Early Childhood and Family Literacy

Book Cover: Vamos a leer/Read to MeI am passionate about the importance of early childhood and family literacy. When I served as an elementary school librarian and a K-5 literacy coach, I had the opportunity to take action to influence the literacy practices of the children, families, and educators in our learning community.

I wrote about this in my March 8, 2021 blog post: Literacy Partners Become Advocates and in an article that appeared in the March/April issue of the International Literacy Association’s Literacy Today magazine: “School Librarians as Literacy Partners: Take Action on the What’s Hot in Literacy Report.”

Practices in Early Childhood Literacy
Every kindergarten and first-grade classroom teacher and elementary school librarian can identify children who have been enculturated into literacy practices before coming to school. They may not know the alphabet and letter sounds, but they possess the basic building blocks of literacy. They know:

  • how to hold a book;
  • how to turn pages from right to left and move their eyes from left to right on a double-page spread;
  • that the squiggly lines of the page are words;
  • that words have meaning;
  • illustrations mean something and reflect or extend the meaning of the words in the book;
  • how to listen and attend to a book as it’s being read to them; and
  • that stories are communication tools that people use to share their thoughts, ideas, emotions, and experiences.

They possess this knowledge because a proficient reader read to them and talked with them about books and stories. This is why books such as Read to Me/Vamos a leer (Star Bright Books 2004) are shared in so many early childhood literacy programs and are important in promoting family literacy.

Children who possess the knowledge that comes from experiences with books are ready for kindergarten or first grade. They are prepped for literacy learning while their peers who lack this foundational knowledge are not yet ready to learn the alphabet, letter sounds, and more.

Research in Early Literacy
As an academic and a grandmother, too, I follow research in early literacy learning. Two recent studies have important information for parents and educators of young children.

On May 10, 2021, The New York Times reported on a study that I may not have otherwise seen: “The Power of Pre-K” by Dave Leonhardt. The article is subtitled: “President Biden wants universal pre-K. A large new study examines its likely effects.”

The Boston pre-K study is a rare experimental study in education because the children under investigation were placed in preschool through a lottery system. (Read “The Long-term Effects of Universal Preschool in Boston” by Guthrie Gray-Lobe, Parag Pathak, and Christopher Walters.)

As in previous studies of Head Start children, this study found that the participants did not do noticeably better on standardized tests in elementary school, middle school or high school than did their peers who did not attend preschool.

However, the lottery preschool students demonstrated advantages in other key social and emotional indicators that are important to success in school and in life. The outcomes for the lottery students were evident in terms of better behavior. 70% of the lottery students graduated from high school while only 64% of non-lottery students did so. Lottery students were less likely to be suspended from school or incarcerated. These positive effects crossed racial and ethnic groups and the boys who had preschool experience did a bit better than the girls.

In another study, “Predictors of Reading Ability Among Ten-Year-Olds: Poverty (negative), School Libraries (positive), Instruction (zero), Early Literacy (zero), Christy Lao, Sy-ying Lee, Jeff McQuillan, and Stephen Krashen studied students’ 2006, 2011, and 2016 reading test scores based on The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), an international comparative assessment that measures student learning in reading.

These researchers found that the effect of poverty was negative in all three years and the positive effect of the presence of school libraries (access to books) was significant in two studies and fell just short of significant in the third.

Their study also showed that instruction in phonics and phonemic awareness, which they call early literacy, did not result in a significant positive impact on PIRLS test scores. (They did, however, suggest a positive correlation between the amount of parental reading and SES both times they were investigated.)

Research Informing Practice
Taken together, preschool programs that promote social and emotional learning and elementary schooling that includes access to school libraries in a winning combination for reading achievement and school and life success.

To those two studies that suggest best practices in childhood literacy, I would add, based on first-hand experience, preschool experiences that include books and interactive reading. I would also add school libraries led by school librarians who know how to connect students with books. School “librarians have the training needed to identify and purchase the highest quality books and resources at all reading proficiency levels, in all genres and multiple formats. A well-funded school library collection reflects a commitment by the school, school district, and community to serving all students and families at school and at home” (Moreillon 2021, 11).

And through instructional partnerships with classroom, school librarians teachers also provide students with meaningful opportunities for reading for meaning, to learn, and pursue the answers to their questions.

All together, these are important contributors to students’ success.

I believe in research informing practice AND I also believe, as Ross Todd so eloquently stated, that practice must also inform research.

