Common Beliefs about Literacy Learning

Way back in 1999 when I was a doctoral student in the Department of Language, Reading, and Culture at the University of Arizona, I devoured a book about helping secondary students read for understanding. (This was a well-timed read because two years later I transferred from an elementary school librarian position to serve as the second librarian at a comprehensive high school.)

The quote that follows from that book has informed my beliefs about literacy practices.

“What is reading?

  1. Reading is not just a basic skill.
  2. Reading is problem solving.
  3. Fluent reading is not the same as decoding.
  4. Reading is situationally bounded.
  5. Proficient readers share some key characteristics” (Schoenbach, Greenleaf, Cziko, and Hurwitz 1999, 17-19).

These beliefs have also informed my teaching and focus on teaching/coteaching reading comprehension strategies at all levels, from kindergarten through graduate school. When school librarians and classroom teachers codevelop common beliefs about literacy they will draw from many sources, including the beliefs that inform non-library associations’ understandings of literacy learning.

International Literacy Association
English language arts associations are where school librarians can begin their search for common beliefs. I am a long-time member of the International Literacy Association (ILA). Formerly the International Reading Association, ILA offers research-based position statements, white papers, research advisories, literacy leadership briefs, and reports reflecting the association’s perspective on current topics and trends.

As a member, I receive the bimonthly Literacy Today magazine. The “What’s Hot in Literacy Report” is an annual must-read! I recently read and found the “Exploring the 2017 NAEP Reading Results: Systemic Reforms Beat Simplistic Solutions” report very helpful in further developing my understanding of NAEP.

In 2017, I had the opportunity to publish on the ILA blog: “Closing the Gaps: School Librarians and the What’s Hot Report.” I appreciated this opportunity to reach out to the ILA online community. I would love to see more articles like this and more collaborative activities with ILA, particularly around their latest initiative: Children’s #RightstoRead

In my career, I have copresented at two ILA conferences. One was a day-long preconference workshop that included Nick Glass from TeachingBooks.net and children’s book authors talking about their work; my piece was to bring in the school librarian’s role in promoting literature and coteaching reading comprehension strategies. The other was a panel of school librarians and classroom teachers sharing their collaborative teaching.

National Council of Teachers of English
When I taught secondary students and YA literature at the university, I maintained my membership in the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). NCTE also has a page of position statements on their website.

In 2005, I had the opportunity to work with NCTE colleagues to draft the “Resolution on Supporting School and Community Libraries.” Wouldn’t it get great to work with NCTE again to ask them to renew their pledge to support school libraries and the work of school librarians?

ILA and NCTE are partners on the Read Write Think website. Through my association with ILA, I published two collaborative classroom-library unit plans on the site. I appreciate these two organizations for their collaborative efforts.

Traditional Literacies in Other Content Areas
What do we know about non-English language arts associations’ core beliefs about literacy? Our librarian and classroom teacher colleagues are associated with educational initiatives and organizations that understand that traditional literacies are the foundation for their efforts. School librarians are wise to investigate the beliefs of Future Ready Schools and Librarians, International Society for Technology in Education, National Council for the Social Studies, National Science Teachers Association, and more.

An Effective Collaborative Strategy
In the best of all possible worlds, school librarians would all be rich enough and have the necessary time to join and be actively involved in the work of our school librarian associations and other literacy- and education-focused organizations. Whether or not we can participate in the activities of other organizations, we can learn from our colleagues who are members and who are up to date with the standards, positions papers, and initiatives of those organizations.

“Professional conversations about the vision of the excellent reader become the starting point for building the school-wide professional learning community, dedicated to achieving this vision for all students. From there, grade levels collaborate to build the staircase curriculum leading to the vision, with each grade level committing to specific student outcomes related to the vision” (International Literacy Association 2018, 8).

When we are working with colleagues to develop common beliefs about literacy, we must search for alignment with the values of all of these organizations. When we invest in collaborative conversations, listen to one another, and reach common understandings, we strengthen our school culture while improving our teaching. When all educators and administrators have common beliefs about literacy, school librarians can serve as effective coteachers who can best support students, educators, and administrators, and enlist the support of families in literacy learning as well.

Using common beliefs about literacy learning as a framework for classroom-library coplanning and coteaching works!

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How do you stay up to date with common beliefs about literacy learning and teaching in all realms of education?
  2. How can you be a leader in codeveloping common beliefs about literacy in your school or district?

Work Cited

Schoenbach, Ruth, Cynthia Greenleaf, Christine Cziko, and Lori Hurwitz. 1999. Reading for Understanding: A Guide to Improving Reading in Middle and High School Classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Becoming Literate: A Lifelong Process

December Podcast Episode 4: Traditional Literacy Learning

I could not have written Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy without dedicating a chapter to school librarians’ role as literacy leaders on their campuses. Chapter 4: Traditional Literacy Learning is a topic that is near and dear to my heart and essential to my thinking about school librarian leadership.

