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Vicki Cobb: Real Books Are Better Than Textbooks

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Author: dianeravitch

Vicki Cobb writes books about science for children. In this post, she says that children are “learning to read” from dull and disjointed textbooks. They should be reading lively well-written trade books by accomplished writers.

“Each book is extensively researched and vetted for accuracy and beautifully designed and illustrated. If it is a narrative, the story is told in a compelling, page-turning manner. If it is a how-to book, directions are clear and motivation is embedded in the exposition. History, geography, sports, science, nature, art and music are all represented in this small library. Yet, for the most part, these engaging books never make it to the classroom. Instead, children read flat, dry, “informational” material that comes with work sheets and lesson plans. Teachers do not know that these books exist, that they cover the same topics that are in their curriculum, and even if they do know about them, they are not sure of how to use them in the classroom.

“You know who does know about these books? The standardized testing companies. They excerpt passages (paying licensing fees) for the test questions. So if this writing is good enough for the tests, don’t you think kids should read them in the classroom?

“Without experience in reading high-quality nonfiction, children are not building a foundation of knowledge, not learning to think in a disciplinary way, and are not preparing to be informed decision makers. The main difference between these books and those written on these subject for adults, is that children’s authors assume that their readers have little to no prior knowledge. Concepts are carefully introduced and reinforced so that the content is not overwhelming to the reader. Authors honor their readers and assume they are writing for intelligent human beings who may be uninitiated in the subject matter. The authors’ voices, their humor, wit, passions, inform the books. As an author of science books for children, I have often said that if one of my books is the first book on a subject a child reads, I have failed if it is the last.”

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