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The benefits for children of writing nonfiction

Carol Jenkins has written a book investigating the role of nonfiction writing in the academic success of children.

Over the past ten years, an increasing body of research has stressed the positive impact that nonfiction writing in elementary education has upon the overall success of a child through the entirety of his or her academic career.  However, few children’s writing journals contain nonfiction. 

Armed with two Spencer grants, Associate Professor of Education Carol Brennan Jenkins and her coauthor, third grade teacher Alice Altfillische Earle, set out to investigate this absence.  Their investigation turned into their new book, Once Upon a Fact: Helping Children Write Nonfiction.

“The key,” said Jenkins, “is tapping into children’s fascination with the world around them, providing the conditions that support and extend this fascination, including literature immersion and responsive instruction.” 

One important variable the authors uncovered that had been largely overlooked by past researchers was peer influence.  “Children want to write what their peers are writing,” said Jenkins.  “If no one is choosing to write nonfiction, there can be no social ripple effect.” 

The authors also realized that children instinctually know a lot about nonfiction writing, much of it picked up from their exposure to nonfiction literature and life experiences.  For example, the majority of third grade students will consult multiple sources, paraphrase the ideas of others, and insert statements of dramatic effect or opinion to engage readers when composing nonfiction, all without prior instruction. 

With so much natural savvy when it comes to writing nonfiction, the authors realized that what students really need is technique oriented instruction to refine and build on what they already know. This “responsive instruction,” said Jenkins, “scaffolds what they know with developmentally appropriate insights and strategies.”  

Once Upon a Fact: Helping Children Write Nonfiction
explores the best methods to engage children in the writing of nonfiction and suggests instruction strategies for K-6 classrooms. Published by Teachers College Press, Once Upon a Fact is available in bookstores now, including Barnes and Noble at Boston University.