School Library Month and The Book of Abel

2020 School Library Month Promotion: Everyone Belongs @Your School LibraryApril is School Library Month. At this time each year, school librarians reach out into our school, local, state, and national communities to show how school libraries matter—to students, educators, families, and communities. School libraries provide access to print and digital books and resources and learning opportunities that invite students into the literacy club, shore up their reading and information literacy skills, and set them on the path to success in school and in life.

I have led and observed many school library programs over the course of my career as a school librarian and school librarian educator. In my experience, there is no such thing as an exemplary school library program without an exemplary state-certified school librarian at the helm.

The greatest asset any library has is a librarian.
R. David Lankes

AND exemplary school librarians are collaborators who find like-minded passionate literacy learning advocates among their administrators, classroom educator colleagues, and families. If one of our essential goals is to lead a culture of reading, then we must form partnerships with others to maximize the impact of our knowledge of literature, curriculum resources, technology tools, and instructional strategies for the benefit of all students.

The greatest assets school librarians have are collaborating colleagues.
Judi Moreillon

With our collaborating colleagues, we can take action to ensure equity, diversity, and inclusion beyond library spaces into classrooms and out into the larger community. We can ensure students’ right to read and their intellectual freedoms of choice and voice. We can create school-based cultures of reading and learning that enrich the lives of all who are privileged to be members.

Literacy Champions
I trust all school librarians have had the experience of working with passionate literacy champions who share their responsibility to create and sustain vibrant cultures of reading. Like you, I am grateful for all educators, from all grade levels and disciplines, who take up this charge alongside us.

Although I didn’t have the pleasure of teaching with her, Daphne Russell is one of those standard bearer classroom teachers who knows that books and reading not only change lives; they also save lives. In April, 2019, I wrote a review of Daphne’s book Read or Die: A Story of Survival and Hope and How a Life Was Saved One Book. In that post, I noted how exemplary school librarians strive to find the “right” book for individual students and support classroom teachers in effective reading motivation and comprehension strategy instruction.

To quote from that post: “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” (Moreillon 2019).

Sadly, not all outstanding educators like Daphne have experienced school librarians as literacy partners who support the growth and development of individual readers and educators’ literacy-for-all aspirations for their students—non-readers, struggling and striving readers, and avid bookworms alike.

The Book of Abel
Daphne has written a screenplay based on her experiences as a book-pushing, life-changing literacy warrior classroom teacher. The Book of Abel follows a young man who, with the encouragement of his teacher, finds himself and his path forward in life through books.

In the video Daphne produced to promote her film, she includes testimonials from students. I believe many students (and adults) whose lives have been changed or saved through books would provide similar stories—stories that school librarians and classroom teachers could use to make the case for including diverse books in the classroom curriculum (see the 1:11 mark on the video).

At the end of the promotional video, Daphne gives us a sense of how the story will end when she describes how viewers will be moved, perhaps to tears, by the impact of reading on Abel’s life.

Shhhhh
Top secret… spoiler… but no surprise to the school librarians reading this blog post. At the end of the film, Abel will find a home for his reading soul…. in the library.

Please join me and consider contributing to Daphne’s GoFundMe effort to produce and distribute her short film The Book of Abel. (Note: Tuesday, April 6th is Arizona Giving Day.)

Work Cited

Moreillon, Judi. 2019. “Read or Die: A Book Review and a Call to Action.” School Librarian Leadership (blog), April 29. http://www.schoollibrarianleadership.com/2019/04/29/read-or-die-a-book-review-and-a-call-to-action/

 

School Librarians and the COVID Slide

#schoollibrarians must stop and reverse the COVID slide with photograph of books.We know that youth who do not achieve proficient literacy skills face serious academic and lifelong challenges. The 2019 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) “average reading scores for students at both grades 4 and 8 were lower in 2019 compared to 2017” (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/highlights/reading/2019/). Students who do not meet grade-level reading benchmarks can be retained; some may be placed in special education classes. They will likely struggle in the content areas especially after third grade when reading informational texts becomes more prominent in their schooling. Some non-readers will drop out of high school and not reach their potential for a successful life.

Reading proficiency matters!

COVID Slide
A Stanford University study report released last week indicates that based on an oral fluency test, first- through fourth-graders nationwide largely stopped progressing in this measure of reading proficiency in spring 2020 after COVID-19 school closures. The researchers also note that second- and third-grade students reading fluency is now approximately 30 percent behind what would be expected in an academic typical year (https://ed.stanford.edu/news/new-stanford-study-sheds-light-how-much-learning-young-students-have-lost-during-stages).

Although we do not yet know the full impact of school closures on K-12 students’ overall reading proficiency, we can be fairly certain that what we have traditionally called the “summer slide,” reading loss over the summer break, was exacerbated by school and school library closures, remote and hybrid learning, or students’ absence from formal schooling. Once all students are back in the classroom this spring and next fall, the “COVID slide” may be the next great challenge for educators.

School Librarian’s Role in Reading: Book Promotion
It is not surprising the correlational research for several decades has linked the presence and work of a state-certified school librarian with students’ higher reading achievement scores on standardized tests (Lance and Kachel 2018). Of course, there will be an essential role for school librarians in working with administrators, classroom teacher colleagues, reading specialists, and families to revive a culture of reading in their schools when students return to face-to-face schooling. Through progressive collection development that includes curating diverse books and resources and promotion, school librarians will provide displays, booktalks, book trailers, and other strategies to market books and promote reading.

We have traditionally excelled at leading our students, faculty, and families in schoolwide literacy events and initiatives such as read-a-thons, read-ins, poetry slams, battle of the books, book clubs, and more. Initiatives like Project Lit, student-let book clubs may be strengthened by in-person connections among readers and face-to-face as well as online discussions of diverse books. (See the 2020-2021 Project Lit book selections.)

All of these activities are important work,
and school librarian leaders can do more.

Don’t Sell Your Skill Set Short
The American Association of School Librarians Position Statement on The School Librarian’s Role in Reading (2020) aligns the six shared foundations of the National Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (AASL 2018) with the many ways school librarians guide students as they develop reading proficiency.

I published an article in the January/February issue of Teacher Librarian, “Literacy Learning Leaders Don’t Sell Their Skill Set Short.” In the article, I reinforce how school librarians can work solo, in coordination, or in collaboration with classroom teachers and specialists to shore up students’ reading comprehension strategies.

