Read the book, dummy.
I belong to the Notice & Note Facebook group, and it’s marvelous. Teachers helping other teachers, all grade levels (but predominately K-8), finding books, helping with lessons/units, etc. The big focus is on Kylene Beer’s and Robert Probst’s new book, Reading Nonfiction: Notice and Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, and therefore embarrassed myself a bit by one of my questions in a post. A teacher named Lisa Roth put together this PowerPoint intended to share with staff. (I hope she doesn’t mind if I link it here: if yes, I’ll take it down post haste.)
While reading through her presentation, what caught my eye was the idea that ancient stories or ‘campfire stories’ are nonfiction. Campfire and ancient stories are something I’m very familiar with, having created units on early human story telling for 8th grade, that ties in with the World Studies history. At least I thought I was an expert, but according to Beers and Probst, campfire stories are non-fiction. I asked for clarification, and Roth’s interpretation of N&N Nonfiction makes sense: those stories were meant to inform. Yes, they were. They were origin stories, creation stories, explanations for the beginnings and the endings of things. That makes sense. But–and here is where I ran out and clicked on the book link to buy it–I can imagine teaching the context of genre and how genre shifts with new knowledge is going to be critical.
But before a rush to judgment, I will be reading with a lens that my personal theory is not all campfire stories were meant to inform. Or rather, humans didn’t need to hear and share stories with pure entertainment and escapism value. Nonfiction connotes such dryness for me, and that’s wrong. And I am going to check my bias, because more likely than not, my students believe stories as if they were factual, and it’s time to deconstruct that notion. Think about it: urban legends, social media comments, texts –they are not meant to entertain, but to state opinions as facts.
I remember when introducing Greek/Roman mythology trying to put it in context for students, and dancing around a theological line: these gods and goddess died because no (human) believed in them anymore, but at the time, the cultural belief system was as strong as any current religion today. Some students, occasionally, would suggest we bring back Zeus and Hera.
Perhaps there is another word, a portmanteau, that integrates fiction and nonfiction: truthiction? Stories intended to inform but are based on limited knowledge? Maybe I’ll leave that one up to my students next year to discuss and decide. Yes, I think that’s best.
Here is a better idea: if stories are meant to inform, enlighten, or motivate, then perhaps a unit on civic engagement is in order:
Summer Readings to Inspire Teachers about Project Based Learning with Civic Engagement by Steven Zemelman
So while I’m waiting for my copy of Notice & Note, Nonfiction version, I’ll be brushing up on my legends and mythology, and continue to dig out the truths in those stories.
If you’d like some dedicated nonfiction articles about storytelling and ancient humans, here are some links: