The project director is Dr. Marilyn Arnone who developed the concept for The Nature Booklist. Mr. Thomas Hardy, President of DataMomentum, serves as the Technical Director for the web resource and database. Nathan Keefe, a Wilhelm Scholar at the iSchool, began working on the project in September 2017 and is currently the lead researcher/writer for the project. Nate is studying to become a school librarian and brings with him a background in environmental education plus a wealth of experience serving as the director of education for the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse NY for more than 10 years.
Two awesome iSchool graduate students worked diligently as Researcher/Writers for the database in the project's first year. The lead researcher/writer in Year 1 was Elizabeth "Liz" Griffin, an Expect More Scholar, and graduate of Syracuse University's iSchool in 2017. Liz is now a full-time school librarian! Assisting Liz was Sarah Manley who also graduated in 2017. Several students from Dr. Arnone's Environmental Programming for Libraries course also shared active learning strategies for the database.
Why This Project Was Created
This project was developed to address two important needs. The first is the need to provide students in K-12 with increasing amounts of informational texts across grade levels and the second is to engage students in learning about their environment. Both are explained in greater detail below.
Increased Demand for Informational Texts. Informational texts or nonfiction was not considered a priority in schools until recent years. However, there is now a mandate that children from early childhood through young adult read increasingly more informational texts. The National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, stated that students needed to balance the amount of information texts with the amount of fiction, or literacy texts (National Assessment Governing Board, 2008). By fourth grade, half of what students read need to be informational text, and the percentage continues to grow. By a student's senior year of high school, 70% of what they are reading needs to be information based. It is important to note that these percentages cut across students' curriculum and are not required of individual content courses (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, accessed November 2015). In pairing literary and informational books based on subject matter and grade level, students will be able to achieve the balance of information texts that has been adapted by Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Pairing fiction and informational texts gives students the ability to learn more from the subject matter in ways they may not get from their regular curriculum. While informational texts in the past were often considered dull or boring, today there are many more engaging and visually appealing informational texts available.
Pairing texts is an effective way to improve reading comprehension and provide scaffolding for students as they learn a new content area or topic (Camp, 2000). Readers require background knowledge to make sense of what they read and pairing texts can help with this. Reading comprehension requires students to understand the meaning of words they read. According to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessments, fourth grade students who performed above the 75th percentile in reading comprehension also scored highest on vocabulary. According to the same report, those at or below the 25th percentile in reading comprehension had the lowest average vocabulary scores (NCES, 2012). Vocabulary is best comprehended when students encounter the new words in different contexts which is especially true of English Language Learners. When pairing texts on the same topic, students will encounter the same words in an informational text and then again in the fictional text helping them to make useful connections across texts. This deepens comprehension and builds background knowledge for what readers will encounter in the second related text (Soalt, 2005). Pairing fiction reading with informational texts on topics, themes, and issues that were addressed in the fictional piece will provide additional practice in decoding and has the potential to increase reading motivation.
Children will grow into adults who will constantly be required to absorb informational texts; developing proficiency with informational texts from a young age will provide them with the practice they need.
Addressing Youth Lack of Engagement with the Environment. Numerous studies have shown that youth spend less and less time exploring their environment and are experiencing a modern phenomenon known (unscientifically) as nature deficit disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv in the book Last Child in the Woods and discussed in The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Nature in the Virtual Age (2012). While technology brings many benefits to youth, it cannot be denied that, in part due to it, children are spending less time outdoors and subsequently not learning to value the environment that surrounds them. More institutions beyond schools are realizing this and contributing to what John Falk (2015) calls the new science learning ecosystem. These institutions include public libraries, museums, and national parks.
An annotated booklist focused on environmental topics can inspire and engage students in this topic. Many state science standards have changed to align with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). As of now, 26 states have adopted these new standards (Next Generation Science Standards). As curriculum shifts, now is the perfect time to create a booklist of paired literary and informational texts to coincide with this change. These additional texts, sorted accordingly, can help fill gaps created as states adapt their curriculum.
Camp, D. (2000). It takes two: teaching with twin texts of fact and fiction. The Reading Teacher 53, 400-408.
Duke, N.K. (2000). 3.6 minutes per day: The scarcity of informational texts in first grade, Reading Research Quarterly, 35, 202-224.
Falk, J. A. (2015). The science learning ecosystem. Paper presented at Public Libraries and STEM: A National Conference on Current Trends and Future Directions. August 20 -22, Denver, CO.
Louv, Richard. (2012). The nature principle: Reconnecting with life in a virtual age. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.
Michael, J. (2006). Where's the evidence that active learning works? Advances in Physiology Education, 30, 4, 159-167.
National Assessment Governing Board (2008). Reading Framework for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Retrieved from http://www.nagb.org/content/nagb/assets/documents/publications/frameworks/reading/2009-reading-framework.pdf
National for Education Statistics (2012). The Nations Report Card: Vocabulary Results From the 2009 and 2011 NAEP Reading Assessments (NCES 2013 452). Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State SchoolOfficers (n.d.). English Language Arts Standards » Introduction » Key Design Consideration. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/introduction/key-design-consideration/
Next Generation Science Standards. (n.d.). Next Generation Science Standards. Retrieved from http://www.nextgenscience.org/