“Learning and practicing reading comprehension strategies is the readers’ pathway to being critical users of ideas and information” (Moreillon 2021, 23). Students who know how to select and apply comprehension strategies have a skill set that helps them make sense of difficult and unfamiliar texts. This figure appears on page 23 in the Teacher Librarian article.

Figure 1. Questions to Support Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies

Reading Comprehension Strategies Sample Questions
Activating or Building Background Knowledge What are your connections to the images or information on the book cover? What do you already know about this topic, author, or illustrator, or what do you need to find out before you read?
Using Sensory Images What pictures are you making in your mind as you read/listen to this book? What other senses are you using, such as hearing, taste, or touch, to make meaning from this text?
Questioning What questions would you ask the author or illustrator if they were here? What questions do you have about this topic or information?
Making Predictions/Drawing Inferences Based on what you have read in this book so far, what do you think will happen next and why do you think that? What can you infer the author means based on your background knowledge combined with the evidence in this text?
Determining Main Ideas What is the main idea the author wants readers to take away from this book? What do you think is the main idea in this paragraph, chapter, or section of this text?
Using Fix-up Options Since you have lost the comprehension thread for this book, will re-reading a paragraph, chapter, or section help you regain it? How does reconnecting with your purpose for reading help you make sense of this text?
Synthesizing What connections are you making to other books by this author or illustrator or on this topic? What other texts can you consult to help you verify the information in this text?

Coteaching Reading Comprehension in Elementary and Secondary School Libraries
I have published two books to support school librarians in learning or reviewing these seven reading comprehension strategies that can be taught and practiced through the library program during storytimes, literature circles, and inquiry learning.

Each book contains background information on the strategies and twenty-one sample lessons plans applied at three levels of reading proficiency. School librarians and their collaborators can adapt the lessons for the students in their care and the resources available to them.

Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Elementary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (2013) happens to be currently on sale.

Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (2012) is currently available at the regular price.

“No subject of study is more important than reading…
All other intellectual powers depend on it.”
Jacques Barzun

While there is no doubt technology and other opportunity gaps will continue to plague our students, we must succeed in our mission to help every student become an effective, efficient and joyful reader.

Let’s work with our colleagues to stop and reverse the COVID slide!

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2020. Position Statement on the School Librarian’s Role in Reading. Available at http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/advocacy/statements/docs/AASL_Position_Statement_RoleinReading_2020-01-25.pdf

Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra Kachel. 2018. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Phi Delta Kappan Online. Available at http://www.kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/

Moreillon, Judi. 2021. “Literacy Learning Leaders Don’t Sell Their Skill Set Short.” Teacher Librarian 48 (3): 22-27.

Nation’s Report Card. 2020. NAEP Report Card: 2019 Reading Assessment. Available at https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/highlights/reading/2019/

Stanford Graduate School of Education. 2021. “New Stanford study sheds light on how much learning young students have lost during stages of the pandemic.” (March 9). Stanford.edu. Available at https://ed.stanford.edu/news/new-stanford-study-sheds-light-how-much-learning-young-students-have-lost-during-stages

Slide created with image:
Prettysleepy. “Books Library Education.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/books-library-education-knowledge-5430104/

March Is Reading Month

Although every day, every week, and every month of our school librarian work lives revolves around reading, March is “reading month,” and an excellent time to reconnect with a literacy habit and skill that is the foundation for all learning. Students at every grade level and when studying every discipline must have access to reading materials and the ability to apply their reading toolkits to enjoy and use texts.

Photographs of Ali Schilpp, Bridget Crossman, Kristin Fraga Sierra, Melissa Thom, and Stacey Rattner

If you were unable to attend on February 24th, ABC-CLIO/School Library Connection offered an OverDrive Education sponsored must-view webinar for any and all school librarians looking to inject collaboration, innovation, and power into their reading promotion activities.

How to Keep Reading Social during Hybrid Learning” will be available to all viewers until March 10, 2021. Please make time to learn from these outstanding school librarians.

These are my takeaways from their presentations, but for the full impact of this professional development opportunity, do not rely on my connections and reflections. I also encourage you to follow these school librarians on Twitter and continue to learn and share with them.

Bridget Crossman, Elementary School Librarian @bcrossm85
Bridget is the elementary school librarian in the Lake George School District, New York, and founder and director of the not-for-profit children’s literacy organization B.O.O.K.S. (Books Offer Opportunities, Kids Succeed). She shared three “joyful, engaging” literacy learning opportunities for the students and/or families at her school. Each one involved one or more partnerships with members of the school or local community. (Bridget is the author of Community Partnerships with School Libraries: Creating Innovative Learning Experiences, Libraries Unlimited, 2018).

Partners included a coffee shop in her community, the PTO, and the “specialists” in her building. The latter helped her offer a drive-thru book fair on the bus loop.

Books were part of these activities. In addition, Bridget gave a shout-out to Teaching Books for a choral reading and all of their resources.

Melissa Thom, Middle School Librarian @MsThomBookitis
Melissa is a middle school librarian at Bristow Middle School in West Hartford, Connecticut. Melissa shared ideas about how to maximize the impact of virtual author visits. She used Google Meet to invite students from across her district to take advantage of the visits. Melissa also offers a KidsLit Club every Monday where some authors drop in for twenty minutes to increase their outreach to and connections with readers.

With a keen eye and ability to find and buy multiples copies of books at reduced cost, Melissa also offers “Free Book Fridays.” Each week about half the books on her give-away cart are snatched up by readers. For more on Melissa work, see her School Librarians United Podcast “Virtual Culture of Reading.”

Kristin Fraga Sierra, High School Librarian @lincolnabesread
Kristin is the high school librarian at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington. She is also the founder of Lincoln High’s Project Lit Book Club Chapter: Building a Community of Readers and Leaders at #AbeNation. Kristin began her part of the presentation by noting that before the pandemic resulted in school closures Lincoln High had a strong reading culture that focused on reading, leadership, and providing service in their community.

The racial unrest in the late spring and summer of 2020 motivated the club to focus their reading and service on books that dealt with racial injustice. They collaborated with an independent bookstore, developed a K-12 wish list, gained media attention, and successfully raised the funds to stock little free libraries in their community. In another project, they filled backpacks for a Boys & Girls Club.

Kristin noted that student leadership is an essential ingredient in this work. She noted that students are looking for connection to other students and opportunities to work as a team while having fun with their friends. Watch the video to learn more about the high-impact service projects and engaging events of the LincolnAbesRead Club.

Sidenote: Kristin is a co-author with TuesD Chambers of the advocacy chapter in the forthcoming book Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021).

