Inquiry into Global Nonfiction and Informational Literature: Student Learning Outcomes and Reflections

Judi Moreillon, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

This post summarizes IS445 Information Books and Resources for Youth graduate students’ learning outcomes and reflections. I also included my brief reflection on teaching the course at the end of this post.

Small Group Collaborative Inquiry Projects
As noted in last week’s WOW Currents blog post, IS445 Information Books and Resources for Youth graduate students brainstormed topics and formed five inquiry groups. Topics for two of the five groups made natural connections to global books and resources: immigration and refugees. These topics grew out of the prejudice and discrimination pathfinder I provided as a model for students.

Decorative image of a blue wall featuring a world map with silhouettes of people walking past.

Refugee Pathfinder
Melissa Majewski, Carrie McMenamin, Becky Oberhauser and Rebecca Strang focused on books and resources related to global refugees with this question: What experiences do children and teens go through as refugees and how can we help? Their overarching goal was to create a pathfinder that would not only provide students with information, but would also encourage them to take action. This group opted to organize their annotated bibliography by geographic regions, which provided a supportive framework for the students who would use this pathfinder to dig deeper. As noted in their introduction,

“This Pathfinder is meant to be a guide for you (5th – 12th-grade student) as you gain awareness about this growing problem, and focus on the experiences of children and teens as refugees. The goal of this guided inquiry unit is to go beyond understanding and move towards action. The topics have been organized by geographic location so you can explore refugees from around the world, throughout different points in history.”

Similarly, the immigration group had a goal of spurring youth to become informed, form opinions and take action. In fact, the goal of prompting activism was a shared intention for the animal rights, teen mental health and suicide groups as well. All five groups perceived nonfiction and informational books and resources as invitations to action. Some groups also mentioned expanding worldviews and helping youth develop empathy as goals for their work.

Student Choice Projects
IS445 students’ final assignment in the course was a choice project. Students taking the course for two credits could develop an individual annotated bibliography based on a personally meaningful inquiry question (7). Any student in the course could choose from the other three options: planning the first three phases of a guided inquiry design learning experience (including an Explore pathfinder) (4); designing a library program using nonfiction and information books and resources (2); or composing extended critical reviews of two or four nonfiction or informational books (7). (The numbers in parentheses are the number of students who chose each option.)

Out of twenty projects, 14 demonstrated students’ strong emphasis on global books and resources and students’ commitment to increasing learners’ cultural competence and expanding worldviews. (Several of the projects such as a National Novel Writers Month and Game Design library programs did not lend themselves to these foci.) These three students whose inquiry questions and bibliographies had a global focus gave me permission to share their work.

Image 1: Mysticartdesign's image of hands cupping a verdant cityscape from above and below, K.S.'s Canva design in purple tones two women with fists up and the text Girls Just Want to Have FUNdamental Human Rights, and C. Ho's image of a panda among trees.

Climate Change
Megan Sanks, currently a public library assistant, focused her annotated bibliography on this inquiry question: What are the effects of climate change and what can be done about it globally? She focused her curation on gathering resources for students in fifth through eighth grades. Since many public libraries sponsor programs for Earth Day centered on reduce, reuse, recycle, Megan wanted to offer resources to help tweens deepen their understanding of climate change.

Women’s Rights
K.S. targeted high school students for her annotated bibliography focused on women’s rights. Her inquiry question was: How do women around the world advocate for equality? She specifically searched for resources on women’s rights and women activists. K.S.’s annotated bibliography is intended for use in a “global issues” research project, the goal of which is for students to learn about other people’s stories and develop new perspectives on their global issues of choice.

Animal Habitats and Human Activity
Ashley Long, a fourth-grade classroom teacher, connected her annotated bibliography to Georgia Standards of Excellent in Science. These are the essential questions she intends to pose to students: Why have some organisms become scarce or extinct from their habitats? How have organism become overabundant in their habitats? How have these changes been made better and worse by human actions? She also connected these resources to the U.N. Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

Anonymous Pre- and Post-Course Survey
Nineteen IS445 Information Books and Resources for Youth students participated in a pre-course survey. One question involved ranking eleven genres of books based on how powerful the student believed these genres are in offering readers opportunities to develop empathy, compassion and their understanding of human diversity. Fifteen students ranked memoir (5), realistic fiction (4), biography (3) and narrative nonfiction (3) as the most powerful. Fifteen students also ranked memoir and narrative nonfiction in the top four; thirteen ranked realistic fiction in the top four; and eleven ranked biography in the top four. These were some of the students’ individual responses about their rankings:

I believe that memoirs are the most powerful in teaching readers about a writer’s personal perspective. Autobiographies are also helpful, but I feel like memoirs are more persuasive. Biographies are also very powerful…

I think people learn these qualities best through understanding the lived experiences of others, so I think that genres that convey the stories of peoples’ lives do this work best. Realistic fiction is toward the top of my list because I think it can work similarly to the nonfiction genres in helping kids develop these feelings/qualities through the stories of others, even if the characters in the book are not real.

