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the scope-and-sequence hat

 

 

 

 

 

Not so long ago, certainly in my teaching lifetime, there used to be a “curriculum” commonly known as “library skills”.

The classroom teacher (occasionally a teacher librarian) would take their class to the library and teach them things like the layout of the library, the difference between fiction and non fiction, alphabetical order and Dewey classifications, the various types of reference books and how to use them, and other  similar skills so that the students could be ‘independent’ users of the facility, able to do their own ‘research’ and perhaps cite the source from which they had copied their information. Workbooks and worksheets abounded and the evidence of learning was based on their successful completion.

 

Then in the mid-90s as the phenomenon known as the Internet started to gain traction and access to it became more reliable, affordable and widespread, the walls of the traditional brick-and-mortar library began to break and patrons were able to source a wider range of information from a greater variety of sources beyond those immediately available on the library’s shelves.  With this came a realisation that there needed to be a scaffold to support learners in their selection, evaluation and interpretation of all that was now accessible to them and so models of developing information literacy were created and we became familiar with such devices as

and a host of others including my own expanded version of the NSW model.

The core of the NSW Information Search Process model

The core of the NSW Information Search Process model

Regardless of the model chosen or mandated, each one followed a similar pattern of skill development…

  1. A problem to be solved or a question to be answered generated a need for information.
  2. Locating the resources that would satisfy that information need
  3. Choosing the most appropriate information through analysis of its relation to the information need
  4. Sorting and organising the information from a variety of sources so it can be used effectively
  5. Using the information either personally or sharing it with others
  6. Considering the where-to-from-here either as a result of the new learning or as an information seeker

Whichever model was used, the development of information literacy became the specialist subject of the teacher librarian and was viewed as the focus of teaching in the library.

However, with the explosion of information as the development of Web 2.0 enabled Internet users to become creators and curators of information rather than just consumers, and the emergence of a plethora of devices which enabled anywhere, anytime access to what was online it became clear that the traditional once-a-week lesson would not be enough to ensure that students were information literate.

Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information

ALA Presidential Committee on Information Literacy, 1989

Going right back to Piaget’s notion of assimilation and accommodation of new experiences being at the core of learning and with the burgeoning understanding of how humans learn based on work by those such as Marion Diamond, Bob Sylwester, Eric Jensen  and Geoffrey and Renate Caine , it was clear that developing the concepts and skills necessary to undertake research and investigations was clearly something that needed to be embedded across the curriculum and taught by all teachers within the context of their discipline.  The one-off, isolated lesson was not going to result in the sort of internalisation of skills and understanding that could readily be transferred to new situations. So what had been a set of discrete skills with the tag “library skills” and taught by the teacher librarian, often in isolation from anything happening in the students’ classroom, became the responsibility of all with the release of the Australian Curriculum documents and the Common Core Standards in the USA.

While this makes sound developmental, educational and pedagogical sense, many teacher librarians found it to be a very threatening situation – with no set curriculum, what would be their role in this emerging Information Age; how could they to remain relevant when “everything is on the Internet” and a growing, if fallacious perception that the more a school “went digital” the more modern and efficient it would appear to be.  Having a set curriculum like other faculties appeared to be the anchor on which many relied to demonstrate their contribution to the teaching and learning of the school, their raison d’être, even holding onto their job.

Yay or Nay

In a recent informal survey of TLs across a number of international forums, all but a few of the respondents said that they would prefer a scope and sequence chart directly related to their teaching in the library. The most common reason for having such a document was that it would guide their teaching “so nothing is missed” but other reasons included

  • ensuring instruction is systematic and cohesive across grades, departments and buildings
  • ensuring instruction is uniform across grades, departments and buildings
  • ensuring assessment is uniform across grades, departments and buildings
  • ensuring that students emerged from a grade/year level with a common body of skills so standards are maintained and that there is a defined starting point for the next academic year
  • providing a big-picture overview of the curriculum and what was required
  • providing “ticker boxes” for skills and outcomes, particularly those in the English curriculum
  • providing a framework for planning and a scaffold for teaching
  • providing a guideline for skills development across and through grades and year levels particularly for new TLs as well as those more experienced
  • providing a common language between the TL and the classroom-based teachers
  • providing cohesion for students particularly those who move schools frequently
  • providing an advocacy tool to demonstrate that there is a set curriculum and therefore there is a legitimate role for the TL within the school
  • assisting the development of rubrics for assessment
  • demonstrating to classroom-based teachers that TLs have skills to offer them to assist their teaching and give credibility to the TL’s suggestions
  • demonstrating to classroom-based teachers, executive and principals that the role of the TL has changed
  • demonstrating to parents that the TL has something to offer their students beyond the “right book”
  • providing a document for successors so there is consistency across time
  • providing a visual guide to what should be taught when
  • helping to satisfy the need for documentation of lesson planning and data collection from assessment strategies imposed by school and district administrations
  • holding students accountable for demonstrating previous learning when submitting assignments across all curriculum areas
  • identifying areas of professional learning that need attention
  • comparing what other schools and districts are doing
  • providing documentation for personal and school accreditation
  • supporting the TL’s teaching role by demonstrating it is based on a common document not a personal agenda

Those who did not view a scope and sequence chart as an essential document were primarily concerned with it