Stacey Rattner, K-5 Librarian @staceybethr
Stacey is the librarian at Castleton Elementary School in Albany, New York. She collaborated with author Steve Sheinkin (@SteveSheinkin) to co-develop an exciting new YouTube project called Author Fan Face-Off (AFF). Wow!

I watched Author Fan Face-off Episode #5: Cece Bell/EL DEAFO. 6th-grade student Noa and Cece Bell tied at six points each after competing through the bonus round. Noa’s excitement (as well as her memory for details) was a wonder.

I have been thinking about how to answer Stacey’s question: How can educators use AFF in their work? If you have an idea, please message her on Twitter.

Be Inspired
Thank you to the presenters and also to Ali Schilpp (@AliSchilpp) school librarian at Northern Middle School, Garrett County, Maryland, for moderating this exciting panel.

If you’re looking for a March Is Reading Month PD opportunity focused on reading promotion, look no further! This is it!

And remember, tomorrow, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, is Read Across America Day. For more information, see the National Education Association’s website.

Advocacy During Times of Austerity

On Thursday, February 11, 2021, the Arizona Library Association (AzLA) and its Professional Development Committee hosted a webinar given by EveryLibrary executive director John Chrastka: “Advocacy During an Austerity Budget.” You can access the video recording of his presentation on the AzLA YouTube channel as well as John’s slide deck. John addressed the concerns and possible solutions to school and public library advocacy efforts during the post-pandemic budget cycle, a time of austerity (in terms of revenue).

I tweeted some of my take-aways during the session. I’ve added my school librarian and library connections after each one.

“Scarcity scares human beings!”

Important for #librarians to prepare for challenges: state/city/county/school district budgets will be negatively impacted by economic fallout from pandemic. “Watch out for austerity budgets! Scarcity scares human beings!” @MrChrastka @EveryLibrary @azlalib #aasl #libraries

Most states and local governments have projected general fund revenue declines as the result of the pandemic. At the same time, costs have gone up due to COVID expenditures. The situation will be dire for many unless there is a substantial federal relief remedy. (Please see John’s slides for data.)

Note: The loss of funds for public schools will be devastating, which is why Arizona Proposition 208, the Invest in Education Act, passed by voters in November, 2020, is so important. It provides dedicated funds for hiring educators, including school librarians.

School librarians can counter the fear and conservatism that decision-makers feel. We must position our work as the number one priority for the 2021- 2022 educational health of our students and our schools. That said, “Before educators and school stakeholders will advocate for (school librarian-led) transformation of teaching and learning, they must see how educational innovations align with their priorities” (Moreillon 2018, 130).

COVID-Slide

In austerity framework, most productive components or politician/administrator pet projects survive. Very few “nice-to-have” services post-pandemic. Must demonstrate to parents/school board/admins how #schoollibrarians can reverse COVID-slide for Ss. @MrChrastka @EveryLibrary @azlalib #aasl

Responding to the COVID-slide is the way we do so. We know that far too many students have lost ground during remote or hybrid learning. Progress in traditional and multiple literacies has been undermined for students who lack/lacked access to devices and resources, including support for learning in their homes. We know that classroom teachers, particularly those who have simultaneously taught groups of students in face-to-face and online classrooms, have been stretched and have needed and still need support.

Research in school librarianship has consistently affirmed that schools with state-certified, collaborating school librarians positively impact student achievement, especially in reading (Lance and Kachel 2018). School librarians whose literacy work impacts successful learning for all students and the effective teaching of all educators can be the number one priority for superintendents, principals, and school boards.

Gap-Fillers

Must address people’s post-pandemic concerns/fears. #schoollibrarians must be gap-filler rather than nostalgia restorer. Stories/data of success or failure w/path to improvement (integrity). @MrChrastka @EveryLibrary @azlalib What are #library high-impact solutions? #Lilead #aasl

This is the time for school librarians to share how we can continue to fill the gaps exposed during school closures. We must gather our advocates, principals, other educators, families, and students, to speak up for how school librarians provided and will continue to provide much needed instructional support, including technology support.

If schools that lack professional school librarians did not/do not have that support, then decision-makers must be made aware of what students, educators, and families have to gain by hiring school librarian literacy leaders for the ’21-’22 school year. School librarians are the educators who can help students, educators, and families reverse the COVID-slide and fill the gaps going forward.

Coalition Building

Who else cares about #literacy & K-12 Ss/Ts success? Coalitions are essential. There are many people who care about what we do! #schoollibrarians connect & reciprocate to support each other. Show how your work leads to prosperity. @MrChrastka @EveryLibrary @azlalib #aasl #Lilead

All education stakeholders care about the COVID-slide. Who else in your community cares about literacy learning loss? John Chrastka’s slide below lists questions to ask yourself regarding finding internal and external advocates at this point in time (published with permission).

Who Else Cares on Campus? Slide from John Chrastka

Defining the Negative
One of John’s comments that deeply resonated with me was about decision-makers who have eliminated school librarian positions in the past. In speaking to them, our job is the help them see the wisdom of correcting an error. John made the connection with the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Since that is our situation in Tucson Unified School District, I need to think more about this connection and how I can show understanding and compassion as we move forward with our efforts to restore school librarian positions in the district.

Highly Recommended
I highly recommend that all school librarians view this webinar recording and John’s slide deck. See also the SLIDE: The School Librarian Investigation: Decline or Evolution? research study data to compare your state with those around the country.

Gather your colleagues and form your coalitions. This is the time to demonstrate how school librarians are essential to reversing the COVID-slide and filling the gaps for students, other educators, and families in the ’21-’22 academic school year.

Works 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. Available at http://www.kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/

Moreillon, Judi. 2018. Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy. Chicago: ALA.

World Read Aloud Day

Book Cover: Vamos a leer - Read to MeOn Wednesday, February 3, 2021, librarians and other educators, young people, families, and community members are celebrating World Read Aloud Day. For the past twelve years, this annual day of sharing read-alouds has reminded us of the importance of book-based stories and sharing them with others.

You can follow World Lit Day on Twitter @litworldsays.

There are World Lit Day programs in 27 countries around the globe. Each year, more and more people have taken up the challenge to select a book, find an audience, and share an image of them reading their selection aloud. (You can post the photo on Twitter with #WorldReadAloudDay and #WRADChallenge.)

Litworld.org provides an “activity hub” where school librarians can find resources to support the challenge. LitWorld® resources include tips on “Virtual Programs.” Scholastic Books offers a list of suggested titles for babies and toddlers throughout the grades up to seniors in high school.

