________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 16 . . . . April 3, 2009

cover Nonfiction Reading Power: Teaching Students How to Think While They Read All Kinds of Information.

Adrienne Gear.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2008.
160 pp., pbk., $24.95.
ISBN 978-1-55138-229-6.

Subject Headings:
Reading comprehension.
Reading (Elementary).

Professional: Teachers of Kindergarten-grade 8.

Review by Kristen Ferguson.

**** /4


… the question was raised: “What about nonfiction? Do we teach the same strategies when we are working with nonfiction texts?” I had to ask myself: Does my brain engage with nonfiction texts the same way it engages with fiction? Some strategies, such as asking questions, making connections, and inferring, may be ones that I use, but certainly there seemed to be other strategies that were necessary for making sense of nonfiction material that we had not focused on with the fiction texts.

How many of us elementary teachers are guilty of assigning the animal research report? I know I am. This is the project requiring elementary students to research an animal and write reports using headings such as description, food, and habitat. Then students organize their information, along with some pictures, on a poster. In Nonfiction Reading Power, Adrienne Gear urges educators to teach skills about nonfiction texts before we assign such a research report. Having been guilty of assigning the traditional animal report herself, she explains, “I now believe that there are important skills and strategies we need to teach students, prior to their independent study, that will enable them to have a more meaningful and thoughtful learning experience.”

    Drawing on the research of P. David Pearson, Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis, Gear explains that there are two components of reading: decoding and comprehension. We devote much time in our classes in teaching students how to decode by sounding out letters and words. However, often little time is spent actually teaching students how to understand what they read. Gear reflects: “I grew up in a generation where the word ‘comprehension’ was associated with comprehension questions: ‘Read this chapter, then answer the questions.’ Comprehension is something that we did, not something we learned.” In Nonfiction Reading Power, Gear shows how to teach comprehension to students using nonfiction texts. Nonfiction tends to be a forgotten genre in many classrooms as we teachers have traditionally preferred to read and teach about fiction texts. However, in “real life,” most of which we read in the world is, indeed, nonfiction. This situatoin has caused many schools, school boards, and ministries of education throughout Canada to have a renewed emphasis on the importance of teaching nonfiction texts to students. Gear’s Nonfiction Reading Power provides a practical approach for teachers on how to actually teach important comprehension skills so that students can better use and understand nonfiction.

    Gear identifies five nonfiction “reading powers” or skills needed to comprehend nonfiction texts. First, there is Zoom-In, which focuses on students using and interpreting nonfiction text features. The second reading power is Question/Infer which helps students ask questions and make inferences to better understand what they are reading. Determining Importance is the third reading power, and this helps students identify key facts and the main ideas in nonfiction texts. The fourth reading power is Connect which allows students to make connections about their learning with their prior knowledge. The final reading power is Transform (or Synthesis), and this helps students recognize how their thinking and perspectives can change when reading a nonfiction text.

    Nonfiction Reading Power dedicates one chapter to each of the five reading powers. Each chapter contains a detailed description of the reading power, recommended texts, outlines of lessons, blackline masters, and samples of completed blackline masters. Gear’s lessons are particularly helpful and noteworthy for teachers because she uses the gradual release of the responsibility model to organize the lessons. The lessons include teacher-directed plans, guided and scaffold practice, and the independent practice of the reading powers. Essentially, Gear has created outlines for units to teach each reading power. Nonfiction Reading Power also has a chapter entitled “Application and Assessment” which helps teachers create long range plans, and it also incorporates assessment blackline masters. Included in these masters is a rubric for assessing the five reading powers as well as sheets which have students consolidate their learning and use all five reading powers.

     Both comprehension skills and nonfiction texts continue to be areas of focus for educators across the country. Gear’s Nonfiction Reading Power is an easy-to-read and useful resource which allows teachers to plan units to teach both of these areas. Teachers will find the lesson outlines and the blackline masters particularly helpful as they teach the reading powers. My only quibble with Nonfiction Reading Power is that it tends to focus on traditional nonfiction information books and contains little about different types of nonfiction texts, such as posters, brochures, menus, advertisements, and other nonfiction texts that we encounter in our everyday lives. However, teachers could modify the lessons and blackline masters to suit their needs. Overall, Nonfiction Reading Power is a very worthwhile resource packed with practical ideas to get students thinking deeply about nonfiction texts and their ability to comprehend nonfiction.


Kristen Ferguson, who teaches Language Arts at the Faculty of Education at Nipissing University, is also a doctoral student in Education at York University.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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