  • isolating, or at best, marginalising, the TL’s knowledge and skills to discrete lessons that do not reflect or relate to what is happening in the classroom
  • promoting a belief by both staff and students that information literacy is “bizniz bilong library” taught only by the ‘expert’ TL  rather than something that should be an across-curriculum perspective that can be taught by all
  • sidelining the TL from the teaching roles in the schools, putting them back into the role of the resource provider
  • becoming a tick-a-box document that is inflexible and which has little relevance to student needs, interests and abilities
  • suggesting that the development of concepts and skills and the use of scaffolds is linear rather than recursive
  • becoming more important than the students’ learning so differentiation becomes minimal
  • limiting the integration of information literacy into the curriculum as a whole so students do not build their own scaffolds for learning something new
  • limiting the opportunities for students to grow their own understanding at their own rate because of a lock-step approach that might not allow Kindergarten students to use a digital camera, for example
  • suggesting that information literacy is a skills-based continuum that can be measured and reported on rather than a spiral curriculum that leads to a greater ability to assess, interpret and use information as an adult
  • becoming prescriptive, restrictive and conclusive rather than needs-based, responsive and flexible
  • becoming a set-in-concrete document that is a blueprint for a significant period
  • promoting a one-size-fits-all approach with all schools and all students having the same profile and needs
  • promoting the perception that information literacy is a discrete set of skills that can be taught and learned in isolation
  • limiting the conversations and collaboration between TL and classroom-based teachers as the latter consider the TL has a syllabus to teach and should just get on with it
  • preventing the opportunities for serendipitous learning or going off on student-directed tangents because of the need to “follow the curriculum”

The scope

Before the issue of yay or nay can be decided, it is necessary to consider what such a document might contain.  The fundamental element of a scope and sequence document is its scope and fundamental to that is its focus.  Being a fan of Stephen Covey’s habit of “Begin with  the end in mind” and Simon Sinek‘s “Start with why”, identifying the purpose of the document is essential in order to not only determine its focus but also to make sure that all that is done (and the workload is substantial) is aligned to the vision so it is on target, relevant and meaningful. So what would be the purpose of the document – a flexible guide for planning teaching or a tick-a-box assessment of learning? Being a fan of Stephen Covey’s habit of “Begin with  the end in mind” and Simon Sinek‘s “Start with why”, identifying the purpose of the document is essential  What would be its key focus? What should be the overarching driving force?

  • Information Literacy?
  • Critical Thinking?
  • Creative Thinking?
  • Digital technologies proficiency?
  • Digital Citizenship?
  • Media Literacy?
  • Inquiry skills?
  • Inquiry pedagogy?
  • Visual Literacy?
  • Cyber safety and security?
  • Cultural and social understanding?
  • Knowledge Building?

In a presentation to local teacher librarians in February 2017, Dr Mandy Lupton demonstrated that all of these, and many more, were elements of a wide range of models that could be associated with information literacy and be considered the realm of the TL.

Using Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers

UNESCO has been developing a Media and Information Literacy program to provide “access to an international, multimedia and multi-language media and information literacy (MIL) teaching resources tool for educators, researchers and individuals….[to facilitate] intercultural/interreligious dialogue and mutual understanding through MIL.”

Media and Information Literacy recognizes the primary role of information and media in our everyday lives. It lies at the core of freedom of expression and information – since it empowers citizens to understand the functions of media and other information providers, to critically evaluate their content, and to make informed decisions as users and producer of information and media content.

This covers the elements in this diagram.

 
UNESCO Media & Information Literacy

UNESCO Media & Information Literacy

One has to wonder if it would be useful, let alone feasible to produce a document that covered all these elements let alone any other add-ons such as the General Capabilities of the current Australian Curriculum.

Having decided on a definition and the parameters, there are still questions to ask and decisions to be made.

  • Will the document be one that describes outcomes, skills or standards?
  • Given that some aspects of information literacy are the same for Kindergarten as they are for year 12, just at a different degree of sophistication, will the document be driven by big-picture ideas for lifelong learning such as “Students will learn to use ideas, information and images ethically” or will it be more piecemeal such as “Students will learn to cite sources using title and author”? 
  • Will it be enough to troll the key curriculum document looking for appropriate outcomes and indicators or should other ancillary documents such as the ISTE Standards be incorporated?
  • How will the “21st century skills” be incorporated and addressed?

  • How will differing needs and circumstances be addressed such as access to reliable, robust and affordable Internet access?
  • In her analysis of the current Australian curriculum, Mandy Lupton found that even within what is supposed to be a national document, those writing each subject strand did not use the same language for the same concept so how will this be addressed so there is common language and understanding?

The sequence

Perhaps is would seem easier to identify the sequence of skills to be learned. But again, there are many aspects that need to be considered…

  • In Inquiry Skills in the Australian Curriculum Lupton found that there was not consistency across the subject strands as to when a particular concept was introduced.  What might come in Year 3 in one area did not appear till Year 9 in another.  There seemed to have been few or no common conversations about what should come when and at what level of sophistication.
  • In the case of the Australian Curriculum, it is always changing (Lupton’s matrix of 2012 is now out of date) and states have adapted it or overlaid their own requirements on top so it becomes more ‘personalised’. Thus the purpose of establishing a common body of knowledge is blemished.
  • While all schools are expected to follow the Australian Curriculum, different approaches to addressing it are taken, including the International Baccalaureate  so delivery and expectations are shaped by these.
  • Many schools see the library and the teacher librarian as part of the English faculty yet, in the Australian Curriculum, there are few English strand outcomes that directly focus on the development of information literacy
  • The role of the TL within the school is unique to that school – some provide cover for teacher preparation and planning; others co-operate with teachers to run a parallel program; some collaborate in both planning and teaching; some are directed by teachers or executive to provide specific instruction of discrete units of work; some are so micro-managed that they can only read aloud to students for fun every second week; some are autonomous in their programming; some see students daily, some once a week, some for a term or semester a year, some only when the teacher or student comes to the library with a specific purpose – so adherence to and completion of a set document would be problematic
  • The development of information literacy and inquiry skills are not linear – it is a recursive practice as information seekers go back and forth according to purpose and need – yet a traditional matrix would not reflect this. While an experienced TL might be able to factor this in, it might be confusing for a new TL or a principal expecting to see boxes ticked as taught.
  • Learning is a spiral that is unique to the individual learner so how would the concepts of “introduction, consolidation, mastery” (or similar terms) be addressed and depicted?
  • Mastery of a concept is demonstrated when its associated skills are transferred to new, unrelated situations and the learner can explain what they have done and teach others but this might not ever be apparent if the TL is working in isolation and it may not ever occur within the students’ time in formal education. There is not necessarily an endpoint to becoming information literate.
  • While the original intention may be different, many scope-and-sequence documents become a tick-a-box checklist particularly in the current climate of testing, testing, testing and data collection so what happens to those for whom learning is not easy or very easy and who have the right to have their needs met?
  • In a time of differentiation, does imposing a lock-step curriculum take us back to the outdated, fallacious notion that one size fits all?