In choosing from the lists offered, it also matters what books we select books to share. With a focus on reading aloud, we must take this opportunity to select stories that shine a light on the diversity of human experience.

Although it is important for individual school librarians to read aloud to the students in our care, it is equally important for us to encourage all of the classroom educators, administrators, and staff with whom we work to do so as well. We must also extend our reach into our students’ home literacy lives and the community by supporting parents and caregivers in reading aloud to youth of all ages.

Encouraging adults and older siblings to read aloud to children from the beginning of their lives is a personal mission of mine. Our book Read to Me / Vamos a leer was published in 2004 (Star Bright Books). Illustrated by Kyra Teis and adapted into Spanish by Mary Margaret Mercado, our multicultural inter-generational board book continues to support early childhood and family literacy programs across the country as they spread the message of reading as a fundamental part of parenting and family life. (The book is also currently available in Vietnamese/English.)

Beginning this year, the Great Beginnings Early Education Center Library and Parents as Teachers in Lee’s Summit, Missouri provides a gift of our book Read to Me to celebrate the birth or adoption of a new baby in their community.

For many years, the Family Reading Partnership in Ithaca, New York, has been including Read to Me in their “Waiting for Baby” resources for parents.

I will be reading to my grandchildren ages 1 and 3 via video chat this year. Of course, I would rather have them on my lap but technology has afforded us the next best thing.

The baby likes My Face Book and Babies, Babies both from Star Bright Books. The toddler and I add one- or two-sentence stories for the faces and the babies’ actions.

I give the toddler choices for our weekly read-alouds. Last week, he made his first ever snow angel so The Snowy Day is a must read this week. I will also offer The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates and Juniper Bates and selected pages from The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Ros Asquith.

To whom will you be reading on World Read Aloud Day and what book(s) have you carefully selected?

(And who will read aloud to me? Louise Erdrich will be reading to me via the audiobook of her latest title The Night Watchman. Thank you, Ms. Erdrich!)

Inquiry Connections: Competence, Autonomy, and Relevance

Image of 3 interlock puzzle pieces and the words competence, autonomy, and relevance (plus modeling)In the past two weeks, I have been engaged in an email exchange with Connie Williams, who retired from her high school librarian position in Petaluma City (CA) Schools and walked into her second dream job as a part-time History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library. In her current role, she often has the opportunity to work with individual students as they conduct research.

Connie and I began our conversation after my 11/16/20 blog post that referenced Joyce Valenza’s “Enough with the CRAAP; We’re Just Not Doing It Right.” We have been sharing ideas about using Mike Caulfield’s The Four Moves and SIFT process when teaching students to closely examine the reliability of sources.

Last week, I also had the opportunity to engage in a virtual interview with Barbara Stripling, which will be posted to School Library Connection.com (SLC) in the near future. Barb posed questions about how to motivate students to engage in inquiry and how inquiry motivates students to become lifelong learners. (Note: Barb also discusses relevance, autonomy, competence (confidence) in her recent SLC article.)

Central to these conversations has been how to engage students in the hard work of determining the reliability of sources—to dig deep enough to determine the perspective, bias, and authority of texts, free-range web browser-searched texts in particular. This work is essential for student-led inquiry learning.

These conversations prompted me to revisit the work of psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, which I first learned about in Paul Tough’s book Helping Students Succeed: What Works and Why (2016). Research conducted by Deci and Ryan points to the fact the people (students) are motivated by intrinsic needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness (personal connection or what we in education call relevance). According to Deci and Ryan, motivation can be sustained when those needs are met.

I believe these three needs are the key to unlocking in our students the motivation to doing the hard work. (This is the order in which Deci and Ryan address these needs.)

Competence
Making sense of any text, also known as comprehension, is work. It requires that readers who want to know the answers to their questions apply a range of strategies. These strategies include self-assessing their background knowledge or building it, posing meaningful questions and questioning the texts they encounter, determining main ideas, perspectives, and bias, drawing inferences, and synthesizing information from multiple sources. It also requires that adults and more proficient peers model what is going on inside their heads when they use these strategies to analyze a text.

K-12 students who have learned and have been guided in practicing reading comprehension strategies have learned to “stop” and chose from a selection of strategies to gain or regain comprehension. The process involved in making sense of text is an essential practice in reading and therefore in inquiry, which often challenges students to learn from texts that are above their proficient reading level. Students who are accustomed to doing this work will have a leg up when they are engaged in inquiry learning.

When students have confidence built from success with difficult texts, they will realize they are empowered with the skills and strategies needed to investigate any question they want to pursue. They will experience competence in making sense of texts. This competence can be a foundation on which they will persist in doing the hard work of analyzing and effectively using unfamiliar texts for their own purposes.

Experiencing competence creates confident learners
who are prepared to take the risks necessary for inquiry learning.

Autonomy
Autonomy is a centerpiece of inquiry learning. From my perspective and in my experience, there are two big buckets of inquiry practices in K-12 schools: guided inquiry based in curriculum standards and open-ended completely student-led inquiry learning. I believe both practices can create the conditions that further motivate students as lifelong learners.

I have the most experience facilitating guided inquiry based in content-area curriculum standards. When educators create opportunities for students to exercise choice within a content-area topic to achieve a standards-based outcome, they have created what Bhabha (1994) called a “third space,” a negotiated space between the curriculum required in school and the student’s outside of school interests and experience. In this context, students have the authority to ask personally meaningful questions within the required curriculum framework (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012).

Junior or senior capstone (and some university-level) projects are inquiry examples in which students may assume complete choice over the topic as well as the questions of their inquiry. These projects can pave the way for supporting a lifelong commitment to the process of asking questions and seeking answers, solutions, and uncovering more questions.

Empowered students engaged in inquiry exercise choice and voice.

Relevance
Deci and Ryan use the term “relatedness” which we, in education, call relevance or personal connections. Again, inquiry supports relevance and relevance supports inquiry.

Inquiry learning creates opportunities for student agency. Agency involves students in taking an active role in and ownership over learning. “They may set goals that are relevant and meaningful to their lives, practice autonomy by having voice and choice, and be empowered to share, reflect on, and grow through their learning” (Moreillon 2021, in press).

Exercising agency and experiencing empowerment is motivating.

Plus One: Modeling
To these three, I would add one condition that creates the kind of learning environment that motivates youth to enthusiastically engage in learning and persevere when the going gets tough. I believe that modeling is the most important example educators can offer students. When school librarians and classroom teachers show students that we, as adults, continue to pursue personally meaningful questions in our own lives, students can understand the usefulness of a lifelong inquiry stance toward learning.

