I launched the Tapping the Power of Nonfiction Unit with my 6th graders yesterday. The first lesson is a read-aloud of the Introduction of Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. The suggested teaching point is for readers of nonfiction to generate questions and ideas as they orient themselves to the cover, the table of contents and then read the introduction asking, “How does this part fit with the topic of the book?”
If you were in my room, you would have heard:
Look at the cover – what questions do you have? I don’t know. If you did know, what questions would you have? (learned this move from Ellin Keene). Maybe… and a little bit of a response. Repeated with the Table of Contents and got similar almost non-responses. Then the book starts with a photo of Cheyenne Mountain and a captivating three paragraph description of it. Apparently, in the 1950s the mountain was hollowed out and inside is now the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. I paused and asked students to turn and talk with the question in mind. Immediately I heard, “It doesn’t” Period. No “Perhaps…” or “Maybe…” and how come we know about it if it is so top secret?
As I read on, the author’s point that fast food is now found all across America, even at the high-security mountain hide-away is revealed. The reader had to work at being hooked as the book took paragraphs to map out their point. My students showed me their stamina for reading may be a bit weak to sustain them through a longer nonfiction book. But why? They have been reading with me for three quarters now.
My student’s lack of curiosity and grasp of what is real was also revealed. So many questioned the the facts I was reading about the Cheyenne facility. Is it really a real place or is this a fantasy story. Why was this their reaction?
These kiddos are 12 years old. They live in a world where they hear “fake news” and where they spend hours playing games. Games like Fortnite which look real but aren’t.
Yesterday I wondered if these kids, 6 years away from voting age, can pay attention long enough, can be curious enough about a topic, can come to understand what is real and what is fake?
Then I reassured myself that yesterday was just the first lesson in the unit and I still have another quarter with them before the school year ends.