Nonfiction/informational books are in short supply

One study found that in typical 1st grades informational texts make up less than 10% of all texts in the classroom library. The median number of nonfiction/informational books was just 1.2 per student in low-income districts. In high-income districts that average only rose to 3.3 per student. Most young readers spend less than 4 minutes a day reading informational text. For lower-income students that amount of time drops to only 1.9 minutes during an average school day.

A shifting emphasis

In an attempt to correct this imbalance the Common Core language arts and literacy standards is placing more emphasis on reading nonfiction/informational texts beginning in elementary school (Coleman & Pimental, 2012). Students are learning how to research a topic and understand nonfiction/informational texts as early as 1st and 2nd grade. In later grades, these texts include literary nonfiction; essays; biographies and autobiographies; journals and technical manuals; and charts, graphs, and maps (Gewertz, 2012).

Research says that what students read matters

Independent reading strengthens a student’s reading skills. Students who read more are exposed to more vocabulary. They become more proficient readers and find reading more enjoyable. They continue to read more, increase their skills, and become even better readers (Stanovich, 1986). Poor readers, on the other hand, read less and continue to lose ground over time, widening the gap in education. Students at the 90th percentile of reading volume (those who read 21.1 minutes a day) encounter 1.8 million words a year. Students in the 10th percentile (reading less than one minute per day) read only 8,000 words a year (Cunningham & Stanovich, 2001).

It’s not just how much students read that matters. It’s also what they read. Students need to read and be able to understand nonfiction/informational texts in the same way as they do fiction.

One of the reasons that reading nonfiction is important is that it helps students develop their background knowledge. Background knowledge can account for as much as 33% of the variance in student achievement (Marzano, 2000). Continuing to grow background knowledge becomes even more crucial in later elementary grades, as students begin to read more content-specific textbooks (Young, Moss, & Cornwell, 2007).

References

EL Educational Leadership
Research Says / Nonfiction Reading Promotes Student Success
by Bryan Goodwin and Kirsten Miller