a mini-lesson on the characteristics of expository text. She used a text to point out non-fiction features such as the table of contents, photographs or realistic drawings, labels and captions, figures, maps, tables and charts, all elements Tompkins (2012) mentions as defining non-fiction features. As I do my own exploration of the biography genre, I began to realize that several texts had similar layouts to these expository text features. For one, I understand that both the biography and expository genre are part of non-fiction, so I wasn’t surprised that they had similar features, but as the quote about mentions, “through instruction and reading and writing experiences, children grow in their ability to differentiate among genres” (Tompkins, 2012, p. 202). Due to this, I decided to look into some defining characteristics between the biography and expository genre and I found that expository texts’ main purpose is to provide information about the natural and social world such as addressing an entire species or the United States as a whole, whereas the biography genre’s main purpose is to provide information about an individual’s life, events or series of events. While I could see where students would be confused by these similarities, I think this exemplifies why it is important to do what Tompkins (2012) suggests and teach students about genre so that they are able to distinguish between them. One way to teach this is to use multiple sources that allow students to compare and contrast different versions of expository texts with one another, and the same with the biography genre. If students are able to explore the differences between one genre, they will be able to better understand the multi dimensionality of it and come to grasp the defining characteristics that differentiate it from other genres.
In my opinion, expository text really has endless possibilities especially for literacy instruction because it can move past simply reading a story and into the content areas where students are reading for information that can teach them the standards and content they need to know. In addition, textbooks no longer suffice. We cannot give our students textbooks and expect them to read, comprehend, and even worse subject them to round robin reading during classroom instruction. Tradebooks and expository texts fix this unfair method of teaching content and provide a valuable, meaningful, and easily differentiated way of helping all students to be successful across the content areas. I know that when I have my own classroom, my library will have a wealth of expository texts on topics I know my students will be interested in and WANT to read. I also know that my instruction will flourish with the use of expository texts and tradebooks as a resource for students to learn at a level and readiness they deserve.