Maybe UNESCO has provided the beginning of the answer.  They  have attempted to bring together the fields of information literacy and media literacy into a combined set of knowledge, skills and attitudes required for living and working in the 21st century by identifying the Five Laws of Information and Media Literacy.   

Returning to the big-picture view perspectives of Covey and Sinek, even McTighe and Williams’ Understanding by Design which place the end result at the beginning, these laws could be a sound foundation for any scope-and-sequence document.  If we believe Law 5 which begins “Media and information literacy is not acquired at once. It is a lived and dynamic experience and process” then it may be possible to take the other four laws and ask what each might look like at each year level; what knowledge, understandings, skills, attitudes and values are appropriate for this law at this level for these students so that any document that is produced has a common direction and cohesion using the curriculum outcomes you are obliged to address while acknowledging that there is no one-size-fits-all as the tick-a-box testers would like. 

Creating a scope-and-sequence document is easier to say than do.  There are many arguments, both conceptual and practical, for and against its creation and its use.  Conversations with colleagues and social media messages suggest that there is a desire for such a document to provide direction and clarification but I suspect that this post has created more questions than answers!

 

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the reader support hat

 

 

Ask any teacher librarian what their core business is and somewhere in a relatively short list will be a phrase relating to enabling and supporting students to be effective, efficient, independent readers.  Whether that be preschool, primary, secondary or tertiary and referring to reading for pleasure or reading for research, the development of reading is at the heart of what we believe and at the heart of what is expected by our communities.

If there were a magic bullet to enable everyone to achieve the goal, then it would have been discovered by now and the continual arguments about phonics versus whole language would be silent; politicians would be basking in the glory of having a 100% literate community and publishers would be providing resources that meet the criteria. The teacher librarian’s role would be easy – just provide the resources to meet the students’ interests.  Needs or abilities would not be a concern.

But the simple truth is that, like everything, there is no one way.  We are individuals and the way our brains are wired and the way we learn to read are as individual as our DNA and our fingerprints.  So why then, does learning to read and then developing and honing the skill have to be such a competition?  While the “finishing line” is reasonably clear, why do we demand that all cross the line at the same time?  Instead of paving the way for a smooth and safe journey, why do we pepper it with obstacles to climb over or manoeuvre around?

As the new school years looms in Australia and New Zealand – back-to-school advertising starts the day after Christmas – and mid-year assessments and reports are gearing up in northern hemisphere schools, there seems to be a rise in the need to be able to show that students have improved (or will improve) as the result of programs and practices and that the only way to demonstrate this is through quantitative data and comparison with other students. 

Thus schools, teachers and ultimately TLs are looking for ways to measure this improvement whether it be through schemes that require students to have gained a certain number of points by responding to their reading; demonstrating that they have read a certain number of books or for a certain number of minutes; or moved through certain, arbitrary levels of achievement as though reading is a road with clearly defined bus stops on the way; or some other method that brings in an element of competition with other students.  (And don’t be fooled – kindergarten kids know about good, better, best.)

The educational buzzword of the moment is “accountability” and my recent experience back in a primary school showed that teachers are spending more time teaching to a test so they can collect data than they do celebrating the joy of learning – the cry of “there’s no fun anymore” was common amongst experienced teachers like myself; less-experienced teachers were bemoaning that the job they did and they job they believed they should be doing were poles apart; and students were learning that school was all about jumping through hoops and being tested to prove you could jump as high as the next person.  That it was all a huge competition that you had to win to succeed and if you didn’t you may as well tattoo ‘failure’ on your forehead.

Don’t get me wrong – I do believe that we need to monitor students’ progress but in a way that enables us to support their individual development by providing support or extension where it is appropriate.  In regards to reading, back in the 70s when I began my initial teacher education in New Zealand, Dr Marie Clay was examining the reading behaviours of the very young and amongst a lot of other ground-breaking stuff, introduced the concept of running records which meant the teacher noted the child’s strategies as they read aloud and was able to make decisions about what support the child needed to become more independent. a running record enable the teacher to see what strategies the child had already internalised so these were not taught over and over unnecessarily, with the instructional focus falling on those strategies that needed refining.  It was about improving teaching not measuring learning.

In her book, Reading in the Wild Donalyn Miller found that by Year 6 the majority of students viewed reading as a means to an academic end, not a source of pleasure in and of itself.  Given that the five-year-old goes to school with the firm belief that they will be reading by the end of the first day what is it that we, as their educators do, that changes them in six or seven short years? What have we done to kill the joy of the printed word and the things it can teach us and the places it can take us?