Educators who model lifelong learning show students and colleagues that doing the work is worth it. This is not easy at a time when the most common question is what’s the quickest and easiest path to success.

Educator modeling invites students into a supportive inquiry learning environment, a club of inquirers.

Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi K. 1994. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge.

Deci, Edward L., and Richard M. Ryan. 2018. Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs of Motivation, Development, and Wellness. New York: The Guilford Press.

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. 2012. Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Moreillon, Judi. Ed. 2021. Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Tough, Paul. 2016. Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

See also: My 6/5/17 review of Tough’s book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.

 

Digital Learning: SIFT Meets Reading Comprehension Strategies

Image of Laptop with Books on the Screen and this text: Physical/digital access without intellectual access does not support traditional or any other literacy.Since computers entered libraries (and classrooms), students have been reading on screens. The difference today during the pandemic is that many students are reading exclusively online. This means that during this academic school year, more K-12 students than ever before will be engaging with digital texts.

An 11/11/20 Knowledge Quest blog post by Elizabeth Pelayo, librarian at St. Charles East High School in St. Charles, Illinois, brought this situation into sharp relief for me: “Print Nonfiction vs Databases.”

Elizabeth’s post reminded me of the challenges of allocating funds for library collections during tight budget times (and a pandemic). Her post also brought back a comment a high school junior made to me in 2010 when attempting to use a database during an inquiry project related to Harlem Renaissance literature and the arts: “Dr. M., can’t I just use a book?”

I agree with Elizabeth’s conclusion that students need both paper print and digital information sources. Her conclusion also aligns with Kathy Lester’s perspective in her 10/26/20 KQ post “Access to Print Books? Yes!

Comprehension Using Digital Texts
I think it is critical that all school librarians and educators, including administrators, read the research referenced in Jill Barshay’s The Hechinger Report article “Evidence Increases for Reading on Paper Instead of Screens” (2019). This is essential information if we are not only focused on providing access to paper print and digital resources but also committed to ensuring readers comprehend what they read.

This research finding should give us direction: “The excessive confidence of screen readers (with regard to their comprehension) is important, (researcher Virginia) Clinton said, because people who overestimate their abilities are likely to put in less effort. The less effort a person puts into a reading passage, the less they are likely to comprehend. That’s because reading comprehension, like all learning, isn’t easy and requires work” (Barshay 2019). (Emphasis added.)

As noted in Barshay’s article, the genre of the text figures into the mix. When Clinton’s research separated out studies in which students had read narrative fiction, there was no benefit to paper over screens, “but for nonfiction information texts, the advantage for paper stands out” (Barshay 2019).

Physical/digital access without intellectual access does not support traditional or any other literacy.

Connections to Inquiry Learning
Today, when students are engaged in remote and hybrid inquiry learning, they will be even more inclined to use digital texts accessed exclusively from the web in their information search process. Sorting fact from fiction, misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, and outright lies during free-range web searches requires the “work” that Clinton’s research supports.

SIFT + Comprehension Strategies = Critical Thinking
In a recent School Library Journal blog post “Enough with the CRAAP: We’re Just Not Doing It Right,” Joyce Valenza makes a research-based case for reassessing and changing the way we teach validating online information. I have never used the CRAAP test in my teaching. I have not found this apparently linear list useful to students. (Not to mention that I find the acronym off-putting.) On the other hand, I have used graphic organizers that I hope have led students to dig deeper when they are analyzing a source of information.

In her post, Joyce cites “Educating for Misunderstanding: How Approaches to Teaching Digital Literacy Make Students Susceptible to Scammers, Rogues, Bad Actors, and Hate Mongers,” research from the Stanford History Education Group. Joyce’s post and SHEG’s research finding should be a wake-up call for school librarians. It’s time to rethink how we teach digital literacy. (I encourage you read both Joyce’s post and the SHEG study.)

Joyce also cites Mike Caulfield’s “SIFT (The Four Moves).” For me, the SIFT process is aligned with and reinforces reading comprehension strategies that (upper grade) students should know and be able to apply. Parenthetical are mine.

Stop
Ask yourself if you know this website and the reputations of its authors. (“Stop” is precisely what readers are advised to do in order to self-assess their comprehension. Questioning and monitoring comprehension are reading comprehension strategies.)

Review Your Purpose
How will you use this information? (Reconnecting with the purpose for reading is a “fix-up option” reading comprehension strategy.)

Here Caulfield makes a distinction between next steps for a shallow or deeper investigation. Since this discussion focuses on students who are engaged in inquiry learning, school librarians and coteachers would guide them on to:

Investigating the source (building background knowledge)

Finding trusted coverage (determining main ideas and questioning the text until trusted information is found)

Tracing claims, quotes, and media back to the original context (verifying background knowledge) (Caulfield 2019).

And for me, at this point, educators stress the importance of deeply examining the author’s purpose, bias, and perspective, which is when students will make inferences combining their background knowledge with the evidence in the text (yet another reading comprehension strategy).

Digital Reading Comprehension
At this time as new practices are developing in instruction, it is essential that we have focused conversations with education decision-makers about how student read for meaning (reading comprehension), engage in inquiry, and determine the reliability of digital information.

AASL’s own “The School Librarian’s Role in Reading Position Statement” is also a rich resource for engaging in this conversation with decision-makers.

Collaborate!
The skills we have traditionally considered “information literacy” must not be separated from reading comprehension strategies, inquiry, and critical thinking. All of these tools—working in various combinations—help students analyze and make sense of texts. This is essential work for today’s students. Educators must teach these skills and motivate students to practice them—consistently—most especially in the free-range web learning environment.

In an SLJ article, Irene C. Fountas, professor in the School of Education at Lesley University in Cambridge and Gay Su Pinnell, professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at Ohio State University, were quoted: “Having a library is a treasure, and having a librarian is a gift. And when reading teachers, classroom teachers, specialists, and school librarians come together as a team, their collective knowledge about texts can help every child love to read independently, love to read in their classroom, and love to read at home” (Parrott 2017). (Emphasis added.)

Working together as a team, educators can also ensure that students deeply analyze and comprehend the “informational texts” they read in paper print and on their screens. School librarians can be leaders who make (digital) literacy teaching teams effective for the benefit of students.

Works Cited

Barshay, Jill. 2019. “Evidence Increases for Reading on Paper Instead of Screens.” The Hechinger Report, https://hechingerreport.org/evidence-increases-for-reading-on-paper-instead-of-screens/

Caulfield, Mike. 2019. “SIFT (The Four Moves).” https://hapgood.us/2019/06/19/sift-the-four-moves/

Parrott, Kiera. 2017. “Fountas and Pinnell Say Librarians Should Guide Readers by Interest, Not Level,” School Library Journal, https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=fountas-pinnell-say-librarians-guide-readers-interest-not-level

Valenza, Joyce, 2020. “Enough with the CRAAP; We’re Just Not Doing It Right.” School Library Journal, http://blogs.slj.com/neverendingsearch/2020/11/01/enough-with-the-craap-were-just-not-doing-it-right/

Image Credit
kalhh. “Learn Media Internet.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/learn-media-internet-medium-977543/

SLJ Summit Recap

Image of Laptop with Bookshelves on the ScreenI appreciate School Library Journal for organizing a purely virtual 2020 Summit. The line-up of content was outstanding with many familiar as well as new (to me) and diverse voices represented. The interface was easy to use. My only regret is that my schedule did not allow me to attend all of the live sessions in real time, which were not recorded for later access.

CORRECTION: The live session recordings are now available! Please don’t miss the recording of “In Conversation with Patrisse Cullors” moderated by Erika Long!

Reimagining School
After a Zoom social and welcome remarks, the opening session “Reimagining School” was a perfect way to launch the day-long conversation about challenges faced and solved for successful remote learning, equitable access to resources, and serving underserved students and families.

The presenters were Susan Gauthier, Director, Library Services, East Baton Rouge Parish School District, Dr. Jacqueline Perez, Assistant Superintendent, Equity, Access & Community Engagement, Riverside (CA) Unified School District, Brian Schilpp, STEM Supervisor, Garrett County (MD) Schools, Marlon Styles, Jr., Superintendent, Middletown City (OH) Schools; the session was capably moderated by Kara Yorio, SLJ News Editor.

Each of these presenters shared their unique teaching and learning environments and highlighted that a one-size-fits-all response to remote, hybrid, or in-person learning during a pandemic is not recommended or even possible.

Susan Gauthier expertly presented the pandemic worldview from the school librarianship perspective in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. With over 41,000 students, Susan and her librarians’ biggest challenge was scaling their digital collections to meet the needs of all students, educators, and families. She wisely started planning for the closure this fall with a stakeholder survey; the results showed that no one wanted physical book checkouts and all resources would be delivered electronically. Here are the highlights of what Susan shared:

  • Promoting and using e-resources exclusively meant the district had to rethink their reading culture, including orientations to the virtual library, reader’s advisory, and reading challenges.
  • Expanding adoption of e-resources from broad acceptance at middle school to the entire K-12 community was essential and a leadership opportunity to school librarians.
  • The district had benefited from FEMA hurricane funds and built on their “weather resistant” collections, including expanding into nonfiction and titles in Spanish.
  • District librarians made a concerted effort to collaborate with the public library to ensure all students had e-cards that provided access to the public library’s digital collection.

Susan thanked the vendors who provided their district with free e-resources, including MackinVia, TeachingBooks, ABDO, and Follett’s Lightbox.

Here’s one takeaway from each of the other presenters:

Jacqueline Perez stressed the critical importance of taking an asset-based view of each individual student in terms of addressing their needs and engaging them in learning. (Another asset-based view in Riverside district involves the community and volunteers in organizing and staffing learning hubs particularly for homeless or other students who lack adult support.)

Brian Schilpp noted that “aggressive” professional development for educators must be individualized—meeting educators “where they are” is essential. (The district’s drive-in movie theater set-up for sharing information with families is brilliant.)

While all of the presenters talked about the importance of building on the relationships they had formed with students, families, and community, Marlon Styles, Jr. reinforced this truth in all of his comments. His best quote: “Creativity is free!” (Co-creating individual reading plans with students and families is an outstanding way to gain support for youth from the adults in their homes.)

After the session there was a post-panel discussion in Zoom where participants crowdsourced ideas and resources.

I have watched two previously recorded sessions so far.

Nick Glass, founder of TeachingBooks, spotlighted the amazing digital resources offered on the site—232,000+ and rising! In addition to the TeachingBooks search tools, the site offers a Diverse Books Toolkit, Reader’s Advisory, and Library Programming. As an added benefit, particularly during remote learning, sharing tools allow librarians and other educators to connect TeachingBooks resources to their learning management systems.

Watching this resource evolve over the past twenty years has been amazing. If you don’t know and use TeachingBooks, be sure to sign-up for the free trial offered to SLJ Summit attendees.

I also viewed “Vote Woke: Empower Students to Vote with Books and Community Support” by Cicely Lewis, 2020 School Librarian of the Year and founder of Read Woke. (To learn more about Read Woke, connect with Cicely’s blog). In this session, Cicely shared how she engaged high school students in registering themselves and their friends to vote. She stressed how students took the lead in all of the voting initiatives launched at her school. Cicely recommended The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert (2020) as a must-read title for engaging youth in discussions around voting. She earned a $5,000 MTV Virtual Program Grant and her students had the distinct pleasure of a private Zoom call with former First Lady Michelle Obama and Jenna Bush Hagar.

Cicely was joined by Ron Gauthier, Branch Manager of the Grayson Public Library in Gwinnett County, Georgia. He shared how he and his team have partnered with public schools and the community to provide supplemental materials and programs tailored to their needs. This public library – school library collaboration is admirable and should be replicated across the county.

Sadly, for me, I was unable to attend the final live session of the Summit: “In Conversation with Patrisse Cullors.” Patrisse is an artist, activist, and educator; she co-founded Black Lives Matter in 2013. The movement, now an international organization with dozens of chapters around the world, campaigns against anti-black racism. Patrisse’s memoir When They Call You a Terrorist was a New York Times bestseller. Tennessee school librarian Erika Long moderated the conversation. Erika was part of the ALA Presidential Initiative: Fight for School Libraries, AASL Presidential Initiative Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and is a co-contributor to the “Equity” chapter in the forthcoming book Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021).

I turned to Twitter colleagues to get their takeaways from their session (with thanks to them):

Lindsey Kimery @LindsKAnderson Loved the conversation btw @erikaslong & @OsopePatrisse -Young people need to know they have the capability to be leaders right now. Educators need to be on the front lines of supporting the voice and vision of young people- Patrisse Cullors. #blm #sljsummit #mnpslibhack #tasltn

Jennifer Sharp @JenniferSharpTN – “Young people need to know that they have the ability to be leaders right now.” “There is a vibrancy to this moment that is very different than 2016 and everybody feels it.” Loving these thoughts about the activism of young people, @OsopePatrisse and @erikaslong Raising hands Clapping hands sign #sljsummit

Sara Kelly Johns @skjohns Just watched a powerful session at the @SLJ Summit with @erikaslong facilitating a conversation with Patrice Cullors, author of When They Call You a Terrorist. Whew! I am going back for another listen. #sljsummit #BlackLivesMatter

Kathy Ishizuka @kishizuka – An inspired and hopeful note to end on. @erikaslong @OsopePatrisse Peace, and remember to #vote #sljsummit #thankyou

Thank you again, SLJ, for this fine learning opportunity. I intend to make time this week for taking greater advantage of what you have generously offered.

Image Credit
kalhh. “Learn Media Internet.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/learn-media-internet-medium-977543/

#lafcon Learning

Image: Books with a sign: "So many books, so little time."

And so many sessions, so little time!

Last week, I participated in the Library Advocacy and Funding Conference.  I appreciated that the conference organizers made it so easy for people to participate. All of the sessions were pre-recorded and those of us with other obligations on these days could dip and out of the presentations that met our perceived needs. (I also appreciate the access was extended through to the end of the week. Thank you, @EveryLibrary and #lafcon sponsors.)

When I wrote a conference preview last week, I thought I would write about all of the sessions I attended. However, such a post would be too long for this blog space and I did post thank-you tweets for most of the session I attended (see @CactusWoman and #lafcon).

Instead, I want to share my take-aways from two phenomenal sessions: “Small Doors and Broken Windows” presented by Alvin Irby and an interview with Elizabeth A. Davis, president of the Washington (D.C.) Teachers Union. Each of these speakers had so much to share with school librarians, in particular; the following are just the highlights.

Alvin Irby, Small Windows and Broken Mirrors
Alvin Irby, former classroom teacher and part-time stand-up comedian, is the founder of Barbershop Books, a non-profit which he calls an “identity-based” reading program. Barbershop Books puts books selected by Black boys in child-friendly, male-spaces (barbershops) with the goal of all boys seeing themselves as readers.

Mr. Irby puts this work in a context. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 85% of Black male fourth-graders are not proficient in reading. Fewer than 2% of U.S. teachers are Black and a majority of Black boys are being raised by single mothers. Barbershop Books creates the possibility for access to books and Black role models that can help boys identify as readers.

And many of the books these boys choose for the program make them laugh! Mr. Irby cites information from the Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report. Parents (and likely educators, too) want kids to read books that inspire them to do something good—books with good stories that make kids think and feel. And what do kids want? They want books that will make them laugh—good stories that are humorous.

In that vein, Alvin Irby delivered a critique of the books librarians honor with awards and the lists we curate for young readers. Where are the funny or gross books? You won’t see Captain Underpants or Walter the Farting Dog on these lists, but these are the kinds of books kids who are beginning to identify as readers want and need. (This may be a stinging critique for one of our sacred cows, but I think it is one to seriously consider as we rise to the challenges posed by illiteracy and aliteracy.)

There was so much in Alvin Irby’s session that was memorable and quote worthy for me. Here are two quotes:

“Cultural competency at its core is about humility. It’s about educators/librarians being humble enough to recognize that they (we) don’t know enough to recognize that they (we) don’t know everything that they (we) need to know to make that (reading) experience as relevant and engaging as it could be and that by actually taking time and making space to gain a better understanding of who the audience is and about what’s important to them…”

“If you look at a book list for any child and there are no laugh out loud books on it then I don’t even know what to say other than that book list is not allowing children to see their whole self.”

At the very end of his presentation, Mr. Irby gave librarians a critical key to success. Guest readers will read books differently. If, for example, we want to impact the reading experiences of 4th-grade Black boys, then we should invite Black readers into our libraries to share.

During the pandemic, many authors have given us the gift of reading their own books online (or giving recognizable celebrities permission to read their books). These recordings can be our guest readers. Let’s look for the ones read by Black men if we want to create relevant and engaging reading experiences for Black boys. (And the same practice will be true for any other group of library patrons.)

Whether or not you saw his #lafcon session, I highly recommend Alvin Irby’s 8-minute TED Talk: “How to Inspire Every Child to Be a Lifelong Reader.”

Elizabeth A. Davis, President of Washington Teachers Union (WTU), Washington, D.C.: Interview with John Chrastka, Executive Director, EveryLibrary.org
Ms. Davis: “Education is a civil right.” When she ran for WTU president, Ms. Davis’s platform was to transform WTU into a social justice union that would come to the table with solutions, not just problems, would amply the voices of teachers, and build respect.

She had been an activist educator who taught students how to write letters to decision-makers. In the interview, Ms. Davis tells an inspiring story of a 6th-grade student in her class in 2005 who wrote a letter to the principal asking why the library was closed. He responded that there was no librarian but he allowed the student access to the library during lunch. The girl discovered that the same books that were on the shelve in 1953, when the school was all White, were still on the shelves for her and her all Black and Brown schoolmates. After writing another letter, Representative Elijah Cummings invited the student to the Capitol to present her findings at the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

When schools were on the verge of closing in spring 2020, Ms. Davis asked all teachers to survey their students regarding their tech access. They found 38% did not have computers, and all of them had TVs. Using these data and a commitment to equity, Washington, D.C. schools delivered instruction via TV during spring 2020. Brilliant!

John Chrastka: “Politics is people or money.”

Fully resourced, fully staffed school libraries are a funding issue. WTU sponsors an Annual Fund Our Schools, Fund Our Futures budget campaign to activate parents to speak before the city council in support of school funding. This kind of parent activism could transform how budget decisions are made in every district across the country.

As Ms. Davis noted, leaders must listen to all education stakeholders to learn what matters to them. Ms. Davis found that in Washington D.C. “equity is the thread that connects the dots among school stakeholders.” She also noted that “if logic doesn’t work, shame does!”

I agree with Ms. Davis that educators (especially school librarians) have to realize our power. Through the students we serve in our schools, we are connected to parents, relatives, and caregivers who are voters. Educators must activate voters to change things that aren’t working. We must adopt strategies to change our daily working environments for our own and our students’ and colleagues’ benefit.

Ms. Davis’s advice to school librarians: Look at the power of the services you are providing and where those services are falling short in your school. Then, focus on how your contributions are lifting that up for students and classroom teachers.