I believe that empathy through fiction is more transferable to real life scenarios. Most people don’t want to feel like they’re learning. They want to be entertained. Creating a moving story through fiction is more likely to have positive consequences than something presented as serious and real.

Eleven of the sixteen students who completed the post-course survey ranked realistic fiction (5), biography (3) and narrative nonfiction (3) as the most powerful in terms of developing empathy, compassion and understanding. Eleven students ranked autobiography in the top four. Ten students ranked narrative nonfiction and realistic fiction in the top four. Nine ranked memoirs in the top four. Compared with the pre-course survey graph, autobiography and narrative nonfiction moved up in students’ rankings. (Ten out of sixteen students reported they changed their rankings from the pre-course survey by moving up nonfiction and informational books higher in their rankings.)

When asked about their experience in terms of identifying, reading, and annotating global (multicultural and international) books, these were some of the students’ responses:

Overall, I feel I have learned very much about the process involved in checking the authenticity of a resource. This class has made it a regular practice of mine to do deeper author research and consider the reliability of reviews.

Finding international nonfiction sources on many of the topics I wanted to discuss wound up being pretty difficult. This is not to say that those kinds of materials do not exist, just maybe that they are not as easily accessible to me (They may not be translated into English, which is the only language I can read).
I enjoyed seeing perspectives that weren’t my own—both through the literature and through my classmates.

This course was really eye-opening, in terms of book selection. I discovered that there are so many more avenues that I must take in book selection. I realize that I have been lax in selecting texts and now have the tools needed to fully investigate a book before purchasing.

I feel as if there was way too much of an emphasis on multicultural global books and not enough time talking about more useful and practical non-fiction books and resources.

Course Facilitator Reflection
It (almost) goes without saying that teachers learn as much or more than the students. In preparing and teaching this course, I was reminded how much my goals, objectives, and values influence my teaching. (It is always surprising to me when non-educators proclaim that teachers should only teach the “facts.” Even when course content is dictated by a textbook, I do not believe teaching dispassionate facts is either desirable or possible. When will students be prompted to engage in critical thinking?)

I made my values as transparent as possible by modeling the inquiry process and focusing on global literature from the beginning of the class. In launching the Guided Inquiry Design sample pathfinder focused on prejudice and discrimination against global youth, I clearly and openly set the “agenda” for the semester. Of course, I hoped that all students in the course would embrace global nonfiction and information resources as pathways to building knowledge, empathy and compassion for others. That was not the case for at least one student who expressed their opinion (cited above). It could very well be that the four students who did not make time to complete the post-course survey felt similarly.

That said, I believe in the value of the inquiry framework in guiding students’ learning and global literature in helping people gain cultural competence. I also believe that the strategies students learned for interrogating texts for accuracy and cultural authenticity will serve them well as librarians who review, purchase, display, recommend and teach with texts that youth and other educators will use.

The next time I teach this course, I will repeat the intersectionality exercise in several contexts (see 8/12/19 WOW Currents post) and put more emphasis on students examining and reflecting on the cultural biases they bring to the reading of a text. I do believe that to gain intercultural competence, students (and educators) “must be aware of their own cultural biases, be curious and accepting about other people’s cultures, and commit to increasing their knowledge of cultures other than their own” (Moreillon 2019, 3). Teaching this course and participating in the WOW Board’s book study have renewed my commitment to increasing my own intercultural competence.

Many thanks to the graduate students in IS445: Information Books and Resources for Youth who generously taught me this summer. Links to their work and comments from their reflections are used with their permission.

Reference

Moreillon, J. (2019). Does cultural competence matter? Book reviewers as mediators of children’s and young adult literature. Children and Libraries, 17(1), 3-8.

Image Credits

Ho, C. “Tree Plant Nature Panda Bear Wildlife Climb Outdoor.” Stocksnap.io. https://stocksnap.io/photo/XCZ4IUWYFN

Kalhh. “Map of the World Human Group.” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/map-of-the-world-human-group-1005413/

K.S. “Girls Just Want to Have Fundamental Rights.” Created with Canva.com.

Mysticartdesign. “Nature Conservation Reservation.” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/nature-conservation-responsibility-480985/

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