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Connecting Young Readers to Nonfiction

Monday, March 7, 2016

Leveraging curiosity to build nonfiction reading skills and set a foundation for critical thinking

lower school student readingEach day, lower school teachers and students spend an hour focused on locating information, summarizing important facts, isolating the main idea, and using text-based evidence to support a conclusion. 

Harlem Academy fourth-grader Benjamin loves science fiction. When he discovered in his nonfiction unit that his favorite books are based on real science, he started reading more science books. 

“That turned into a month of internet research, PBS specials, and failed at-home experiments,” says his mother. “I had to explain to him that creating a black hole in our back yard would be impossible. He was so excited. It wasn’t just about passing a test. It was about his world becoming larger.”

Harlem Academy introduces nonfiction reading at a young age. The program leverages the natural curiosity of students to begin building a different set of reading skills. Each day, teachers focus for an hour on locating information, summarizing important facts, isolating the main idea, and using text-based evidence to support a conclusion. 

“These are skills that they need as they develop into critical thinkers,” says lower school director LaShonda Davis. “We expose them to a wide range of ideas, encourage independent exploration, and give them the tools they need to dig into their questions. It positions them for success in middle school, and even more so as they move on to secondary school and college.” 

While highly structured in its approach, the program gives students freedom to explore different content areas that interest them. Teachers intentionally provide nonfiction texts that complement classroom topics in science, social studies, or English. Books and readings range from biographies of the Wright Brothers, to why zebras have stripes, to the way magnets work.

“I love science magazines and books on electricity,” says Benjamin. “Reading about the way things work is interesting and fun.” 

His mother adds, “As a parent, I listen to him talk about this, and feel that Harlem Academy is cultivating my child’s curiosity and motivation to learn.”

Special thanks to Sera and Tom Reycraft and Benchmark Education for providing a library of nonfiction reading resources. Thanks also to the Constance and John Curran Foundation and the Edith Glick Shoolman Children's Foundation for their support of lower school literacy.