So what role does the teacher librarian have in ensuring that that core business of assisting students to be independent readers, able to access, understand, interpret and manipulate text? Recent conversations on and in professional forums suggest that there are two camps when it comes to wearing the reader support hat,

The first camp comprises those who believe that their role is to be guided by teaching staff who see the library’s role as purely an adjunct to their teaching programs and support mandates that students should only borrow books that are at their reading level; that they should be able to read everything they borrow; that books must be of a certain type, format or length; that they should support a particular topic or focus within the classroom. They believe that students should choose from a pre-selected range, particularly restricting younger ones to picture books or those with plenty of photos, regardless of whether the child might share their choice with a parent or sibling and often agree to label or shelve the books, supposedly to make choice easier but in effect proclaiming the child’s ability or lack of it to peers. This is despite the mounting evidence that reading levels are inaccurate, vary according to the measure used for the exact piece of text, and the means for establishing a child’s reading level are also problematic.

Three Myths about Reading Levels ..and why you shouldn’t fall for them

Reading is an interactive process, so the difficulty or ease with which a particular reader can read a particular text depends in part on his or her prior knowledge related to the text and motivation for reading it.  

In other words, a student’s reading choices are not independent, free, interest-driven and satisfying the need of the moment.

The second camp comprises those who believe in free voluntary choice so that students can be in control of their own reading journey and be empowered by and positive about having that control. They can shape their own reading journey; learn what they like and dislike; learn how to discard what doesn’t appeal for whatever reason; acknowledge that they will find some books easy and others more difficult (as happens in real life depending on our experience with the topic); explore a whole variety of worlds, characters, situations and opinions so their horizons are broadened in ways that only reading can do; challenge themselves to take new paths and detours; be challenged and perhaps changed by what they encounter and thus become better informed; become independent, critical, discriminating readers reflecting the real-world experience rather than some artificial domain. They can choose to extend themselves to read more challenging materials about unfamiliar topics or they can seek comfort in something that offers them support in a time of need. They can walk out with the thickest book in the library because that bolsters their self-esteem and image amongst their peers and regardless of whether it can or will be read, keeps a positive message about the joy and wonder of reading flowing.

Perhaps it is time to re-visit our core beliefs about what teaching and learning are and how those beliefs feed our programs and practices and how our programs and practices reflect those beliefs, while also examining our vision statement and what we believe a best-practice, top-shelf library looks like.  As well as being the reader leader  we must also be the reader support.

Are we in a school where there has very much a one-size-fits-all  philosophy where students read class novels as a whole and move forward in a lock-step fashion?

Are we in a school where students are expected to read only within their “level” and where our collections are shelved according to those levels?

Are we in a school where reading is measured in the number of books read, minutes spent reading or points gained and rewards are offered on the basis of that?

Are we in a school where reading is seen as an academic competition where only the best will ever succeed because success is only measured by an academic score?

Are we in a school where the TL’s role is seen as the reading instructor rather than the reading facilitator, the “sage on the stage” instead of the “guide on the side”, to quote Jamie McKenzie

If we are, what are we as TLs who supposedly have the big picture in the frame, doing to change the environment so that the running track becomes more level and every child has the chance to cross the finish line at their own pace?

Have we reflected on our professional beliefs and practices and articulated what we believe the school library’s role in supporting literacy to be?

Are we in a school that values individual difference and the importance of literacy?

Have we read Donalyn Miller’s books, or Readicide by Kelly Gallagher or the writing of Stephen Krashen so that our personal professional learning and understanding is up to date?

Are we aware of the research about the value of independent reading and the school’s role in this such as the Kids & Family Reading Report AND are we sharing this with our colleagues, executive and parents?

Are we encouraging students to set their own personal goals relating to reading so their journey becomes their own, one which they are in charge of and for which they can make their own decisions? Are we rewarding them in a way they feel is appropriate when they achieve their goal?

Are we supporting them through open-ended challenges such as Dr Booklove’s Reading Challenges, Joy Millam’s Challenge or that from Naomi Bates?

If students are required to respond formally to some of the titles they have read, are we offering a variety of ways that they can do this?

Do our circulation policies and practices support children’s choosing and choices as well as frequent, regular access to a wide range of resources?

Are we sensitive to and supportive of the needs of our clients, including those in different family structures, those for whom English is not their first language, those who are exploring their gender orientation, those who have learning difficulties generally and so on?

Are we sharing information about learning to read with the parent community as well as suggestions for the sorts of books they could investigate for their children?

If, through that reflection we find there is a mis-match between our personal beliefs and our professional environment then we need to ask ourselves hard questions about our choices of staying, challenging and changing or finding ourselves a position more in tune with those beliefs.

But in the meantime, with the current climate of testing and assessment and accountability and so on, which is only likely to increase sadly because of the associated high-stakes outcomes like funding, I don’t know how we can get the powers-that-be to rethink what they are doing and what they require of us, if we are required to do a formal assessment on what we cover in the library on the literature side of things, perhaps this may be a strategy that can be adopted and adapted as necessary.  

I believe that if we are to encourage students to be lifelong readers, we have a responsibility to engage the kids in the love of story, the magic of words, the rhythms of the language and so on that we can and be as inventive as possible in our assessment tasks so they are hands-on, developmentally appropriate demonstrations of what students have learned.  Not just endless worksheets and book reviews.

One way of managing the data collection is to identify the outcomes you need to address and choose a range of stories that will enable you to do this.  Share these stories over a number of sessions but instead of trying to assess every student on every story, just target a few for each session.

Have in mind those students and monitor their participation in the discussions and if they are not participating (perhaps they are swamped by those more vocal) then ask them a question directly that will help you mentally assess their capability.  If possible, make notes about the target students at the end of the session so you don’t forget what you learned. 

If you have a collection of stories then you can introduce the concepts you are focusing on cumulatively with each one by saying something like, “Remember when we read… we thought about how being in a thunderstorm made us feel.  Well, our story today is set in the dead of night so I want you to think about how that might make you feel. And how it might change the way the characters in the story think and feel and act.”  If you start your assessments with the kids you know will pick the concepts up quickly, this cumulative, spiral reinforcement will give those not-so-confident students time to build up their own mindset so when they become your target group for the session they have been set for success.  And in the meantime you’ve helped them all engage more with the story, increased their understanding of the sorts of techniques authors and illustrators use and kept them engage with story and reading as a whole.