“Research informing practice and practice informing research
is a fundamental cycle in any sustainable profession”
(Todd 2007, 64).

The conversation between practitioners in the field and researchers must be on-going, respectful, and impactful. Research must be enacted in practice for it to be meaningful. In order to continually improve our practice, school librarians and other educators’ work must be informed by the latest research. And practitioners who daily serve the literacy needs of young learners must hold all research up to our first-hand experience the youth.

Works Cited

Gray-Lobe, Guthrie, Parag Pathak, and Christopher Walters. 2021. “The Long-term Effects of Universal Preschool in Boston. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Economics Department.” https://seii.mit.edu/research/study/the-long-term-effects-of-universal-pre_school-in-boston/

Lao, Christy, Sy-ying Lee, Jeff McQuillan, and Stephen Krashen. 2021. “Predictors of Reading Ability Among Ten-Year-Olds: Poverty (negative), School Libraries (positive), Instruction (zero), Early Literacy (zero).” (in press in Language Magazine)

Leonhardt, David. 2021. “The Power of Pre-K.” The New York Times (May 10). https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/10/briefing/universal-pre-k-biden-agenda.html

Moreillon, Judi. 2021. “School Librarians as Literacy Partners: Take Action on the What’s Hot in Literacy Report.” Literacy Today (March/April): 10-11. Available at http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/b46eaa78#/b46eaa78/12

Todd, Ross. 2007. Evidence-based Practice in School Libraries: From Advocacy to Action. In School Reform and the School Library Media Specialist, eds. S. Hughes-Hassell and V.H. Harada, 57-78. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

#TxLA18 Winning with Instructional Partners

This week, librarians and librarian advocates from across the state of Texas and beyond are gathering in Dallas for the annual Texas Library Association Conference (#TxLA18). This year’s theme is “Perfecting Your Game: A Win for Your Community.”

I was invited to facilitate two sessions at the conference. Last week, I gave a brief preview and made connections to my Wednesday, April 4th session “Intercultural Understanding through Global Literature.”  You can also view the presentation wiki that includes handouts and will include the slides after the conference.

On April 5th, I will be sharing “Winning the Game with Instructional Partners.” In this session, we will focus on the leader and instructional partner roles of school librarians and make connections to Texas and national school library standards. If you are attending TxLA, I hope to see you at one or both sessions or to cross paths with you during the conference.

Last week, Keith Curry Lance and Debra Kachel published an article in Phi Delta Kappan (and available online) titled “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.”

Their article and the research they share fully supports the premise behind “Winning the Game with Instructional Partners,” my forthcoming book, and my years of teaching, scholarship, and service. It provides evidence on which to further develop school librarians’ practice, to build effective school library programs, and to grow our profession.

The correlational research cited in the article has been collected over a twenty-five-year period—not coincidentally about the same number of years I have been involved in the profession. While the presence of a state-certified school librarian is correlated with better student learning outcomes, particularly in reading, the quality of a school librarian’s work also matters.

I have bolded key phrases in the excerpt that follows. “Multiple studies have found that test scores tend to be higher in schools where librarians spend more time:

• Instructing students, both with classroom teachers and independently;
• Planning collaboratively with classroom teachers;
• Providing professional development to teachers;
• Meeting regularly with the principal;
• Serving on key school leadership committees;
• Facilitating the use of technology by students and teachers;
• Providing technology support to teachers, and
• Providing reading incentive programs” (Lance and Kachel 2018).

To summarize, effective school librarians serve as leaders and instructional partners.

The activities and priorities of more effective school librarians have a school-wide impact on learning and teaching in their buildings. “Fully integrated library programs with certified librarians can boost student achievement and cultivate a collaborative spirit within schools. School leaders who leverage these assets will realize what research has shown: Quality school library programs are powerful boosters of student achievement that can make important contributions to improving schools in general and, in particular, closing the achievement gap among our most vulnerable learners” (Lance and Kachel 2018).

April is School Library Month (#AASLslm). “Winning the Game with Instructional Partners” supports the Learner and Educator Connections identified by AASL’s SLM Committee.

There is no better time than the present to step up our literacy leadership and reach out to collaborate with administrators and classroom teacher colleagues to maximize school librarian leadership by building connections for learning and advocacy.

What are you doing every day to practice the leader and instructional partner roles in order to transform learning and teaching in your school? If you are attending TxLA, come to the “Winning the Game with Instructional Partners” session and share your strategies. See you there!

