Author: Rowe, Sarah Stebbe
Date published: January 1, 2012
"Literacy is the most basic currency of the knowledge economy we're living in today," said President Barack Obama in a speech to the American Library Association (2005). President Obama, educational professionals, and parents around the country share a common goal: to increase children's literacy skills so that they may compete in the modern workforce. Generations ago, it was possible to find a job with a third-grade reading level, but now the literacy skills required to compete in the job market are increasingly complex and demanding. To be literate in the information age, students not only need to be literate but they also need literacy skills in a variety of genres. Genre has been defined as "classes of texts distinguished according to mutually exclusive and exhaustive characteristics" (Kamberelis, 1999).
In our current global economy, skills in the informational text genres are increasingly important for communicating ideas among professionals. The Reading Framework for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress described informational text broadly as a major type of text that includes exposition, argumentation or persuasive text, and procedural text (National Assessment Governing Board, 2009) . Informational text is set apart from narrative text because of differences in the structure and purpose of the text (Duke & Bennett-Armistead, 2003). To participate fully in our modern society, students must be able to locate, understand, and use informational text.
As school psychologists, we are in an excellent position to advocate for literacy assessment, instruction, andinterventions that contain informational texts. The purpose of this article is to provide school psychologists with an overview of several areas:
* The need for literacy skills in informational text
* A comparison of narrative and informational text genres
* Current instructional practices and student achievement with informational text
* Tips for communicating with parents and teachers regarding informational text
* Further resources on informational text
* Action steps for school psychologists
THE NEED FOR LITERACY SKILLS IN INFORMATIONAL TEXT
In order to gain many critical literacy skills, students need experience with informational text. The Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children reported that a successful student in kindergarten should demonstrate knowledge about a variety of text genres (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Research has supported that genre development begins at young ages and that children in early elementary can learn from reading informational books (e.g., Kamberelis, 1999). Thus, early literacy instruction should move beyond typical storybook reading and begin to expose children to the informational text genre.
Skills in this genre are important because informational text:
* Is found in everyday life.
* Contributes to a child's understanding of the natural and social world (Duke & Bennett-Armistead, 2003).
* Is critical for academic success (Kletzien & Dreher, 2004).
* Supports the development of vocabulary, comprehension, and other literacy skills.
* Makes up 50% or more of the reading passages on standardized assessments such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP; National Assessment Governing Board, 2009).
* May appeal to the interests and curiosity of elementary students.
* May be motivating if a student reads or writes in an area of interest.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NARRATIVE AND INFORMATIONAL TEXT?
School psychologists would benefit from (a) learning more about the unique characteristics of informational text and (b) sharing this information with teachers and parents. Narrative and informational text types differ in purpose, organization, and text features (Duke & Bennett-Armistead, 2003) . The purpose of informational text is often to convey information about the natural or social world, while the purpose of narrative text is to provide entertainment or convey an experience or perspective (Duke & Bennett-Armistead, 2003). Additionally, informational text is generally organized by topic, and narrative text often is organized chronologically. The text features of each genre also are unique. Informational text utilizes graphs, tables, realistic illustrations or photographs, a glossary, and a topical theme (Duke & Bennett-Armistead, 2003). Narrative text, on the other hand, includes the table of contents, setting, characters, plot, dialogue, and a goal-based theme. Of course, other genres beyond narrative and informational text exist and not all texts can be easily categorized into one of these genres. Also, informational texts and narrative texts are umbrella terms that may incorporate multiple, more specific genres.
SHOW ME THE DATA: INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICES AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT IN INFORMATIONAL TEXT
Currently, research suggests that instruction in preschool and early elementary school does not have a strong focus on informational texts (e.g., Pentimonti, Zucker, Justice, & Kaderavek, 2010; Duke, 2000). In addition, national student achievement in the informational text genre is less than satisfactory. As school psychologists, we need to be aware of howmuch literacy instruction in our schools focuses on informational text because instruction in this genre may contribute to student achievement and development.
Research has reported that specific exposure to and instruction in informational text is lacking in schools today (e.g., Duke, 2000; Read, 2005). First of all, classroom libraries have a limited number of informational books compared to other genres such as narrative text (Duke, 2000). Additionally, literacy instruction in elementary school may underestimate the ability of students to comprehend and produce informational text (Read, 2005). A study of the instructional practices in 20 first grade classrooms found that an average of only 3.6 minutes per day were spent with informational texts during classroom written language activities (Duke, 2000). Furthermore, a study of teacher read-aloud practices indicated that only 4% of books read aloud were expository (Pentimonti, Zucker, Justice, & Kaderavek, 2010). As school psychologists, we should be aware of the amount of genre exposure students are receiving through classroom instruction because this may impact achievement.