Use your curriculum and talk with the teachers to identify those things that you will focus on during your time with the students so they are then free to focus on other elements. This not only creates a partnership between you but explicitly demonstrates how you can assist them in lessening their workload. It is unlikely that the PTB will pull back from what the curriculum currently demands – it’s as though those who write the curricula are in competition with each other to see who can get their students doing things faster, regardless of any developmental considerations or long-term interest in keeping them reading –  because that will be seen as dumbing down the curriculum and they won’t wear that.

There are so many ways we as teacher librarians can support our students’ reading so that it becomes a choice rather than a competition and we need to be their loudest voice so that each of them has the right to be a winner in whatever way that looks for them.

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the school-home reading hat

hat_school-home

 

 

 

 

In the southern hemisphere long summer holidays are on the horizon while in the northern hemisphere winter is closing in and long nights spent indoors are looming.  Both offer great opportunities for encouraging our students to read, read, read. 

quote1

The single most important predictor of academic success is the amount of time  students spent reading, and this is a more accurate indicator than economic or social status. Time spent reading was highly correlated to success in math and science.  The keys to success lie in teaching students how to read and then have them read as much as they can.quote2

Program for International Student Assessment, 2003

So how can we as educators encourage parents to encourage their children to delve into the world of words, journey through their imaginations and explore what is offered in the pages of a book?

Ask a parent what they want their child to achieve from their school experience and overwhelmingly they will say that they want them to be confident, competent, independent readers. How can we harness parent power to be our partners in this process?

What can we do together to show our youngsters that reading for pleasure is valuable, valid and valued?

How can we work together to help them build and maintain a healthy reading habit to take with them into adulthood?

How can we work together to  support their growth as readers of a variety of topics and formats for a variety of purposes?

Let me state from the start that I am totally opposed to the concept of mandatory reading programs where students must read a particular book, a certain number of books, or any sort of requirement that they are obligated to complete, must report on, be assessed on or in any way be held accountable for having read during their own time. One of the saddest things is that in her book Reading in the Wild Donalyn Miller reports that by Year 6 most students perceive reading to be about being a means to an academic end – a school-based activity, pleasing a teacher, completing an assignment, getting a better grade, scoring points or a positive comment, something imposed rather than chosen.  What are the messages we are giving our students about reading if this is their opinion after just a handful of years of being able to read for themselves?  Where have the magic and mystery gone?

While parents want their children to be successful readers, they often do not know how to support this at home and so it is our job as professionals for whom reading is part of our mandate to support them in whatever way we can. Although our primary role is not one of reading instructor -we must become the guide on the side not the sage on the stage – nevertheless it is to the library that parents and teachers look for leadership. We must become the pivot on which the home/school reading relationship balances.

guide

Communication between the library and home is the most critical factor in supporting our students’ reading at home. Establish a library newsletter (print or online); a dedicated Facebook (or similar page);  a tweet, a blogpost, emails – whatever medium that your parent community uses frequently for school-home communication – and make its maintenance a dedicated regular part of your professional practice.

There is an abundance of research available about the importance of both reading aloud to children and demonstrating that reading is a valid, valued and valuable activity.  It is our job to disseminate this sort of research to parents, to provide the evidence that time spent reading for pleasure is a valuable investment rather than a waste of time but it should not be done as a series of links to papers written for academics because even we, as the target audience for such writing, don’t read them.  As part of our professional learning, maybe even an identified goal for professional appraisal, we need to locate, read, interpret and share what we learn in a way that is accessible to parents.  Consider creating an infographic that contains succinct information, has visual appeal and links to the original research where appropriate so those so inclined can read further. This one from the Australian Kids & Family Reading Report demonstrating the predictors of successful readers is a powerful example.

frequent_readers

Suggest titles about the importance of reading to and with their children that parents can read for themselves such as 

Reading Magic: how your child can learn to read before school—and other read-aloud miracles, Mem Fox (Pan Macmillan)

The Reading Bug—and how you can help your child to catch it Paul Jennings (Penguin)

Rocket your Child into Reading Jackie French (Angus & Robertson)

The ageless rewards of reading aloud– Margaret Robson Kett

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin)

Provide links to where they can be purchased so parents can acquire them while they are thinking about them.

Direct parents of younger students to pages like Reading with Your Child (which has a Creative Commons licence which allows you to adapt it to a format which suits your needs)  and The Art of Reading Aloud, both of which have practical tips for sharing stories with their children at home.

If your students are slightly older and parents are asking why they should continue to read aloud even when the child is an independent reader, share this blog post  which explains why this teacher is reading 180 picture books to her Yr 7s and 8s over the school year and the impact it is already having after just three weeks, and The Reading Promise  which is the story of the bond formed between a father and daughter through reading aloud.  

Or this talk which demonstrates the magic of read aloud and reminds us all why reading aloud is so essential- at school and at home. It is for parents and teachers who want to teach comprehension and connect with kids in powerful ways.

Imagine the power of the advocacy for the library and the status of the profession that will ensue if parents regularly receive such important and valuable information.

With the gift-giving season almost upon us and 30% of all Australian book sales being children’s books; UK sales up 7%  and similar growth in the USA, parents and grandparents will also appreciate knowing about what’s suitable for their offspring for their Santa Sacks.  By being abreast of new releases, what’s trending in your library at the moment, books that are about to be released as movies, and current popular genres, as teacher librarians we can keep them informed of how they might choose wisely and spend their money well.  A regular segment in your communications highlighting titles likely to be of interest will be well-received especially if you include a synopsis (often available from the publisher’s webpage about the book) and a guide age range.  A link to a review or even to trusted blogs where children’s books are reviewed will be appreciated too for those who want to investigate further.  Don’t ignore the long tail – those who have decided reading is not for them – and be sure to share a range of genres, subjects, authors, series and especially non fiction and ready-reference titles because it just might be the hook that gets the reluctant reader on the line.  Know your readers and share suggestions and links to sites that meet their needs in some way.