This is the second time I’ve heard Elizabeth Davis speak about her leadership and organizing efforts. She is a wonder and her personal stories as a student and an educator are powerful. I wish there was an organization specifically for teachers’ union presidents. If there is/were one, she should be speaking at their conferences and leading their charge.

The D.C. school librarians are doing outstanding work, and it helps their cause beyond measure that they have an advocate like Ms. Davis who will stand up for them and with them and speak truth to power. She is a brilliant impassioned leader. Thank you, @EveryLibrary, for spotlighting her voice and work.

#lafcon 2020
As a no longer practicing librarian, I might not have attended #lafcon without the support of the Lilead Project. I appreciate that they gave me this opportunity.

By participating, I learned that as a literacies and libraries consultant, author, and school librarian advocate there was so much valuable information in the conference for someone like me. Thank you to those in the School Librarians Group who posted reviews of the sessions they attended and engaged in brief exchanges in a discussion forum.

I gained a great deal of knowledge that I will apply in my consulting, writing, and advocacy work. My only wish was that I had had more time to take advantage of more of the session offerings.

Image credit:
Prettysleepy. “Books Library Education.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/books-library-education-knowledge-5430104/

 

Free Speech and Editorial Cartoons

Image: "We the People" U.S. Constitution flanked by the U.S. flagOn this Labor Day holiday, I’m thinking about how students learn the history of our national celebrations and observances. In my experience, Labor Day could be one of the least studied of those. At this time during a pandemic, it is important that we reflect on the sacrifices being made on our behalf by first responders and front-line workers, including educators who care for the academic as well as the social-emotional health of U.S. students.

Not to diminish this holiday for U.S. workers, but considering the 2020 election cycle, Constitution Day, which is celebrated on September 17th, seems to me to be more pressing in terms of students’ needs to understand the meaning and relevance of this day of observance.

Connie Williams wrote an August 20, 2020 Knowledge Quest blog post that provides resources for educators who want to guide students as they dig deeper into the frameworks of our system of government. See her post “Integrating Constitution Day into Your School Curriculum,” including a link to information about a poster contest with an October 2, 2020 deadline.

First Amendment Rights
For me, the time is right and ripe to focus students’ attention on the First Amendment to the Constitution.

First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

With the Black Lives Matter Movement protests and counter-protests happening across the country, questioning the purpose, exercise, and limits, if there are any, of this right is relevant whether or not we are actively engaged in civil unrest.

One of the ways I have engaged students in thinking about our freedom of speech and freedom of the press is through deep dives with editorial cartoons. Not only do these texts, which are accessible online and in paper print, sharpen students critical thinking skills but they also give students the opportunity to learn and practice questioning and drawing inferences, essential reading comprehension strategies.

Free Speech
In Tucson, we are lucky to have David Fitzsimmons, a talented and “no-holds-barred” editorial cartoonist who has been sharing his opinions in the Arizona Daily Star since 1986. He’s won many awards and his cartoons are syndicated to over 700 media outlets worldwide. Like many editorial cartoonists, David shares his work via social media as well. You can find his cartoons and commentary at: @DWFitzsimmons (Notice he describes himself as an “insultant.”)

Like all editorial cartoonists, David makes no bones about the fact that he is a “biased, partisan, unfair” commentator on social and political topics. I recently attended a Star Opinion Page Reader Chat where David shared his work. (The quotes are from my notes.)

In that chat, David shared how a cartoon he penned and published on May 31, 2020 after George Floyd’s murder was used as a “political satire” text by Cooper Junior High social studies teachers in Wylie, Texas, located just north of Dallas.

According to the newspaper article in the Fort Worth Star-TelegraphWylie ISD faces backlash after assignment includes cartoon comparing police with KKK,” the students were learning about the Bill of Rights and the cartoon was not part of the district’s curriculum.

On August 26, David Fitzsimmons wrote an op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star in response to the controversy: “Fitz’s Opinion: Texas, Governor Abbott and the National FOP are not happy with this cartoonist.” I agree with David that the Fort Worth Star-Telegraph’s headline misrepresents his cartoon. I also agree with his assessment of the overall situation surrounding this incident: “Persecuting, smearing and scapegoating public school teachers for teaching truth, civic dialogue, historical context and critical thought is beyond unacceptable. It’s un-American.”

Intellectual Freedom
Intellectual freedom is a core value of librarianship. I believe school librarians have an essential role to play in bringing thought-provoking texts into the academic programs in our schools. When I served as a librarian at Sabino High School in Tucson (2001-2003), David was an engaging and effective guest speaker for social studies and history students and classroom teachers. Sadly, he reports that invitations to share with K-12 students have sharply decreased in recent years.

David gave me permission to reproduce one of his cartoons in in my book Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (ALA 2012). The ‘toon entitled “Asterisk” focuses on how the Constitution grants us the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The asterisk leads readers to a briefcase with these words printed on its side in capital letters: SPECIAL INTERESTS.

Whether teaching face to face or remotely, these widely available texts are goldmines for students. Visual texts like editorial cartoons capture today’s students’ attention. Pairing cartoons penned by editorial cartoonists with divergent viewpoints can create deep conversations. Questioning these texts and using readers’ background knowledge and evidence in the drawings and carefully selected (minimal) words in editorial cartoons to make inferences are ways to shore up students’ thinking and reading skills. Educators can also use editorial cartoons as provocative texts to launch inquiry learning, especially in the areas of civics, social studies, and history. (My hats are off to the classroom teachers in Wylie ISD.)

Additional Resources for Editorial Cartoons
David Fitzsimmons’ editorial cartoons and op-eds can be accessed via the Local Editorials and Columnists Opinion Page at Tucson.com.

The American Association of Editorial Cartoonists offers a gallery of editorial cartoonists’ work.

Many cartoonists have websites where they display their work. The Cartoonist Group site includes editorial cartoonist Clay Bennett’s work, which I use it in the “advanced questioning” lesson plan in my book.

Side note: In his 9/3/20 reader chat talk, David Fitzsimmons stated there are only 23 editorial cartoonists working in the U.S. today. He also listed the local newspapers that are on the brink of collapse. If you are as lucky as I am to still have a local paper, I hope you subscribe to it. I also hope you are integrating the paper printed or online issue of your local newspaper into your teaching. In 2017, The Washington Post adopted “Democracy Dies in Darkness” as its official slogan. It’s worth asking yourself and your students how local newspapers can be beacons that shine the light.

Image Credit:
wynpnt. “Constitution 4th of July.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/constitution-4th-of-july-july-4th-1486010/