Students’ Rights to Literacy Instruction

The International Literacy Association (ILA) recently released a position statement titled: “Children’s Rights to Excellent Literacy Instruction.”

As you read, you will note that librarians and libraries are not mentioned in this document. Many of us who are school librarians and long-time members of ILA have struggled in the past to make sure school librarians and libraries were included in ILA’s position statements.

I am sorry to say that, this time, we dropped the ball…

Does this mean that the members of ILA who drafted and the board who approved this statement do not view school librarians and libraries as stakeholders in students’ literacy instruction?

I certainly hope not…

That said, there is a great deal for school librarians to consider in this document. The document is organized around four value statements. I have quoted a bit from each one and added my “School Librarians” comments.

Children Have the Right to Knowledgeable and Qualified Literacy Educators
In my worldview, school librarians would be included in the list of literacy educators mentioned in this section along with “principals, reading/literacy specialists, literacy coaches, and literacy coordinators.” The varied roles of literacy educators include designing “literacy learning environments, both face-to-face and virtual, that meet the needs of all students.” These educators are also charged with “dismantling” forces that marginalize any student.

School Librarians: Equity of access and opportunity are cornerstones of school librarianship.

Children Have the Right to Integrated Support Systems
In the position statement, integrated support systems depend upon the “successful alignment of a complex system of stakeholders working cooperatively to strengthen teaching and learning practices and knowledge-building framework.” Educators, who take a systems thinking approach, can help ensure that the “overlapping spheres of influence” support positive progress toward shared goals.

School Librarians: Coteaching and working alongside principals and teacher leaders, school librarians can be key contributors in cocreating a vital system of support for all stakeholders in the learning community.

Children Have the Right to Supportive Learning Environments and High-Quality Resources
For me, this section is ALL about school libraries and the work of school librarians. These are a few quotes. Supportive learning environments with high-quality resources are “accessible learning environments that provide opportunity for robust, literacy-rich experiences, interactivity, and exploration of thought.” Resources and practices within this environment must be audited “to ensure they are bias free, culturally responsive, and student centered.”

School Librarians: In both physical and virtual spaces, school librarians, who are stewards of the school library’s print and digital resources, align the collection and the literacy learning experiences that weave through the library program with the teaching and learning needs of all students, classroom teachers, specialists, families, and the community.

Children Have the Right to Policies That Ensure Equitable Literacy Instruction
From the position statement: “Policymakers should recognize the professionalism and autonomy of teachers to implement curriculum in well-resourced classrooms. Every child, everywhere, benefits from policies that safeguard not only their welfare but also their educational potential.”

School Librarians: School library policies that provide for open, equitable access to resources and protect students’ (and educators’) privacy and intellectual freedom ensure safe learning spaces that support all stakeholders in reaching their capacity.

ILA’s position statement ends on this call to action: “Excellent literacy instruction builds a strong foundation for learning and, in turn, equips children to develop their potential, growing into adults who participate fully in their communities and society, enjoying the fullness that continuous learning brings to their lives.

It is our collective responsibility to advocate for, ensure, and protect these rights for every child, everywhere.”

School Librarians: In our daily practice, I hope that all school librarians are advocating for students’ rights to excellent literacy instruction. When school librarians can articulate the intersection of library resources, reading development, information literacy, and inquiry learning, their work as instructional partners alongside their colleagues can contribute to equitable, effective literacy instruction.

As reading researcher Dr. Nell Duke writes: “Learning to read without books is like learning to swim without water” (2019, 11). I hope everyone involved in education and educational policymakers remember critical importance of access to reading materials in students’ reading development.  I want our ILA colleagues to know exemplary school librarians serve as partners alongside other educators to collectively close the gaps between access and opportunity for all of our students.

Work Cited

Duke, Nell. 2019. “Learning to Read by Third Grade: How Policy Makers Can Foster Early Literacy.” National Association of State School Boards of Education. http://www.nasbe.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Duke_May-2019-Standard.pdf

Image Credit:
Created at Tagxedo.com

Read or Die: A Book Review and a Call to Action

It seems appropriate to wrap up 2019 School Library Month with a book review. I met author Daphne Russell on Twitter and in an article printed in the Arizona Daily Star: “This Tucson educator is changing lives by giving students books they love.” When we met face to face, Daphne presented me with a copy of her memoir Read or Die: A Story of Survival, Hope, and How a Life Was Saved One Book at a Time. A retired middle-school reading teacher, Daphne attributes Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief with her epiphany—she needed to “teach as though books save lives.” She changed her reading curriculum from whole class text sets to individual, targeted books to motivate, inspire, and meet the literacy needs of each student.

Individualizing Reading Promotion
All educators know that trust is the basis for authentic relationships. This is especially true for students who have been marginalized in the school system (and society). By the time they reach middle school, students who are non-readers face enormous learning obstacles. In her memoir, Daphne makes a compelling case for individualizing reader’s advisory. Read or Die is a no-holds-barred sometimes gritty, sometimes irreverent depiction of everyday life for students, educators, and administrators in an urban middle school. In her gripping story, Daphne shares how the one-on-one connection between a student and an educator (her) made the difference in growing students’ confidence and self-perception as readers.

Daphne thinks of her students as “bookthreads” – baby worms who, in the past, have been unsuccessful with books. She describes her job: “to coax, prod, goad, cheer, push, shove, and beg my bookthreads to become bookworms” (83). Most students at Mission Heights Middle School (all names in the book are pseudonyms) live at or below the poverty level. They do not have books in their homes. The students in Daphne’s classes have never read an entire book. They get “behind” in school because they can’t or don’t read, do homework, or manage in-school learning and their outside-of-school lives. They skip school or ditch class. Many will dropout before high school graduation.

Student Choice
When the book opens, Abel has just joined the class. He can read, but chooses not to. He is failing his classes. “Abel is twenty-eight days behind everyone else, and I (Daphne) need to get enough books inside him to get his lungs to work again, mend his shattered heart, and kick the shit out of apathy” (7). With compassion and a take-no-prisoners plan, Daphne guides Abel one book at a time until he is reading (breathing) on his own—until he can say of an author: “Every sentence he writes it like poetry. The book speaks to me” (208).

With student choice as the answer to the question of how she can help students chart a positive life future, Daphne performs daily triage. She invites students to sit on the stool next to her desk for individual reading conferences during which they convince her they have read and understood the books she dispenses. She references what peers are reading and encourages students to recommend books to one another.

Under Daphne’s tutelage, students in her classes come to recognize how reading books changes them. They learn they have to do the work—make the commitment to read—in order for books to work their magic. Daphne celebrates their successes and yet, “a teacher’s heart is a delicate thing, tiny pieces allotted for so many kids over so many years. People ask me how I can possibly retire, but this is why. I cannot do this forever. Abel just took a giant chunk, and it is too much for a heart to take” (209).

Sad but True
Daphne taught in a school district where I served as a school librarian for ten of my thirteen years in K-12 practice. When she and I met, I described how school librarians also strive to find the “right” book for individual students and support classroom teachers in effective reading motivation and comprehension strategy instruction. She replied, “In all my (28!) years teaching, I never had a librarian like that.”

I know for a fact that for some of those years, Daphne’s schools were not staffed by professional state-certified school librarians. While paraprofessional library assistants can be excellent at getting books into the hands of kids, others do not have the knowledge or skills to do so. In fact, it’s not in their job description. I also know that for some of those years, she served in schools with professional school librarians who must not have reached out to Daphne and her students—who missed the opportunity to maximize their influence in their schools.

Promoting books and reading and providing reader’s advisory is most certainly in the school librarian’s job description. It deeply concerns me that Daphne never had a warm, friendly book-pushing, collaborating school librarian who helped her and her students succeed.

The Math
Elementary school librarians who work in a fixed schedule library “see” students regularly for approximately 40 minutes per week. If there are 36 weeks in a 180-day school year, fixed schedule school librarians see students about 24 hours for “library time” over the course of an academic year. How much individual reader’s advisory do they have time to do when, all at once at whole-class book checkout time, an entire class of students could benefit from her/his guidance? Even if students are using self-checkout… and the classroom teacher is not present to offer reader’s advisory alongside the librarian, what kind of quality time do librarians have to spend with individual students?

Elementary classroom teachers, on the other hand, teach students up to 30 hours per week (minus other “specials”), or 1,080 hours (minus specials and testing) a year. Elementary school librarians who work on a flexible schedule with open library for book checkout will teach students for in-depth periods of learning but may go weeks between classroom-library cotaught lessons or units of instruction. The number of hours these school librarians teach students will vary widely. In my experience with an open library that allows students to access library materials throughout the day, school librarians have more time to provide high-quality individualized reader’s advisory.

At middle and high schools, classroom teachers teach students up to one hour per day for 180 days per year, or 180 hours (minus testing). Like elementary school librarians on flexible schedules, secondary school librarians will teach students for in-depth periods of learning but may go weeks between classroom-library cotaught lessons or units of instruction. The number of hours these school librarians teach students will vary widely and again; with open library the opportunities are there for individualized reader’s advisory.

My takeaway from the math: Classroom teachers and school librarians do not have a great deal of time to develop students as readers, thinkers, and people who take action to create a better world.

If school librarians at any instructional level hope to influence students’ enjoyment of reading, reading proficiency, and successful quest for accurate information, they must create opportunities for individualized reader’s advisory. They must acknowledge the greater influence of the classroom teacher on student learning. They must “let” classroom teachers be the first to bring new books into the classroom to share with students. They must coplan and coteach with classroom teachers and specialists. School librarian leaders must collaborate.

National School Library Month
The theme of this year’s National School Library Month is Everybody Belongs @Your School Library. As we come to the end of the month and this annual spotlight on school libraries, it is essential that all school librarians reflect on how their work is perceived in their school learning community.

  • Are students, classroom teachers, administrators, and families comfortable when they walk through the library doors?
  • Do school library stakeholders feel ownership in “our” library?
  • Do library policies, such as those for overdue books and library fines, set up barriers to library use?
  • Do library rules, such as those regarding food, drinks, and technology use, create the impression that youth are not welcome in the library?
  • Do classroom teachers and specialists reach out for partnerships with the school librarian?

Every school librarian must commit to meeting with their School Library Advisory Committee composed of students, colleagues, administrators, and families or commit to starting such a committee. By meeting with, listening to, and taking direction from the people we serve, school libraries and librarians may go a long way toward building the relationships and developing the policies that can propel the library into the center of the learning culture in our schools.

Bottom line: Daphne Russell made independent reading the focal point of her classroom curriculum. She also taught students reading comprehension strategies to help them become more successful independent and lifelong readers. I wonder what could have happened for the students she served if she had collaborated with one or more school librarians to share her commitment to creating a culture of reading in her classroom. I suspect that by aligning their goals, pooling their resources, and acting in concert, more lifelong readers might have been made—more students may have been saved in a school-wide culture of reading.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What is your commitment to reader’s advisory for individual students through the library program?
  2. How do you support classroom teachers as they engage in reader’s advisory with students?

Work Cited

Russell, Daphne. 2018. Read or Die: A Story of Survival, Hope, and How a Life Was Saved One Book at a Time. Tucson, AZ: Wheatmark.

For more information, follow Daphne Russel on Twitter: @gtwybookpusher or visit her non-profit Books Save Lives website: https://www.bookssavelives.org/

 

 

 

The Gift of Traditional Literacies

For the luckiest children, the gift of traditional literacies begins in their homes. “Seeing, hearing, mouthing, and touching books helps children lay down the best of multisensory and linguistic connections during the time that Piaget aptly christened the sensorimotor stage of children’s cognitive development” (Wolf 2018, 133).

Adults and older siblings read to the luckiest of children. As babies and toddlers, these children have nestled into a lap and have been held in the arms of a loving family member or caregiver who invites them into the world of story.

Reading with others creates a warm connection with language and literacy that sets young children on a path to enjoying reading. One of the most consistently important predictors of reading development has been how often parents read to their children. (In this photo, I am reading my book Read to Me to my then eight-month-old grandson.)

For other children, books and reading are not prominent features of their lives until they enter preschool or when they attend public library storytimes. When preschool teachers read to children daily, they set an expectation for connecting through books. Or when children attend storytime at their public library, they learn that books contain stories and illustrations that are fun. They begin to learn through story.

For still other children, their kindergarten and primary-grade classroom teachers and elementary school librarian are the first caring adults who model the gift and value of books and reading. Wise educators select books that offer children invitations to learn about themselves, about others, about the physical world and the world of the imagination. Young children also learn to listen attentively to and (hopefully) respond to stories. They learn to share and attend to the responses of their peers. They begin to understand the social aspects of reading with other people outside their homes.

Gatekeeper Texts
Home, preschool, and primary-grade books are often selected to support young readers developing literacy but that can change as children advance through the grades. Some students will continue to be avid readers; others will not. Some will become regular library users who seek out new books, authors, and topics; some will only read when they are required to do so for a class assignment. Some number of students will invariably wrestle with school-based reading materials and increased expectations for literacy learning, especially when they bump up against “gatekeeper” texts.

Gatekeeper texts are “various texts that permit or deny student access to educational, economic, civic, and cultural opportunities” (Schoenbach, Greenleaf, Cziko, Hurwitz. 1999, 9). Gatekeeper texts are found in all content areas. They include difficult classic texts, standardized tests, testing materials, including those used in advanced placement courses, college and career applications and forms, and more. For far too many students, these gatekeeper texts have turned them off to reading, writing, or making the required efforts to advance their lives.

It is imperative that educators help students be effective readers and writers so that these texts do not limit students’ life choices. Deep reading comprehension strategies and a problem-solving orientation toward challenging texts can help readers be successful.

Traditional Literacies in Daily Lives
It is important for students to see family members, school librarians, classroom teachers, administrators, school staff, and other important people in their lives engaged with traditional literacies. Seeing parents and educators reading their own self-selected texts is important. Engaging young people in discussions about what adults are reading, listening to, or viewing—be it a novel, the news, or information in any format—lets students know that reading and discussing what you read are essential lifelong activities.

Adults must also model writing beyond making grocery store lists. Do we still write letters and thank-you notes by hand? Or if we compose them on our computer, tablet, or phone, do we let children and teens know that is what we’re doing? Do we journal or write comments or letters to the editor of news media? Do we encourage young people to engage in these types of writing activities at home and at school?

Talking about what we are reading, writing, or thinking must also be a part of daily life in and outside of school. Far too often, we let media do the talking for us and deprive youth of understanding and practicing how discussion works. Adults need to model being respectful listeners as well as effective speakers. We need to express disagreements without demeaning other people. We need to show it’s possible and preferable to develop empathy for those who do not share our views or life experiences.

The Gifts = Empowerment
The impact of the gifts of the four foundational literacies cannot be overestimated. Literacy gives people more opportunities in life, and it also has the potential increase our understanding of and empathy for others—to make us more human. Children’s and young adult author Katherine Paterson wrote an article entitled “What Does It Mean to Be Truly Literate?” (Paterson 2003). Although I read this article many years ago, Ms. Paterson’s perspective has stuck with me because I believe she spoke directly to the heart of literacy.

In her article, Paterson talks about the importance of the “humanities,” literature, philosophy, and history. She notes that “the humanities are all those subjects that make us more human, and we cannot be fully human unless our vision includes the breadth of human culture” (8). She goes on to write about how essential it is for all young people to have access to the humanities, which she thinks of as “true literacy.”

“True literacy” helps people dispel ignorance and see the larger world more clearly. Reading does that; interacting with others through speaking and listening does that. Writing also helps us see and examine our inner and outer worlds more clearly. Knowing how to use our literacy skills to improve our communities, nation, and global society may very well be the way to ensure a more just future for all. To support young people as they develop “true literacy” is a gift that educators (and families) both give and receive.

Without a focus on traditional literacies, there can be no empowered learning culture in any school (or home).

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What is your definition of “true literacy”?
  2. How does your understanding of “true literacy” guide your work as an educator, parent, or mentor to young people?

Works Cited

Paterson, Katherine. 2003. “What Does It Mean to Be Truly Literate?” Language Arts 81 (1): 8-9.

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.

Wolf, Maryanne. 2018. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. New York: Harper.

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.

Planning for Election 2018

For many educators, summer is a time for planning for the fall. The gardening metaphor works so well for teaching. The more relaxed pace and some daydreaming time provide mental space to plot out the garden where students will think, create, share, and grow come fall. Summer is when educators look for new seeds to plant (concepts to emphasize). We research better fertilizers (resources and tools) and improved ways to till the soil (motivate and inspire learners).

We also look for real-world connections that can help students build connections between school-based learning and the world outside of the classroom, library, and lab. With the midterm elections to be held on Tuesday, November 5th, fall 2018 presents an excellent opportunity for students to delve deeply into the connection between civics and (online) information—between citizenship and digital literacy.

One website that supports student learning and educators’ teaching civics content is Stanford History Education Group. One the American Association of School Librarians’ 2018 Best Websites for Teaching and Learning, the site includes a Civic Online Reasoning section. Based on research evidence (Wineburg et al. 2016), the site offers online resources that educators can use to prompt students to engage in reasoning related to history content.

The site also provides short-answer assessments that indicate a student’s level of development: emerging, beginning, and mastery. Each rubric includes sample student responses at each level, which can be initially used as examples for students and as guides for educators. (Coteaching classroom teachers and school librarians may find these “anchor responses” particularly useful when they share assessment responsibilities.)

As noted on the site, these resources are intentionally flexible so educators can “use the tasks to design classroom activities, as the basis for discussions about digital content, and as formative assessments to learn more about students’ progress as they learn to evaluate information.” The assessment prompts include historical photographs and other printed artifacts as well as social media posts from Facebook and Twitter.

I appreciate the terms used for the Civic Online Reasoning (COR) competencies:
1. Who’s behind the information? (Authority)
2. What’s the evidence? (Reliability)
3. What do other sources say? (Bias or Perspective)

The two other sections of the website are “Reading Like a Historian” and “Beyond the Bubble.” The former includes lesson plans; the latter provides assessments.  The lessons in “Reading Like a Historian” have been adopted by history departments in schools across the country. All aspects of the Stanford History Education Group site focus on documentary evidence as the way to validate information.

If the last election cycle is any indication, there will be no shortage of (online) information that will provide fodder for civic reasoning learning experiences in the fall of 2018. Check out this site and start plotting your fall garden today! Even better, start a conversation with your school librarian and classroom teacher colleagues to collaborate to design learning opportunities for students to develop digital literacy in the context of civic reasoning.

Reference
Wineburg, Sam. Sarah McGrew, Joel Breakstone, and Teresa Ortega. 2016. “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning.” Stanford Digital Repositoryhttp://purl.stanford.edu/fv751yt5934

Image Credit: Word Cloud created at Wordle.net

Co-Creating a Community of Readers

“Supporting Middle School Reading: Using a Data Dashboard to Create a Community of Readers” by school librarian Kelsey Cohen appeared in the June, 2018, issue of American Libraries. Kelsey’s article is about how she engaged in a professional inquiry with assistant principal Rob Andrews, literacy coach Lisa Ramos-Hillegers, and instructional technology coach Mike Sammartano to support striving readers at Hommocks Middle School (Larchmont, New York). Their goal was to explore ways to use digital reading logs to motivate and engage more readers and further develop a reading culture in their school.

When educators engage in inquiry, they take risks together. They analyze a challenge they are facing, design, and test solutions that can help students succeed. Sometimes when they examine the outcomes, they find their solution needs to be tweaked and retested before they can achieve their goals.

In the American Libraries article, Kelsey describes an inquiry conducted by Hommocks educators. In this example, assistant principal Rob Andrews suggested the literacy team institute electronic reading logs in order to collect and use student data to improve students’ engagement and motivation. In the first year of testing the logs, the collaborators learned that the digital reading log forms were too detailed and therefore, not completed by enough students. When they revised the form, they involved the expertise of their instructional technology coach. Together, they created a data dashboard where students could access colorful graphs, charts, and lists based on their reading log data. They increased students’ and classroom teachers’ buy-in.

Kelsey displayed the data on a large monitor in the library. Readers used this information to self-assess their reading and classroom teachers used it with students during reading conferences. Along with literacy coach Lisa, Kelsey used the data specifically to reach out to striving readers. Kelsey and Lisa made sure that these students had “first dibs on new book arrivals” and they “created personalized book bins” that struggling readers could browse in their classrooms (Cohen 2018, 19).

These educators’ use of the inquiry process parallels the process that students take when they engage in inquiry learning. This strategy for learning can increase their own ability to guide students (and classrooms teachers) in inquiry learning. Kelsey and Lisa contributed voices from the field in the “Literacy Leadership and the School Librarian: Reading and Writing—Foundational Skills for Multiple Literacies” chapter of The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2017). In that example, they collaborated with science teachers in creating classroom “wonder walls” as springboards for student-led inquiry (Moreillon 2017, 104).

As the quote from above from Kelsey attests, hers is not a “neutral” stance with regard to library services. Along with her colleagues, she creatively reached out to students who were not frequent library users. The literacy team created a tool that could be used by all Hommocks students. In addition, they targeted specific services to the readers who were most in need and helped them monitor their own reading and develop internal motivation to pursue learning. Rather than simply serve those who came to the library on their own, Kelsey and her team reached out to those who could benefit the most from the resources and expertise of the library and librarian in order to reach their potential as readers.

You can read Kelsey’s article in the magazine or online and reach her via Twitter @KelseyLCohen: “Supporting Middle School Reading: Using a Data Dashboard to Create a Community of Readers.”

With the culture of reading inquiry described in the American Libraries article, Kelsey. Lisa, and their collaborators are clearly continuing on their journey to create a culture of learning in their school. And they are using an inquiry approach to pursue their goals. Bravo to the collaborating educators at Hommocks Middle School and to Kelsey Cohen for her school librarian leadership.

Works Cited

Cohen, Kelsey. 2018. “Supporting Middle School Reading: Using a Data Dashboard to Create a Community of Readers.” American Libraries 49 (6): 28-19.

Moreillon, Judi. 2017. “Literacy Leadership and the School Librarian: Reading and Writing—Foundational Skills for Multiple Literacies.” In The Many Faces of School Library Leadership, 2nd ed., edited by Sharon Coatney and Violet H. Harada, 86-108. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Image credits:
Quote from Kelsey Cohen used with permission

Youngson, Nick. “Decision-making Highway Sign.” http://www.creative-commons-images.com/highway-signs/d/decision-making.html

Digital Literacy = Leadership Opportunity

While it is essential for school librarian leaders to stay abreast of new developments in our own field, it is also important to read the journals and magazines our administrators and classroom teacher colleagues read as well. I belong to the International Literacy Association (ILA), in large part, so I can receive their magazine Literacy Today. (In December, 2017, I wrote about the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Educational Leadership issue titled “Lifting School Leadership.”

The November/December issue of Literacy Today was titled “Critical Literacy in a Digital World.” The articles in this issue were written by English language arts (ELA) and other classroom teachers, reading specialists, literacy professors and doctoral students, and could have as easily been written by school librarians. In order to access this issue, you must be an ILA member.

From my perspective, school librarian leaders could benefit from reading every article in the issue. Here are three of the articles: “More than Bits and Bytes: Digital Literacies On, Behind, and Beyond the Screen” (Aguilera 2017, 12-13), “Plagiarism in the Digital Age: Using a Process Writing Model to Enhance Integrity in the Classroom” (Moorman and Pennell 2017, 14-15), and the cover story: “Assessing News Literacy in the 21st Century: A Year After the Election that Blurred Lines” (Jacobson 2017, 18-22). These are my comments on these three.

Earl Aguilera is a doctoral candidate and former high school ELA teacher and K-12 reading specialist. He poses these questions: “How often do we consider how search engines match us to certain results and hide us from others? How are websites, apps, and games built to accomplish different purposes? And how can these understandings empower us to remix digital tools for our own purposes?” (Aguilera 2017, 13). These are precisely the types of questions school librarians who teach digital literacy, including the ethical use of information, bring to the classroom-library collaboration table. We are taught to be aware of and teach these aspects of digital literacy while many classroom teachers are not.

In his article, Aguilera provided a resource with which I was previously unfamiliar. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to “defending digital privacy, free speech, and innovation. The website includes links to timely articles that can inform educators and students alike. ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom could partner with this organization to increase librarians’ clout.

Whether or not your school uses tools such as Turnitin.com, the challenges of teaching students (and colleagues) various aspects of plagiarism is an on-going activity for school librarians. In their article, Professor Gary Moorman and doctoral student Ashley Pennell from Appalachian State University write this: “We strongly believe the root of today’s plagiarism problem is the lack of consistent and effective writing instruction and the failure of schools to create an environment that encourages students to write to learn” (2017, 15).

School librarians can step up their literacy leadership by honing their expertise in writing instruction and coteaching with classroom teachers in order to give students opportunities to learn strategies to help them avoid plagiarism, including making notes in their own words. In the conclusion of this article, the authors write when students have the opportunity to talk about and learn about plagiarism “both students and teachers come to acknowledge that writing is a powerful learning process, that original work is valued, and that plagiarism in unnecessary” (2017, 15). I agree.

The cover article by education writer and editor Linda Jacobson may be of particular interest to school librarians. Jacobson writes “In some schools, librarians take the lead on teaching news literacy, while in other schools, the lessons are integrated into social studies or English classes” (Jacobson 2017, 20). While we can be excited about this mention of the vital work of school librarians, this is not an either-or situation. To be effective, school librarians are coteaching these strategies and therefore “library lessons” are integrated into the content areas.

In the article, Jacobson highlights a tool with which I was unfamiliar. Checkology® is a virtual classroom designed to help students tell the difference between fact and fiction. The site features 12 core lessons and is free during the 2017-2018 school year so now is the time to check it out!

Perhaps most exciting of all since school librarians are rarely mentioned in Literacy Today, Jacobson spotlights the work of Charlottesville K-8 school librarian Sarah FitzHenry who serves at St. Anne’s-Belfield School. FitzHenry developed a news literacy course in collaboration with computer science coordinator Kim Wilkens. They use misleading images extensively in their course. Thank you to Linda Jacobson for including the work of a school librarian in her article.

Jacobson also cites the work of Dr. Renee Hobbs, professor of communications studies at the University of Rhode Island. “The changes occurring in the media sector, with new apps, games, platforms, and genres rapidly emerging, have contributed to the instability of meaning of the concept of media literacy and added to the measurement challenges” (Jacobson 2017, 20.) Dr. Hobbs notes that performance-based assessments for media literacy are the most effective because they can “capture dimensions of media literacy competencies using tasks that are highly similar to everyday practices of analyzing and creating media in the real world” (22).

School librarians have limitless opportunities to serve as instructional leaders in their schools.  We would all agree that students need to learn to navigate the “messy information environment” and practice using and creating media effectively. Readers of this blog might also agree that school librarians have a timely and critical leadership opportunity when it comes to digital/media/news/information literacy!

Note: The results of ILA’s annual international “What’s Hot in Literacy 2018” appears in the January/February issue of Literacy Today. It’s no surprise that “digital literacy” is the #1 hot topic.

References

Aguilera, Earl. 2017. “More than Bits and Bytes: Digital Literacies On, Behind, and Beyond the Screen.” Literacy Today 35 (3):12-13.

Jacobson, Linda. 2017. “Assessing News Literacy in the 21st Century: A Year After the Election that Blurred Lines.” Literacy Today 35 (3):18-22.

Moorman, Gary, and Ashley Pennell. 2017. “Plagiarism in the Digital Age: Using a Process Writing Model to Enhance Integrity in the Classroom. Literacy Today 35 (3):14-15.

Image Credit: Magazine Jacket Courtesy of ILA

Mothers, Educators, and Literacy

Next Sunday is Mother’s Day and this week is Teacher Appreciation Week. There is a strong connection between mothers and educators, home and school. We are essential partners in family literacy.

As a former elementary school librarian, I enjoyed meeting kindergarten children and their families. From their first day in the school library, I could tell which children had been read to in their homes and which had not. The lucky children came to school excited about stories. They knew how to hold books and turn the pages. They had already taken their first steps on the path to reading for enjoyment and learning.

You have heard it said that “parents are their child’s first teachers.” Nothing could be truer. In addition to feeding, sheltering, and clothing a child, literacy is another essential aspect of parenting. There is no one in a better position to do that than a child’s parents and caregivers.

Parents who talk, sing, play, and read to their infants and young children prepare them for success in school and in life. “Read to me and watch me grow/tell me all the tales you know.” Young children who hear more words spoken and say more words in conversations with others are better prepared to read. A research study showed that some children already have a 30 million (!) word gap by the age of three.

No one wants their child to start school behind in language development. High-quality early childhood preschool experiences are important. But in those first two or three years before some children start preschool, a great deal of brain development is already occurring. Talking and singing to an infant from birth is a gift of love and an investment in the child’s future learning.

In addition to talking and singing with a child, reading is a fun and effective way to build a child’s vocabulary. “In picture books and nursery rhymes/fairy tales from other times.” Making meaning from pictures is a baby step on the path to being a reader. Older readers engage young children by pointing to the pictures and talking about what is happening in the book. They ask children questions that are first answered by pointing. Later, a child’s answers will be single words, phrases, and finally full sentences. When children can ask questions about what is being read, they are well on their way to becoming motivated to learn to read.

When children are enfolded in a parent’s arms while reading a book together, they experience reading as an act of caring. “Read the pictures, read the lines./Words to nourish hearts and minds.” Children who are read to develop positive feelings toward books and stories. These feelings help children grow curious about words. Positive feelings about reading support them in making meaning from words as well as pictures.

“Read to me and plant the seed./Make me want to learn to read.” Parents can be very busy and may be unable to provide early literacy learning experiences on a daily basis. That’s when brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other caregivers can step in to make sure the young child is nurtured in these essential ways.

Parents are truly their children’s first teachers. But literacy is a lifelong skill that needs a strong beginning and support throughout students’ schooling. When libraries partner with families, caregivers, health and community organizations, we can elevate literacy in our community.

One shining example of such a partnership is the “Books for Texas Babies” initiative.

This effort began as a collaborative project of the Friends of the Dallas Public Library and Parkland Health and Hospital System. In 2016, they gave 12,000 copies of Vamos a leer/Read to Me to families of newborns and are continuing the project this year. Fort Worth Public Library and the JPS Health Network began their “Books for Tarrant County Babies” partnership in 2017.

Working together, we can ensure that all children have the literacy skills they will need to expand their life choices—skills that are the foundation for college, career, and community readiness. With a shared responsibility and commitment, let’s engage every child in experiences that show literacy is simply an essential part of life.

Note: The quoted rhymes in this blog post are from my book Read to Me.

Work Cited

Moreillon, Judi. Read to Me. Cambridge, MA: Star Bright Books, 2004.

Image Credit: From the Personal Collection of Judi Moreillon. Used with permission.

The Literacy Village

This past weekend, Tucsonans and visitors to the Old Pueblo celebrated literacy at the ninth annual Tucson Festival of Books. Over 100,000 people attended the two-day festival.

From infants to the elderly, future and avid readers from all backgrounds and with varying literary preferences enjoyed immersing themselves in the power of story and the critical importance of literacy in their lives.

This year, I had the responsibility and pleasure of booking the storytellers and facilitating their performances at the Children’s Entertainment Stage. These performances were part of the Entertainment and Family Activities offered at the Festival.

In chronological order, Elly Reidy, South Mountain Community College (SMCC) Storytelling Institute tellers, Antonio Sacre, More to the Story Entertainment, Joe Hayes, and Carla Goody shared their love of story and their talents to eager audiences of all ages.

Elly Reidy and  SMCC Storytelling Institute Tellers Mario Avent, Chantel Freed, Chrissy Dart, and Liz Warren shared stories from published traditional literature. Their stories spanned different cultures and their retellings reflected the personalities of the tellers. In addition to enjoying their live retellings, listeners could find their stories in the folktale section of their public and school libraries. Hurray for 398.2!

Antonio Sacre, who told stories on both days, shared personal family stories some of which have become picture books or part of a short story collection. One of the overarching themes in Antonio’s tellings is the power of family storytelling, Throughout his performance, he asked listeners to connect with their own stories/memories. Antonio shared his stories in Spanish and English and gave listeners a humorous and heartfelt window into his experiences as a boy, son/nephew/grandson, and father.

More to the Story Entertainment captured the attention and imaginations of the youngest TFOB audience attendees and their families. Through fairy costuming, song, audience participation, and magical moments they delighted their audience.

Joe Hayes once again captivated his loyal audience and made new fans, too, with his Southwest-seasoned tales and stories from beyond our region. Joe said he enjoys telling stories that blend cultures. He told a Cuban story about a family of white herons in Spanish and English and wove a chorus throughout the telling that reminded listeners of the African ancestry of a majority of Cuban people. Joe reminded us that stories connect people of various cultural backgrounds to a shared humanity.

C. A. Goody shared the story of her inspiration for her Charlie the Cat series, which now includes nine titles. Taking the point of view of Charlie, she recounted how a cat might experience various aspects of life. Written for third- and fourth-grade children, Carla’s stories invite readers to take up their pencils/pens/keyboards to craft stories of their own.

Thank you all for your part in making the Children’s Entertainment Stage an exciting part of the TFOB.

As a former school librarian, (school) librarian educator, and family literacy advocate, I am keenly interested in the literacy organizations that support Tucson’s literacy ecosystem, particularly those that impact early childhood education.

These were some of the booths I visited and the groups whose work I applaud (and support). In alphabetical order:

Expect More Arizona: “Expect More Arizona fosters a shared voice and collaborative action among partners statewide to advocate for all Arizona students to have the opportunity to succeed, from their early years and throughout life.”

First Things First: “First Things First is one of the critical partners in creating a family-centered, comprehensive, collaborative and high-quality early childhood system that supports the development, health and early education of all Arizona’s children birth through age 5.”

Literacy Connects, which includes Reach Out and Read Southern Arizona, Reading Seed, and more: “Literacy creates solutions to many of society’s most persistent problems. From reducing unemployment and poverty to increasing economic growth and opportunity, literacy is key to a better future for all of us.”