The Australian Kids & Family Reading Report investigated what it was that was wanted in reading materials…

what_kids_want

Because it is unlikely that parents will be able to provide everything that their child desires in reading materials. investigate if it is possible for your library to make bulk, long-term loans available over the holiday period. If that’s not possible facilitate membership of the local branch of your public library by providing details of what is required and even membership forms.  Emphasise that this is a FREE service as this is not always understood by those new to the country.  Suggest that parents host book play dates or even start a neighbourhood book club. Investigate funding sources or grants that might enable you to give every student the gift of their own book to read. 

Ensure your library’s webpage has links to sites of the “If you like… then try…” variety so students can access suggestions for their next read easily.

For those whose preference is ebooks demonstrate how they can access the school’s collection of these from home or direct them to sites such as WeGiveBooks; Just Books Read Aloud or specific YouTube clips that allow them to hear a book read to them or to sites like the International Children’s Digital Library where they can read for themselves.

icdl

For those whose reading is currently limited to reading instructions for games or making things, offer links to safe, appropriate sites such as Scratch and Minecraft or to author and series sites such as Brotherband, Pottermore or Peter Rabbit where they might be encouraged to move from screen to print.

If your school requires a formal leisure time program or parents request such a guide, construct a challenge such as Dr Booklove’s Reading Challenges which are not only open-ended so the reader still has a significant say in their choice of reading material, but also provide suggestions for parents wanting to extend their child’s reading repertoire. If there HAS to be some form of accountability for what has been read then consider the sorts of tasks suggested through The First Book Club. They might like to make a start on any formal reading challenges such as the Premier’s Reading Challenges which operate in Australian states and territories, particularly if the titles are linked to holdings in the public library. Create a seasonally-appropriate display where students can share what they have read and rate it for others to consider putting it on their to-read list.

There are as many ways for schools and homes to connect via reading as there are school, homes, students and parents. Perhaps you could share your ideas in the comments so others can make this critical partnership even stronger. Whatever you do, make it bring back the love of reading for its own sake so students don’t just view it as Miller’s students did.

Above all, just let them read.

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the sorting hat

hat_sortingThis is not the hat that will decide whether you’re assigned to Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin or Gryffindor.  

It is much more contentious than that.

This is the hat you put on when you decide how you are going to arrange your collection – alphabet or genre – and, currently, one of the hottest topics on discussion lists I belong to. Any question about changing the arrangement from the more traditional author-alphabet base to one based on the perceived genre elicits hot and fierce debate as proponents and opponents put their perspective.

The common arguments are…

  • students find it easier to find the sort of book they want in a collection sorted by genre 
  • collections arranged alphabetically keep all the titles by the same author together
  • if students only select from a preferred genre their reading choices are narrowed
  • students prefer the bookshop look of the library because it is more modern
  • if students learn the traditional method of the first three letters of the author’s name they will be able to transfer those skills to locating titles other libraries
  • one title might fit a number of genres so how will its placement be determined

In my opinion the decision is easy and is based on the belief that

The collection exists to meet the needs, interests and abilities of its users and to meet those needs it must be accessible

Therefore, as the teacher librarian we must know our readers and what their needs are. What might be appropriate for the users in one school library might not work for the users in the school in the neighbouring suburb because each school population is unique.  

Even if we currently classify fiction in alphabetical order by using the first three letters of the author’s name, we have modified Dewey’s original arrangement (because he assigned specific numbers between 800-899 to literature) so that users can find what they want more easily.  Then, to make it even easier, we might shelve all the episodes of a particular series together or pull all the fairytales into one smaller collection. We separate based on format – picture book, novel, information book, DVD – and intended target audience such as junior fiction and senior fiction. In the non fiction collection all the biographies might be shelved in one spot rather than in their specific subject of expertise as Dewey mandates or the puzzle books might have their own space so they are easier to find and shelve. Already we are ‘tampering’ with tradition and accepted practice because we want to make the resources more accessible to those who are using them.  

Arranging the collection to meet the needs of the users

Arranging the collection to meet the needs of the users

So why is the decision to arrange the collection according to genre so controversial?

Firstly, the term ‘genre’ must be clarified because there is a tendency to interchange the word ‘genre’ with ‘text-type’ leading to confusion between format, purpose and content.  Genre itself just means ‘a type or a category’ and it is generally applied to literature, music and the arts.  Within literature it refers to prose, poetry, drama or non fiction, each with its own style, structure, subject matter, and the use of figurative language.  

However, in education realms it is also often used to describe the author’s purpose – to persuade, inform, entertain or reflect. And these categories have been broken up even further …

 

An overview of some of the more common school genres

An overview of some of the more common school genres

Rose (2006) cited in Derewianka, 2015

However, in terms of the arrangement of the collection we are referring to another ‘definition’ of genre – those divisions of fiction based on theme, plot, characters and setting.  It refers to categories such as adventure, romance, fantasy, historical and contemporary fiction although there is a much larger list of possibilities and the sort of arrangement that is proposed has become known as ‘genrefying’.

