On Teaching Students to Love Nonfiction

Forty-six states and Washington D.C. have adopted what are called Common Core State Standards for their schools. What have some English teachers been outraged about? They require students to be reading primarily nonfiction by the time they are in high school.  As the San Francisco Chronicle put it…

this means “moving Shakespeare and Keats off the syllabus and asking students to read federal reports and Malcolm Gladwell instead. Out with ‘MacBeth,’ in with ‘Federal Views’ by the Federal Reserve Bank.”

Why out with the literature, and in with nonfiction? More specifically, why should 50 percent of the 4th grade reading and 70 percent of the 12th grade reading be informational rather than literary?  As the standards report indicates, it is because most of the required reading in college and workforce training programs is informational in structure and challenging in content.

And it is not just for English teachers to implement. The authors of the standards say that all teachers “share the burden.”  This means other departments, like political science, should “have their students read the Declaration of Independence, and math departments, “should assign Euclid.”

On one hand, this makes sense.  The purpose of the requirements is to better prepare students for the kind of reading they will be doing in college and in their future work lives. However, on the other hand, it seems that an over-focus on nonfiction ultimately does not work in the best interest of students.

Sure, in college and in their work lives, students will need practical reading skills, but they will also need critical thinking skills that come with reading and understanding great literary works.  On the nonfiction side, it not only needs to be practical but and engaging.

What English teachers are giving their students in the way of nonfiction has often been “met with indifference.” Students around the country deserve more than just the skills to read reports.

Like they do with literature, teachers need help students not be bored by nonfiction but to find ways for them to fall in love with this genre. Schools need to bring life to nonfiction, so that it can ultimately serve students in their adult lives.

How could the schools get beyond nonfiction being met with indifference, and help students fall in love with nonfiction?

One way is to teach them that nonfiction is driven by what is true – it is about true stories, true people, real live situations, people and events. The foundation of this genre involves a deep value of knowing the truth-and that is such an important value in life.

How else? Share your thoughts!

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2 thoughts on “On Teaching Students to Love Nonfiction

  1. I’m all for teaching kids to appreciate nonfiction, but pushing fiction aside is a mistake. Fiction can teach us about society, culture, psychology, and sociology. And even good nonfiction involves the art of storytelling, which fiction can also teach. Lately, there have also been some intriguing studies that show a possible link between reading fiction and greater problem solving ability.

    By the way, I’m speaking as an adult who voluntarily reads more nonfiction than fiction. Still, I see the cultural value of well-written fiction. And I’m opposed to Common Core, but that’s another story!

    1. Amber, I totally agree with you! Can you write a bit more about why you are opposed to Common Core…I would like to know more about it~L

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