Work Cited

Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra E. Kachel. 2018. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Phi Delta Kappan 99 (7): 15-20. http://www.kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research

Logo © 2017 Judi Moreillon

 

School Library Research and Conference Events

This month the BACC cobloggers will share information related to the Treasure Mountain Research Retreat #22: “Start a Revolution in the Learning Commons” and the American Association of School Librarians’ National Conference and Exhibition: “Experience, Education, Evolution.” Both events will be held this week in Columbus, Ohio.

treasure_mountainThe Treasure Mountain (TM) Research Retreat is a gathering of school library researchers and practitioners. The first TM was held in 1989 In Park City, UT at the base of Treasure Mountain in conjunction with the AASL National Conference in Salt Lake City (hence the photograph). The group has met since then, usually in conjunction with AASL national conferences. This week’s meeting is the 22nd TM and is being organized by Drs. David Loertscher and Blanche Woolls. You can read more about the meeting from the TM history tab.

Researchers submit papers to be included in the retreat proceedings, serve on panels and discuss their work in table groups. This year, I am presenting a paper called “The Learning Commons: A Strategic Opportunity for School Librarians.” In the paper, I discuss literature and research related to three trends in school librarianship: the learning commons (LM) model, evidence-based practice (EBP), and coteaching. To support this work, I have created an infographic to show how these three can lead to school librarian leadership.

The TM experience often involves collecting data and conducting real-time research. Drs. David Loertscher, Ross Todd, and Joyce Valenza are asking practicing school librarians who have established a LC model in the school library to respond to a brief questionnaire.

The 22nd TM will be the last one that Dr. Loertscher will sponsor. I suspect this important activity for school librarian researchers, educators, and practitioners will continue in another form in the future.

On Thursday, I will share a bit about the preconference workshop I am facilitating at the AASL conference.

BACC readers can learn more about the Learning Commons model by following #LearningCommons on Twitter and the AASL Conference at #aasl15.

Treasure Mountain Logo used with permission

Evidence-based Instructional Partnerships

As a card-carrying instructional partner, I am always on the trail of research to support my experience. I have served as an elementary, junior high, and high school librarian. I have been a 5th-grade classroom teacher, a literacy coach, and district-level mentor for school librarian colleagues. My experience has shown me that instructional partnerships have great potential to improve students’ learning and educators’ teaching. I know I am a much better teacher as a result of learning side by side with my peers.

Still, in this age of accountability when “anecdotal” evidence is too often dismissed, it is important for educators to read research and learn from studies in the fields of education, library science, and technology to deepen their understanding of the potential, process, and impact of instructional partnerships. Ross Todd describes this cycle of research and practice, practice and research in this way

“Research informing practice and practice informing research is a fundamental cycle in any sustainable profession” (Todd, 2007, p. 64).

In that pursuit, I have been reading publications related to Phase Two of the New Jersey Study conducted by Ross Todd, Carol Gordon, and La-Ling Lu. According to the results, in collaborative culture schools the instructional partner role of the school librarian is highly respected and prized by administrators and fellow educators because of the school librarian’s positive impact on student learning outcomes and “cost-effective, hands-on professional development [for educators] through the cooperative design of learning experiences that integrate information and technology” (Todd, Gordon, & Lu, 2012, p. 26).

When educators coteach and coassess student learning outcomes, we learn from our peers through job-embedded professional development practiced in our daily teaching practice. On a wiki page for a TWU SLIS course Librarians as Instructional Partners, I have posted a series of videotaped testimonials from K-12 classroom teachers and an elementary principal regarding the positive impact of instructional partnerships between school librarians and classroom teachers. You will need a TeacherTube account in order to access them: http://ls5443.wikispaces.com/Collab_Testimonials

What are your experiences with instructional partnerships? How does your experience align with the results of the Phase 2 of the New Jersey Study? Are there colleagues and administrators in your building who could provide powerful testimonials regarding instructional partnerships?

References

Todd, R. (2007). Evidence-based practice in school libraries: From advocacy to action. In S. Hughes-Hassell & V. H. Harada (Eds.), School reform and the school library media specialist (57-78). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Todd, R. J., Gordon, C. A., & Lu, Y. (2011). One common goal: Student learning. Report of findings and recommendations of the New Jersey library survey, phase 2. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries. Retrieved from http://cissl.rutgers.edu/images/stories/docs/njasl_phase%20_2_final.pdf