Non-Fiction Reading and Character

Non-Fiction Reading and Character
By Ed DeRoche

I flunked kindergarten. Had to repeat it. Cause: motivation, attitude, interest. There were few “Hallmark Moments” in my elementary school years. I do remember third grade. I usually sat in the back of the class. I was seldom called on. There were no girls in my reading group. “No girls” is a clue that you have a reading problem. Just before morning recess, four of us boys met with our teacher for a 30-minute reading lesson. I always found it strange that our reading group (I wonder what she named us) met with her just before recess. She probably needed a break after such an ordeal.

Several years ago, teachers in one of our character education workshops gave me a children’s book that each of them signed.

This autobiographical book authored by Patricia Polacco tells the story of “Little Tricia” who was “overjoyed at the thought of starting school and learning how to read.” Tricia has trouble reading; her classmates called her “dummy.” Then, her fifth grade teacher discovered that Trisha had talents as an artist. The teacher “sets out to help her prove to herself,” that, in fact, she can and will read.  “You are going to read—I promise you that,” says Mr. Falker. Thus the book’s titled, Thank you, Mr. Falker.

I had a sixth-grade teacher like Mr. Falker (a Mrs.) who discovered that I didn’t like reading fiction books. As a start, she introduced me to reading of our local newspaper, which not only helped with my reading interests and skills, but also contributed to skills in arithmetic, language arts, writing, and my knowledge of currents events, especially sports. From there I was “hooked” on reading biographies and other non-fiction material.

Well you ask, what has this to do with character? Both the use of fiction and non-fiction literature in home and schools can contribute to developing positive character habits and interests, social and emotional skills, and ethical decision-making skills for both boys and girls.

My emphasis on boys and reading in this blog suggests that I ask you these questions:

Who floods our reading clinics? Who receives most schools suspensions? Who do teachers say are the hardest to teach? Who have the lowest reading scores on standardized tests? Who have the higher absentee and dropout rates? Who demonstrate the most anti-social behaviors? Who are least likely to graduate and go to college?

Educators and parents need to start somewhere. Maybe it would be worthwhile, at the very least, to help boys become interested in reading and become proficient at doing it.

Neil Duke’s writes, “We are in the ‘information age’ and students have shown that “the majority of the reading and writing adults do is nonfiction—that about 96% of World Wide Web sites contain nonfictional, informational text—and that academic achievement “relies heavily on informational reading and writing.” Results of the 1992 NAEP: “4th graders who report reading informational texts and magazines (include newspapers), as well as storybooks, have higher overall reading proficiency than those who read only storybooks or even two out of three of these forms….”

Numerous studies reveal that young learners reap many benefits by using nonfictional material including success in later schooling, preparation in handling real-life reading material, improvement in motivation and attitudes towards reading, expansion of
vocabulary and other kinds of literacy knowledge, and building a knowledge base of the natural and social world.

Teachers and parents should entice boys to the value and benefits of reading and its relationship to character education by accessing, at the very least, these three resources.