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/

 

 

 

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Although I believe it is essential to regularly reflect on various aspects of our lives, the new year is just one of those times when some of us are “programmed” to take our reflections especially seriously.

This year, I owe a great debt to Dr. Maryanne Wolf for my New Year’s “professional life” reflection and commitment to future action. In the past four weeks, I have read, made notes, reflected, reread passages, and written about her latest book Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World (2018).

This is not the first time in my life that questions about reading in the digital age have kept me awake at night. In 2008, I read Dr. Wolf’s book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. Since that time, I have often found myself wondering about how, what, and why we read is changing our personal and professional lives as well as our national and global society.

The Past: Cautionary Tales
Way back in 2010, I presented “A Time to Skim, a Time to Read, or How to Convince Surfers to Take a Deep Dive” at the School Library Journal Summit in Chicago. In that brief talk, I advocated for slow reading—what I would now call “deep reading.” (If I were sharing that talk today, I would advocate even louder!)

The next year, two books greatly influenced my thinking on reading in the digital age. William Powers’ book Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age (2011) made me think about taking time away from my devices in order to create time for reflection and perhaps access to my own imagination and creativity. Later that year, I read Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (2011) and furthered my quest to find online and offline balance in my life.

In 2012, I coauthored an article with Cassandra Barnett for Knowledge Quest in which we connected school libraries to Nicholas Carr’s work. We wrote if Carr “is correct, we should nurture the fertile thinking time that can happen between input and innovation by providing students the option of a peaceful environment in the midst of the action in the school library” (Moreillon and Barnett 2012, 2).

Sherry Turkle’s research and writing about the impact of technology on relationships and empathy also influenced my thinking that year… Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2011) and more recently, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age (2015). Turkle’s writing and TED Talks created fertile ground for planting the seeds of Maryanne Wolf’s latest cautionary tale.

The Present: What We Don’t Yet Know
Wolf is not a technophobe. She is involved with others in developing technology tools to support young readers. TinkRBook involves something called “textual tinkerability” that encourages readers to interact with text (145). Her Curious Learning research project is looking at apps for learning oral language (147).

But Wolf stuck a chord with me when she made this observation in Reader, Come Home. “No self-respecting internal review board of any university would allow a researcher to do what our culture has already done with no adjudication or previous evidence: introduce a complete, quasi-addictive set of attention-compelling devices without knowing the possible side effects and ramifications for the subjects (our kids)” (Wolf 2018, 125).

We have indeed entered into a grand technological experiment with the minds, bodies, and futures of the youth who were/are born into a digitally dominant U.S. society. We want them to have all of the benefits that the technological world offers—access, speed, connection, and possibilities as yet unknown. Yet, we also want them to know the affordances of the analog world—a world in which information and life move at a slower pace, a space that may allow more time for critical thinking, creativity, reflection, and innovation.

If you are curious to learn more about Maryanne Wolf’s work, read her November 16, 2018 Science Friday article and then seek out a copy of her book!

The Future: Transformation (Marrying Values and Reflection with Action)
I truly believe, as Carr (2011) noted, schools and libraries are the epicenter for transforming learning. With effective, state-certified school librarian leaders serving the multiple literacy needs of students, colleagues, administrators, families, and communities, schools can reach their capacity to prepare youth for living and working in a connected world. School librarians can collaborate to ensure students can read, analyze, use, and create new knowledge online and offline. We can help them find their personal sweet spot—a balance between life on the screen and life off of it.

Transforming our schools and libraries is the school librarian’s path to creating opportunities for transforming our world. For my part, I recommit myself to the 2018-2019 Maximizing School Librarian Leadership blog-based book study, monthly podcasts, and Facebook Group as my contribution to this timely and critical goal. I will continue to learn from and think with others in my PLN, write, and make the case for the critical importance of effective school librarians and fully resourced school libraries in future ready education.

How would you describe your 2019 commitment to transforming learning and teaching through school libraries?

Wishing you all the best in the New Year,

Judi

 

Works Cited

Carr, Nicholas. 2011. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. New York: Norton.

Moreillon, Judi. 2010. “A Time to Skim, a Time to Read, or How to Convince Surfers to Take a Deep Dive.” School Library Journal Summit, Chicago. https://tinyurl.com/time2skimtime2dive

Moreillon, Judi, and Cassandra Barnett. 2012. “April is School Library Month: You Belong @your library: A Portrait–in Words and Pictures.” Knowledge Quest 40 (4): 1-6.

Powers, William. 2011. Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. New York. Harper.

Turkle, Sherry. 2011. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic.

_____. 2015. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. New York: Penguin.

Wolf, Maryanne. 2008. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York: Harper

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

 

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.

Coteaching Comprehension Strategies During Inquiry Learning

As you likely know, the references to coteaching reading comprehension strategies in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership are summaries based on my previously published professional books focused on this topic.

In those books, I focus on seven reading comprehension strategies that can be applied to all texts and across all content areas: activating or building background knowledge, using sensory images, making predictions or drawing inferences, questioning, determining main ideas (or importance), using fix-up options (to gain or regain comprehension), and synthesizing. All of these strategies can and should be applied to both print and digital texts. For educators who want more information, lesson/unit plans, and graphic organizers and assessment tools to support instruction in teaching/coteaching comprehension, I highly recommend these books.

Coteaching During Inquiry
Coteaching reading comprehension strategies during inquiry learning is a way for school librarians to position their work at the center of their school’s academic program. “Many of us see our role as fostering the enjoyment and appreciation of literature in all genres and information in all formats—but we have stopped short of taking part in actual reading instruction. Helping youth become capable readers is the goal of every school. Improving students’ reading achievement and improving teachers’ reading instruction are critical concerns of all school principals. If we are to position ourselves at the center of our schools’ literacy programs, then we must become leaders in reading instruction” (Moreillon 2008, 27).

Inquiry learning offers an authentic opportunity for school librarians and classroom teachers to coteach reading comprehension strategies. During inquiry, coteachers model using think-alouds to demonstrate to students how to approach unfamiliar or difficult text. They show that two (or more) people will bring different background knowledge to reading a text and apply different strategies to wrestle with meaning making. Coteachers model the behaviors of lifelong learners.

Difficult Texts
When students are seeking information to answer their questions, they will invariably interact with texts that are above their proficient reading level. At these points during inquiry learning, students will need to be able to reach into their reading strategy toolkits to select and apply the best tool(s) for the comprehension challenge. Educator and peer modeling are essential to making visible what is often invisible to striving and struggling readers. Understanding reading as problem solving helps strengthen students’ ability to think critically and make meaning from texts.

Students need scaffolds and frameworks to support them as they develop complete reading comprehension toolkits. Graphic organizers and elementary bookmarks and secondary bookmarks such as these found in Chapter 2 in my reading comprehension book resources can help give students the reminders they need to be effective comprehension problem solvers. Developing a set of initial questions to ask when approaching unfamiliar text is another way to support effective reading and information seeking. (See page 64 in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership).

In order to wrestle with difficult texts and engage in deep reading, readers must employ comprehension strategies (see seven strategies listed above). Deep reading takes time. “The quality of how we read any sentence or text depends, however, on the choices we make with the time we allocate to the processes of deep reading, regardless of the medium” (Wolf 2018, 37).

Disposition: Persistence
When we are modeling, it is important for educators demonstrate persistence with difficult texts. In their book Reading for Understanding: A Guide to Improving Reading in Middle and High School Classrooms (1999), Schoenbach, Greenleaf, Cziko, and Hurwitz offer a strategy that I have used since reading their book almost twenty years ago. Ask students to bring in texts for which adults will be challenged to make meaning. Examples could be rap or other song lyrics, video games, technology, or other manuals, or any text for which students have expertise or experience and educators don’t. Using think-alouds, educators demonstrate that they must reach into their reading strategy toolkits to make sense of the text. Students then have the opportunity to assess the educator’s understanding and meaning making process (56).

Regardless of our age, background experiences, and reading proficiency, all readers will bump up against difficult texts. In order to read deeply, all readers will need to show persistence in solving comprehension challenges. Students will also run into other roadblocks in their information-seeking process; they can lose momentum or threaten to give up all together. Activating and applying the disposition persistence during inquiry learning is essential. Practicing persistence is important to being successful in life as well as in schooling.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. Do the administrators and faculty colleagues with whom you serve view school librarians as reading comprehension teachers?
  2. If they do, how can you capitalize on this leadership opportunity? If they don’t, how can you change this perception?

Works Cited

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

_____. 2008. “Position Yourself at the Center by Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies.” Teacher Librarian, 35 (5), 27-34.

_____. 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.

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.

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.

 

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

Maximizing Leadership: Chapter 4

Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy will be published by ALA Editions in June, 2018. As a preview to the book, I am using one blog post a month to share a one-page summary of each of the nine chapters in the book.

Chapter 4: Traditional Literacy Learning

“The degree to which students can read and understand text in all formats (e.g. picture, video, print) and all contexts is a key indicator of success in school and in life” (AASL 2007, 2).

Becoming literate is a lifelong process. Throughout our lives, information seekers access and use medical, political, scientific, technical, and other information for which we have little, incomplete, or no background knowledge. “Regardless of the content and whether ideas and information are communicated in print or multimodal texts, students begin and progress on their literacy journeys by learning and developing their ability to effectively read and write” (Moreillon 2017a, 87). The traditional literacies—reading, writing, listening, and speaking—are at the heart of the multiple literacies students will develop for success in their personal and professional lives.

Students must be able to make sense of text in order to be information literate. They need to apply reading strategies such as drawing inferences, questioning, and synthesizing in order to comprehend and use information. It is critical that they develop strategies for unpacking difficult texts. They must also be able to effectively communicate their knowledge. Learning and applying reading comprehension strategies and the writing process during inquiry is an authentic context for strengthening traditional literacies. Listening and speaking during discussions, collaborative work, and learning presentations builds understanding, empathy, and self-confidence.

Through classroom-library collaboration for instruction, educators build common beliefs and shared vocabulary and processes for teaching literacy in their schools. When students have opportunities to further develop traditional literacy skills in many learning contexts and all content areas, they are more likely to develop as engaged learners who achieve success.

What you will find in this chapter:
1. A Rationale for Why Reading Promoter Is an Important Yet Insufficient Role for School Librarians
2. The School Librarians’ Literacy Leadership Puzzle
3. Reading Comprehension Strategies Aligned with the Guided Inquiry Design Phases
4. Fix-Up Options Self-Monitoring Sheet
5. Reading Comprehension Strategy Lessons and Inquiry Learning Connections

“From reading promotion to aligning reading and writing with inquiry learning, school librarians’ ever-expanding roles as literacy leaders have grown alongside the explosion of information and the development of the technology tools used to access it” (Moreillon 2017a, 88). As instructional partners, professional developers, and literacy leaders, school librarians have a responsibility and an opportunity to help strengthen students’ traditional literacies and to co-create a culture that supports literacy development for everyone in their schools.

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2007. Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. Chicago: American Association of School Librarians.

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 Created at Wordle.net

November Is Picturebook Month

Picture Book Month was founded by author and storyteller Dianne de Las Casas and her children’s book author/illustrator colleagues. The 2017 celebration is particularly heart-felt since this is the first year of the annual event since Dianne passed away in a tragic house fire.

Picture Book Month is on a mission: “In this digital age where people are predicting the coming death of print books, picture books (the print kind) need love. And the world needs picture books. There’s nothing like the physical page turn of a beautifully crafted picture book” (http://picturebookmonth.com).

Every day in November, the Picture Book Month Web site offers a new post from a picturebook champion explaining why he/she thinks picturebooks are important. School and public librarians will want to tap into this resource, think about their own picturebook selection practices, and consider how the information on the site can serve the literacy needs of children (and teens), families, and educators.

“Picture books are books in which both words and illustrations are essential to the story’s meaning… In a true picture book, the illustrations are integral to the reader’s experience of the book and the story would be diminished or confusing without the illustrations” (Short, Lynch-Brown, and Tomlinson 50).

My article “The Mighty Picturebook: Providing a Plethora of Possibilities” appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Children and Libraries, the journal of the Association for Library Services to Children. The photograph above was published on the cover. As can happen, my article was shortened to fit into a tight space. These are the main subheadings in that article and some of the information that ended up on the cutting room floor.

Young Audiences for Picturebooks
The photograph above shows a 12-year-old sister reading to her 5-year-old brother on the eve of his first day of public school kindergarten. Ready and Waiting for You was expressly created for this very purpose—for more proficient readers to engage emerging readers in conversations about what they will experience when they begin formal schooling. Engaging in dialogic reading with a trusted reader builds literacy skills and in this case, can build excitement and help ease the fears of young children. Children who are new to school or transferring to a new school can ask and get their questions answered by a trusted older reader.

Ready and Waiting for You also aligns with kindergarten curriculum that focuses on learning about the community of school. Adult readers might notice this book emphases the need for a “village” to educate a child: a classroom teacher, principal, office staff, nurse, librarian, computer tech, art, music and P.E. teachers, custodian, and parent volunteers, too. (Does your child’s school include all of these essential staff members who help educate “the whole child”? If not, why not?)

Word Count and Book Length
Word count and book length should not be the primary criteria for book selection. Many of today’s picturebooks offer fewer words. Are some stories constrained by lower word counts or the typical 32-page limit? It is important for anyone who shares picturebooks with young children to realize their “willingness to listen to stories grows with experience, which may result in a younger child who has been read to regularly having a much longer attention span than an older child with no story experience” (Short, Lynch-Brown, and Tomlinson 51).

Visual Literacy
“The ability to make meaning from images is an essential twenty-first century skill. Visual images dominate access to ideas and information via the screens that are all-pervasive in daily life” (Moreillon 2017, 18). Studying the illustration media and techniques used by picturebook illustrators can give youth a greater appreciation for the sophistication of this artform. Picturebook illustrations can inspire students to illustrate their own texts and give budding artists ideas for a possible career in illustration or graphic design.

Reading Comprehension and Inquiry Learning
Picturebooks can serve as mentor texts for reading comprehension strategy instruction. While word count is not the sole criterion for an appropriate mentor text, picturebooks that offer complete story arcs with developed characters and compelling themes tend to contain a thousand or more words. There are many examples in my professional book Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Elementary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (Moreillon 2013).

Using Picturebooks with Older Readers
In addition to elementary school use, picturebooks are also used in middle and high school classrooms and libraries to teach comprehension strategies and literary devices. For example, picture books by Australian author-illustrator Shaun Tan provide opportunities for educators to model drawing inferences and for students to engage in rich discussions and infer themes for Tan’s sophisticated work. One such book is The Rabbits written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan. This sophisticated picturebook addresses the historical fact that some people have used technological advances to invade, dominate, and oppress indigenous people. This text clearly portrays the power of an analogy to communicate deep meaning. Although categorized as picturebooks, Tan’s work is not intended for a young child audience.

Making Meaning as Discovery
“Picturebooks offer exceptional opportunities for literacy learning and teaching as well as pleasure reading in preK-12 schools and libraries. When authors and illustrators create and publishers publish picture books with complete story arcs, compelling themes, intriguing illustrations, and rich information, parents and families, school and public librarians, classroom teachers and reading specialists can use these authentic texts in a plethora of ways” (Moreillon 2017, 19).

Check out the Picture Book Month calendar to see which authors and illustrators are participating this year. The Web site includes links to author and illustrator pages and provides resources and activities for students, educators, and families.

Celebrate the beauty and power of this artform to shape family literacy practices, to offer children mirrors and windows on the world, and bring delight to those who read or listen to the mighty picturebook.

References
Moreillon, Judi. “The Mighty Picturebook: A Plethora of Possibilities.” Children and Libraries, vol. 15, issue 3, 17-19.

Moreillon, Judi. Ready and Waiting for You. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Short, Kathy G., Carol Lynch-Brown, and Carl M. Tomlinson. Essentials of Children’s Literature. 8th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2014.

Image Credit: From Judi Moreillon’s Personal Collection – Used with Permission

Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions

While authoring my forthcoming book, Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy, I have read many professional books. This is the ninth in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your professional reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

As an advocate for inquiry learning, I am in total agreement with Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana: student-led questioning is an effective way to guide students into deeper learning. When students (or adult learners, for that matter) are invested in finding out why, they are more motivated to pursue answers to their questions and solutions to the world’s pressing problems—especially when the answers are illusive, the process is difficult, and the outcome is uncertain.

In their book Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions, authors Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana note that student-led questioning helps ensure that students are learning and practicing thinking skills. Rothstein and Santana are the directors of the Right Question Institute (RQI), a 501(c)(3) educational non-profit organization.

They developed the Question Formulation Technique™ (QFT), which involves students in brainstorming questions as a way to launch an investigation. All students’ contributions are accepted and weighted equally. The question recorder documents all questions verbatim as asked without comment, response, or discussion. Statements are turned into questions as well. Students then prioritize questions to determine which are most compelling; their priorities set the learning agenda for the next class period (or subsequent lessons).

Educators can guide students in other types of questioning processes such as Question the Author (Beck, McKeown, Sandora, Kucan, and Worthy) during which students discover various aspects of the writer’s and illustrator’s craft as well as persuasive techniques and bias. When readers question the texts they encounter, they are engaged in an active learning process that has the potential to increase their content knowledge as well as improve their overall reading proficiency.

Questions are a way for students to uncover the gaps in their understanding. Questioning can also help them identify misconceptions. The ability to question, whether applied to reading and responding to literature, identifying bias in a political cartoon, or analyzing data in a scientific journal article, is an essential, lifelong-learning skill.

Santana and Rothstein call student-led questioning a “shortcut” to deeper learning. I agree. If you have not used the QFT™ in your teaching, I hope you will check out the RQI Web site and read their book. (Side note: One area RQI is exploring is “microdemocracy.” Their idea is that “ordinary encounters with public agencies are opportunities for individual citizens to ‘act democratically’ and participate effectively in decisions that affect them.” Brilliant work, if you ask me.)

That said, my experience tells me that educators who are teaching future-ready students need to do more than just this one thing to help prepare students for today and tomorrow. Honoring students’ agency and helping them explore their interests through student-led questioning is an essential and critical place to begin. Inquiry learning can be an essential part of the next steps, the “more” that future-ready students need.

Works Consulted

Beck, Isabel L., Margaret G. McKeown, Cheryl Sandora, Linda Kucan, and Jo Worthy. “Questioning the Author: A Yearlong Classroom Implementation to Engage Students with Text.” The Elementary School Journal, vol. 96, no. 4, 1996, pp. 385-414.

Rothstein, Dan, and Luz Santana. Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2015.

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.