Make Way For Books: “Our mission is to give all children a chance to read and succeed.” MWFB serves more than 30,000 children and their families and 700 educators.

Worlds of Words: “Worlds of Words is committed to providing a range of resources to encourage educators at all levels to integrate global literature into the lives of children.” (More about WOW next week!)

It does take a village to support literacy and these organizations are doing vital work to elevate literacy in our community and improve the quality of life choices for our residents, particularly as they launch their literacy lives.

Thank you to the presenters, sponsors, exhibitors, volunteers, and most of all the readers who use their literacy skills every day to enjoy life, to improve their life choices, and to participate in the life of our village, our country, and our world. In doing so, you are an essential part of the literacy village we all need. Bravo to all!

Image Credit: Tucson Festival of Books logo courtesy of the Arizona Daily Star, image created in PowerPoint

Advocating for Respect and Literacy for All

If advocating for literacy for all is “political,” then a growing number of school librarians, authors, publishers, and schools are speaking up and out about the empathy and attitudes that will help ALL students become the respectful, successful native-born or naturalized citizens our country needs.  With this post, I applaud and join with them.

The following exemplary examples are just some of this work that came across my computer screen last week. I hope school librarians will follow these links and be on the lookout for other ways we can align our work with inclusion and take action for social justice.

School librarian Elissa Malespina penned and illustrated “An Open Letter to School Librarians,” which was published on the School Library Journal (SLJ) Web site. In her opinion piece, she challenges school librarians to take a firm stand about how we welcome and include students in our libraries and schools. “Every day students of different races, nationalities, and sexual orientations walk through our doors. Our libraries must be safe spaces for them, since the outside world has become increasingly unsafe.” For Ms. Malespina (and I hope for you), silence is not an option.

Young adult author Marie Marquardt wrote an equally eloquent appeal related to social justice on the Teen Librarian Toolbox (TLT) linked from the SLJ site: “Love and Justice: What I’ve Learned from Those Seeking Refuge in the U.S.” Ms. Marquardt, who lives in Georgia, has worked for more than twenty years with immigrants, most of whom were undocumented, and asylum-seeking refugees. In her piece, she wrote this: “They all made these journeys because they believed America is a place of refuge, a peaceful nation guided by such enduring values as fairness, equality, and the rule of law. Even in the face of clear injustices – blatant discrimination, inconsistent treatment in the courts – they have astounded me with their steadfast desire to participate in American life, to become American. In fact, they have taught me to see my own nation through new eyes, to affirm and celebrate our core values.”

The 2017 TLT Project is Social Justice YA Literature. Use this link to read more about this timely and essential effort. To participate in this effort on Twitter, use the #SJYALit.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, February 14th, Booklist, Second Story Press, and Lee & Low Publishers, are offering a free one-hour Webinar titled “Teaching Tolerance.” On the promotion for this event, the collaborators cite increased bullying in schools as an indication that educators and parents are called upon to use children’s literature to help young people increase their understanding and acceptance of “others.” School librarians can support classroom teachers and families by spotlighting these titles and integrating them into their collections and teaching.

BACC blog readers can find another resource for books about refugee and immigrant experiences on the Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services Web site. This annotated list includes forty titles for both children and teens.

This post would not be complete without a huge shout out to Luma Mufleh and an appeal for your support for the Fugees Family. Coach Luma began her humanitarian work in 2006 by offering refugee boys a free, organized soccer team. Today, the Fugees Academy is the only school dedicated to refugee education in the U.S. One hundred thirty-six boys and girls are members of the Fugees Family and participate in year-round soccer, after-school tutoring, an academic enrichment summer camp, or are full-time students at the Fugees Academy where they learn academics and build character and leadership.

Like all 501(c)(3) organizations, the Fugees Family stays afloat through grants and on-going fundraising efforts. Please consider supporting their current effort – a t-shirt that reads: “Refugees – USA – Welcome.” Support these young people and their teachers. Purchase a shirt and wear it proudly.

Thank you all for the work you do and for speaking up and out.

And I close with one additional special thank you to Nebraska assistant public library director Rebecca Corkindale who collaborated with librarians from Saline County Library in Benton, Arkansas to create “Libraries Are for Everyone” graphics. With the help of librarians from around the world, Ms. Corkindale continues to translate the text on these copyright-free graphics into many languages.

Bravo to all!

Works Cited

Jensen, Karen. Love and Justice: What I’ve Learned from Those Seeking Refuge in the U.S.: A Guest Post by Author Marie Marquardt, Teen Librarian Toolkit.com, http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2017/02/love-and-justice-what-ive-learned-from-those-seeking-refuge-in-the-u-s-a-guest-post-by-author-marie-marquardt/

Malespina, Elissa. “Open Letter to School Librarians,” School Library Journal.com, http://www.slj.com/2017/02/opinion/soapbox/an-open-letter-to-school-librarians-silence-is-not-golden-opinion/

Image Credit
Corkindale, Rebecca. “Libraries Are for Everyone,” Hafuboti.com, https://hafuboti.com/2017/02/02/libraries-are-for-everyone/