If we return to the the underlying premise that the collection exists to meet the needs, interests and abilities of its users, then it stands to reason that as a priority we need to identify what those are, particularly in relation to their preferred way of selecting their reading resources for leisure and pleasure. We need to ask questions to identify if genre is their first and primary criterion for selecting a new read and the sorts of stories they like to read.  (Thinking Reading  provides a starting point to survey your readers on a number of issues to enable informed collection development.) My experience and research has shown that, generally, primary age students do NOT use genre as their search criteria. While they may like mystery or adventure or whatever books, their choices are made based on

  • peer or teacher recommendation
  • series
  • popular movie, television or game tie-in
  • author
  • cover
  • blurb
  • serendipity

But my experience is not your experience and all sorts of factors come into play such as

  • the age and maturity of the students
  • their proficiency with English (or the predominant language of your collection)
  • the focus of the curriculum
  • their access to reading materials beyond the school
  • their understanding of the concept of ‘genre’

So it is essential that you delve into the reading habits of those who will be reading to understand what will suit them best.

Should you discover that a collection organised by genre is what is best for your clients, then there are still a number of other questions that need to be asked and answered by the stakeholders before making such a significant change because not only is it a huge job absorbing human, financial and time resources it must also be sustained and sustainable. Those questions include…

  1. Why is the change being considered?
  2. Is this a sound reason for change?
  3. Is the change based on identified user needs or preferences?
  4. Why is what is currently in place not working? What is the evidence that it is not? How can it be changed or modified to work rather than introducing a non-standard ‘fix’?
  5. Is the solution based on sound pedagogical reasons whose efficacy can be measured?
  6. How do the proposals fit mandated curriculum requirements? 
  7. Can the proposed change be defended based on user need, sound pedagogy, curriculum requirements AND established best practice?
  8. What reliable evidence (apart from circulation figures) exists to support the changes and demonstrates increased engagement and improvement to student learning outcomes?
  9. Will the proposed changes lead to students being more independent, effective and efficient users of the library’s resources?
  10. Will the changes impact on the students understanding of how other libraries are arranged and their ability to work independently within those?
  11. Have students had input into the proposal?
  12. How will the change support the Students’ Bill of Rights?
  13. Will the change marginalise or discriminate against any users such as identifying their below-average reading level or sexual preferences?
  14. Will the change broaden or narrow the students access to choices and resources?
  15. Is it based on school-library best practice? Are there successful models (measured through action research and benchmarks and published in reliable authoritative literature) that demonstrate that this is a sustainable, effective and efficient model to emulate?
  16. Will the change make it easier to achieve your mission statement and your vision statement?
  17. How do the changes fit within your library policy, which, presumably, has been ratified by the school’s executive and council? Will the change in procedure require a change in policy?
  18. Who is responsible for developing the parameters of the change and documenting the new procedures to ensure consistency across time and personnel?
  19. If a change is made, what S.M.A.R.T. goals will be set to measure its impact?
  20. When will the impact of the change be assessed and what evidence of success or otherwise will be acceptable to the stakeholders?
  21. Who will do the measuring and ensure that the conclusion is independent and unbiased?
  22. If those goals show no change or a decline, will the library be willing to reverse the process? Will this be a practical proposition?
  23. How will the proposed change impact on the role and workload of the teacher librarian?
  24. How will the proposed change impact on the role and workload of other library staff? 
  25. If the change changes the traditional library arrangement, how is consistency across time guaranteed if personnel change because decisions are  subjective?
  26. Who is responsible for developing and maintaining the criteria for placement and the Procedures Manual to ensure consistency?
  27. Is the change worth the time that is invested in re-classifying every title and the money invested in new labels, staff wages etc?
  28. Could that time and money be better spent?
  29. Would better signage, including more shelf dividers, address the problem?
  30. What role can displays play in highlighting different and unfamiliar resources to broaden access and choices?

Documenting the answers to these questions (and others that will probably arise along the way) not only demonstrates your professionalism and the depth of consideration that has gone into the decision but also provides you with a solid foundation of evidence on which to defend that decision should it be challenged.

Having invested the resources in making the change, a new range of issues arises particularly in relation to how you teach staff and students how to use the new arrangement effectively, efficiently and independently.

  • Do they understand the concept of ‘genre’ in this context and the sorts of criteria that distinguish one from another?
  • How will you teach these?  Will teaching the characteristics of each genre become your predominant teaching focus to the exclusion of other curriculum priorities such as information literacy?
  • What will be the genres that you choose and how will these be decided?
  • Are the genre labels appropriate for the users? For example ‘romance’ might not appeal in an all-boys school but ‘relationships’ could encompass the concept.
  • How will the genres themselves be arranged – alphabetical order, popularity, size of the particular collection?
  • Will individual titles within each genre then be organised in alphabetical order of author or is there another way?
  • How will you deal with titles that span two or more genres?
  • How will the genre of each title be identified both on the book and in the catalog?

The arrangement of the resources in your library has to be based on so much more than the outcomes a retailer might be wanting to achieve.  The school library is not a bookshop on steroids and the sorting hat must be one that is put on with extreme care and consideration.  Of all the hats we wear, this is definitely not a one-size-fits-all.

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the events manager hat

hat_events_manager

 

 

 

Whoever thought being a teacher librarian would encompass being an events manager?  Staid, middle-aged women guarding and counting the books in the the twilight of their careers having such a glamorous title goes right against the stereotype!  But in fact, it’s one of the most important roles we can have if we are to get out students to be readers.

We all know the competition that we have from other media for occupying children’s leisure time and while, in the past, the “passive” activity of reading only had to compete with the more passive activity of television viewing, especially after dark when outside play and sport was no longer an option, now there is the interactivity of computer games and other screen-based activities to compete with.  Coupled with the observation of Donalyn Miller (aka The Book Whisperer) that by the time students reach Year 6 they view reading as a school-related subject only and it is a means to an end to complete assignments, our role of reader leaders  is more critical than ever. 

If our students are going to be readers they need to see it not only as a valid, valuable and valued use of their spare time but they also need to see it as fun!  Something they want to do rather than something they have to do.  And we, as teacher librarians, are in the best position to do that.