Currently, student achievement data illustrate the need for improvement in this genre. According to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), an international study of fourth graders' reading performance, student achievement was stronger in literary reading than informational reading (Mullis, Martin, Kennedy, & Foy, 2007). Also, according to the 2002 NAEP writing assessment, only 16% of fourth grade students were writing informative text at or above a skillful level (Persky, Daane, & Jin, 2003). This "fourth-grade slump" may relate to the increased demand for students to read and write informational text, a genre with which they are less familiar.
SHARE THE WEALTH: TALKING TO PARENTS AND TEACHERS ABOUT INFORMATIONAL TEXT
Incorporating informational text into the classroom and home literacy activities can be enjoyable and simple. Here are some suggestions to give teachers and parents about how to encourage skill development in this genre.
Provide access to appropriate text.
* Provide students with access to informational texts by balancing the classroom and home libraries with various genres.
* Add children's magazines and newspapers to the classroom library or home environments to help extend students' knowledge of the world and appeal to their curiosity.
* Allow students to read and interact with information on the Internet.
* Choose informational books with accurate content, appealing design and format, engaging writing style, and good organization (Kletzien & Dreher, 2004).
Provide explicit instruction.
* Teach children to identify and use common features of informational texts, such as the table of contents, glossary, index, and captions.
* Teach comprehension strategies specifically for informational text. Comprehension strategies that are valuable to student learning include: interpreting graphs and pictures; making predictions based on titles and headings; questioning; visualizing; and making connections between text, graphics, and captions (BIachowicz & Ogle, 2008).
* Provide instruction on common text structures in informational text (e.g., compare and contrast, description).
Provide opportunities to read and create informational text.
* Model the use of finding, reading, using, and creating informational text at home and school.
* Integrate the authentic use of informational text into everyday life (e.g., cooking, field trips).
* Read informational text when children want or need to know information.
* Write informational text when there is someone who wants or needs information from them.
* Read informational texts aloud to children to increase their curiosity about the world and their motivation to read.
* Provide opportunities for children to read together and share the information they have read.
* Ask students to write several types of informational text such as: recount, report, procedure, explanation, and persuasive arguments.
* Provide opportunities for students to create illustrations, graphs, diagrams, and other images that support informational text.
DIVING DEEPER: FURTHER READING ON INFORMATIONAL TEXT
Another major role of the school psychologist includes providing resources to parents and teachers. Figure 1 includes a list of four books regarding how to encourage early literacy development in nonfiction and informational text. Figure 2 includes information on three websites that provide lists of recommended books, including informational texts. These resources maybe valuable to school psychologists as well as parents and teachers.
ACTION STEPS: WHAT CAN SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGISTS DO?
Evaluate students' informational text reading and writing ability so as to better inform intervention and instruction in the classroom.
Find out about the types and number of informational texts available to students by meeting with the school librarian and/or classroom teachers.
Offer suggestions for building a balanced school or classroom library. Literacy experts recommend following several guidelines for building a better classroom library (Duke & Bennett-Armistead, 2003):
* Include multiple genres such as narrative, fantasy, procedural text, biography, and informational texts.
* Offer multiple formats such as magazines and newspapers.
* Provide multiple grade levels so all children may access these texts.
* Incorporate high quality materials into the library rather than a large quantity of poor quality materials.
Offer a professional development workshop for teacher or parents regarding how to encourage literacy development in elementary aged students. Specifically highlight the importance of exposure and instruction in multiple genres for strong literacy skill development.
Share information and resources when consulting with teachers or parents who have questions about how to incorporate multiple genres into their libraries and literacy activities.
President Obama ended his speech with the following statement: "At the dawn of the 21st century, in a world where knowledge truly is power and literacy is the skill that unlocks the gates of opportunity and success, we all have a responsibility as parents and librarians, educators and citizens, to instill in our children a love of reading so that we can give them a chance to fulfill their dreams" (2005). As school psychologists, we play a major role in educating children, and can encourage early literacy development by raising the awareness of teachers and parents regarding the importance of informational text literacy skills in children.
Blachowicz, C., & Ogle, D. (2008). Reading comprehension: Strategies for independent learners (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Castagna, V. B. (2007). Teaching the Information Generation: Strategies for helping primary readers understand the fact-filled texts they encounter throughout their school years. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Duke, N. K. (2000). 3.6 minutes per day: The scarcity of informational texts in first grade. Reading Research Quarterly, 35(2), 202-224.
Duke, N. K., & Bennett-Armistead, V. S. (2003). Reading and writing informational text in the primary grades. New York, NY: Scholastic.
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Persky, H. R., Daane, M. C, & Jin, Y (2003). The nation's report card: Writing 2002. Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics.
Read, S. (2005). First and second graders writing informational text. Reading Teacher, 59(1), 36-44. doi: 10.1598/RT.59.1.4
Snow, C. E., Burns, M. S., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Stead, T. (2002). Is that a fact? Teaching nonfiction writing K-3. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
SARAH STEBBE ROWE is a doctoral candidate in the school psychology program at Michigan State University.