Thursday, February 17, 2011

Guest Post: Sarah C. Campbell on Connecting Nonfiction to the Curriculum

By Sarah C. Campbell

I think my two picture books, Wolfsnail (2008) and Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature (2010)(both from Boyds Mills) are perfect for use in elementary schools. Not only are they compelling nonfiction for emerging and beginning readers, but their content fits into the science and math curricula.

My hope – and my publisher's – is that teachers will use the books in their classrooms.

One way to make this more likely is to develop educational materials, such as a teachers' guide, lessons, and activities, that teachers can readily adapt for their needs.

Many writers do the work of determining how a book fits into the curriculum before they sell a manuscript. (A strong curriculum tie-in can help an editor acquire a book.)

When it comes to creating educational materials, however, the research gets more detailed.

For example, in addition to knowing that first graders in Mississippi study the difference between living and nonliving things, I determined that they must also be able to identify specific animals that can be found in local ecosystems. Voila, Wolfsnail!

State curriculum guides are readily available online. You may also want to look at the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by at least 36 states. If you have trouble translating a curriculum into plain English, ask for help from a teacher.

Educational materials are as varied as the people who develop them. Look around at what other writers are doing. Be creative.

For Wolfsnail, the teacher's guide includes a variety of activities, from a very simple coloring page, which is perfect for bookstore and library visits, to suggestions for experiments that involve live snails. Luckily, my co-photographer (and husband), Richard P. Campbell, is an artist and was able to draw the wolfsnail for the coloring page. Don't use a generic coloring image from the Internet unless you have permission from the artist.

In addition to considerations about content, you will need to decide the form you want your materials to take. I publish mine on my website, making them available to anyone with internet access. When I go to a teachers' conference, I print a copy of my educational materials for display so teachers will know what is available online.

With Growing Patterns, my husband and I developed a web-based tutorial, complete with video, audio, and lots of color images, to explain The Fibonacci Folding Book Project, a lesson I created with a librarian friend for the 2010 International Reading Association (IRA) conference.

For a month, in conjunction with this blog post, I am making the entire video tutorial available for free. Because it is a complete professional development package, I offer it to schools that have hired me for a residency with their students and/or teachers.

Anything you can do to help teachers cover multiple objectives and/or multiple curriculum areas will make your materials attractive. For help with this, I researched model lessons on the IRA's ReadWriteThink and the Kennedy Center's ArtsEdge websites.

Though my two books are straight nonfiction, I am confident that this process is applicable to fiction, too.


Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

I love Sarah's work - thanks for a great post! :) e

Donna said...

Great information, ladies! I think the philosophy of firmly tying school curriculum to book content is even more crucial in today's economic climate, with school libraries in jeopardy and overall budgets being slashed. Congratulations, Sarah!

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

My pleasure, Elizabeth! Sarah did a terrific job with the topic.

And agreed, Donna! More than ever, we need to prove we're earning our keep.

Sarah Campbell said...

Thank you, Donna. I must be a closet teacher because I love doing the work to tie the books to the curriculum.

Doraine Bennett said...

This is wonderful, Sarah. In my sales job I am always looking for those tie ins for my customers. I have recommended Wolf Snail to several schools this year for one of their Principal's Book of the Month selections. This means the entire school reads the book together for the month. You can bet I'll be forwarding this information to them. Thanks for sharing.

sipsey said...

Thanks for sharing your great ideas Sarah! It is always helpful to see how other authors are helping teachers and getting kids hooked on learning!

Sarah Campbell said...

I do so thank you for the word-of-mouth recommendations. Your support means so much.

Thank you. When you've got nature on your side, as you know, it's easy to hook 'em.

Amber said...

I absolutely agree. Making it easy for teachers to use your book in the classroom makes such good sense.

Robyn Hood Black said...

Great post and tips, Sarah, and a wonderful video! Thanks for sharing, Cynthia.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Doraine, so glad to hear it's a priority title for you!

Sipsey & Amber, you're right that it's part of our job to enthusiastically partner with folks who connect information via books to kids.

Glad you enjoyed it, Robyn. My pleasure! All the credit goes to Sarah!

And finally, thanks Sarah for continuing to share your insights! You're amazing!

Jesscjo said...

I read Wolfsnail to a class of 1st graders and they were on the edge of their seats listing. Months later when they were choosing topics they wanted to research and then write about, many students decided to do more research on Wolfsnails!

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

How exciting, Jesscjo! That's wonderful. I love how books can foster curiosity, even as they inform.

Sarah Campbell said...

Thank you, Robyn and Amber and Jesscjo. It's great being part of a community of people who care so much about kids, reading, and nature.