When I taught preservice K-8 classroom teachers, I learned how much support beginning educators need in order to be effective literacy teachers. Many of the undergraduate students in the courses I taught were not proficient readers and writers. When I served as a junior high and high school librarian I cotaught with content-area classroom teachers who were, without a doubt, experts in their disciplines, but had not been taught to support students in reading and writing in their content area.

It was (and still is) my belief that every educator is a literacy teacher and every educator’s proficiency in teaching reading and writing matters. This belief is why I wrote three professional books on classroom-library coteaching reading comprehension strategies (Moreillon 2007, 2012, 2013).

Reading
Reading, writing, listening, and speaking are considered traditional literacies. Of these four, reading has captured the lion’s share of attention from parents and policy makers. Students’ standardized test scores in reading have been the topic of conversation and concern for decades. In recent years, there has been a national emphasis in the U.S. on students reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

As a former elementary classroom teacher and K-12 school librarian, the children in the schools where I taught clearly demonstrated to me that readers progress in their ability to comprehend “grade-level texts” at various rates. It is curious to me that some policy makers focus on third-grade reading scores when it is in fourth grade that the curriculum turns sharply from narrative texts to informational texts. This transition can be a difficult one for developing readers.

Perhaps this is why the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the only standardized national test in the U.S., tests reading (and math) in fourth and eighth grades. This does not mean, however, that learning and practicing strategies to comprehend difficult texts starts in fourth grade or stops in eighth. Young children enjoy informational texts in their preschool years and learning to make meaning from difficult texts certainly extends post K-12 schooling.

In fact, I am often reminded that my own ability to comprehend texts is greatly dependent on my background knowledge, my ability to make inferences, and willingness to ask questions and seek clarification and greater meaning. In short, my willingness to make time to read deeply. This is particularly true when it comes to conflicting information from multiple sources and articles on subjects for which I lack prior knowledge. Reading with deep understanding is a lifelong process for me, as I suspect it is for you.

Writing
Writing in likely the second most emphasized literacy in the school community you serve. While it may very well be true that the more one reads, the better one writes, writing in various registers and genres must be practiced. Two writing applications that have challenged the students with whom I have worked are summarizing and synthesizing. Both require students to understand the purpose for the piece of writing and to filter information through their own understanding in order to be successful.

Summarizing and synthesizing require that students are able to separate main ideas from supporting details; they must be able to determine importance. Importance is based on the purpose for writing and on what the reader considers essential or new knowledge (that answers their questions). When students have made effective notes, summaries will be based on writers having put information in their own words. Synthesizing can be especially challenging when readers have discovered conflicting information.

One of the most effective (and personally satisfying) professional development opportunities in my career occurred when a high school principal required that the entire faculty adopt a writing process method and a particular writing format. Students were required to practice the format in all content areas and at all grade levels (Note: The scripted format was intended to be a starting place for writers, not the ultimate goal.) When educators and students had a common language for talking about writing, more students were able to achieve the basic skills they had lacked. Proficient and excelling writers also had a format on which they could return when they were stuck in their writing. It worked for students and for educators. (And for full disclosure, it worked for me when I was writing my dissertation!)

Foundations for Other Traditional Literacies
Listening and speaking seem to be getting short shrift in many schools today. Many of us listen to media-delivered voices more than we listen to the real-time face-to-face thoughts of other human beings. In schools, many students are not given or do not take opportunities to learn to speak clearly and with ease on topics about which they are passionate. When educators facilitate discussions about literature and informational texts (including material found in textbooks), they model and help students practice these important skills. Responding to texts orally, as well as in writing, builds understanding while it builds classroom community. Speaking is a way to have our voices heard. Listening to one another is a way we build empathy.

Students also practice speaking and listening during presentations. Even when students have created technology-supported or other visuals to share with audiences, they can also speak to the impact of new knowledge on their thinking, feelings, and actions. They can ask and answer questions during a Q&A and reflect on the effectiveness of their communication in all four traditional literacies.

School librarians can take up the cause for traditional literacies during coplanning. (See the lesson and unit plans in my coteaching reading comprehension strategies books cited below.) We can share the importance of traditional literacy learning and teaching as we collectively determine the essential agreements of our school or district’s common beliefs about literacy. (See next week’s post.)

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How do you demonstrate to students that “literate” adults can be challenged to create meaning from difficult texts?
  2. How do you, as a school librarian, support students in further developing traditional literacies?

References

Moreillon, Judi. 2007. Collaborative Strategies for Teaching Reading Comprehension: Maximizing Your Impact. Chicago: ALA.

_____. 2012. Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact. Chicago: ALA.

_____. 2013. Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Elementary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact. Chicago: ALA.