Even after we have created the most enticing and exciting environment in the school there is much that we can do to persuade our students that reading can be right alongside their other activities and that rather than competing it can complement it.

seuss_quote

 

 

special events

Scattered throughout the year are many events that are focused on literature and literacy that lend themselves to creating a special event

 

Susan Stephenson (aka The Book Chook) has compiled a more extensive list of these and each lends itself to a library-focused celebration.  Often there are particular themes associated with the event and there are always discussions and suggestions for ideas on teacher librarian networks but consider asking the students how they think a particular event could be celebrated.  Share the load of ideas, organisation and implementation.

Put A Poem In Your Pocket Day sparked a focus on reading and writing poetry

Put A Poem In Your Pocket Day sparked a focus on reading and writing poetry.

 

literary luncheons

Literary luncheons sound so elegant and can be so much fun.  

Select and set aside a day a month (such as the third Friday) for the entire school year.  Use the calendar to identify any special events that might be occurring close to that date, including those that might not be related to literature and literacy) and use that as your focus.  Consider how you can bring a literature focus to the event.  For example, Harmony day might involve looking at books about peace and examining the peace movement of the 60s.  Or invent a theme such as Cinderella Day when participants read and hear all the different versions of Cinderella from cultures around the world, or perhaps have a focus on a particular author or character.  Cast the net as widely as you can so that more students are attracted and understand that the library does have something to them.

Organisation is quite simple, particularly if you involve your student assistants.  Have them devise the publicity strategies and be responsible for its production and display. Also have them develop the program, selecting texts to be shared, activities to be undertaken (and organising the required resources)and deciding if a guest speaker is appropriate  If there is to be a guest speaker, have them write the invitation explaining its purpose and what would be required of the speaker. Students are also responsible for thanking the speaker at the end. Putting the responsibility of running the event on the shoulders of the students not only lessens your workload (although as the adult you need to oversee everything for feasibility) but also gives them ownership and helps them develop an array of life skills.

Participating students just have to bring their lunch and enjoy – or arrangements could be made with the school canteen or the Home Economics faculty to cater for it.

Promote the event to the local newspapers and television stations who are always looking for local colour – another avenue for advocacy.

 

author visits

Author visits involve preparation, time and money but given they can be better than a visit from Santa as the joy is relived every time the child picks up one of the author’s works, they are worth the effort.  Sometimes it is possible to share costs with other schools; in other cases the author will come for free but requiring the opportunity to sell their books at the time. In some extreme circumstances, some authors will also consider negotiating their costs (which are set by the Australian Society of Authors.

Book Week for Beginners (managed by the author of this blog) has a host of ideas for organising a successful author visit including a downloadable pdf file with a step-by-step guide 

 

book week

Each year the Children’s Book Council of Australia hosts Book Week with winners of the Book of the Year awards being announced on the third Friday of the month, the Friday preceding the celebrations. It is also a grand opportunity to have the school community’s focus squarely on the library.  Book Week for Beginners  has been established to share ideas of how this week can be celebrated in a school. While there is a specific theme for each year and specific ideas are offered to highlight that, it also contains a lot of other information that relates to hosting Children’s Book week anywhere including how to hold the ubiquitous book parade.

 

book fairs

Book fairs are huge events for teacher librarians requiring a lot of collaboration, co-operation and manipulation of timetables.  But for many children when the bookshop comes to school is the only opportunity they have to browse and purchase a new book for themselves.  For some school libraries, a book fair is its only source of revenue and so it deserves the time and effort required. The most successful fairs are often held in conjunction with other events in the school such as parent-teacher interviews, concerts, or Grandparents Day because they bring parents into the school with more dollars than a child’s pocket money.

Companies offering packaged book fairs often supply everything that is needed including ideas for the theme but it is always worthwhile approaching a local bookseller and working out a special deal.  

Ideas for organising and managing a successful book fair are available at Book Week For Beginners

The Polar Express wens its way around Christmas books at Santa's Book Shop

The Polar Express wens its way around Christmas books at Santa’s Book Shop

family nights

Host family nights – mother-daughter; father-son; mother-son; mother-daughter, grandparents, whatever combinations works for your demographic where parents and children can get together to read together.  Depending on the time of the year, include a sausage sizzle or hearty soup so there are opportunities for parents to talk to other parents and maybe establish new friendships. Offer a compelling reason such as showing the movie version of a popular book or students performing a readers’ theatre for families to make the effort to come.

 

book clubs

There is a host of configurations for book clubs in a school based on age, genres, and purpose.  While they may take the TL’s time and expertise to set up, they can often become self-sustaining particularly if you enlist the assistance of another teacher who has a particular reading interest and knowledge.  What is critical though, is to set the book club’s activities apart from being a school-based lesson in disguise so while adult book clubs might focus on discussion questions about the plot, characters and setting or deconstructing the techniques the author has used, encourage student book clubs to go beyond that to focus on fun activities that are related to the particular book so interest is maintained.

One of the easiest book clubs to manage is Pair and Partner.  Dig out all those multiple copies of class readers that have been shelved away and encourage friends to check out the same book and discuss it amongst themselves. Reading it at the same time means the interest is parallel, not one person having moved on while waiting for the other to read the single library copy. 

Another is a Movie Book Club, particularly for those who are a little older. With so many books being made into movies that become very popular arranging a viewing of the movie and then comparing and contrasting it to the original text can be a great way to reach out to those who prefer to view than read.

Putting on the Events Manager’s hat can seem like an added imposition but the benefits are so worthwhile.  It can be a better fit if you follow these tips…

  1. Create a calendar of events
  2. Claim the dates
  3. Invite your students assistants to help you with ideas, preparation, promotion, and delivery
  4. Offer variety to reach as many students as possible especially those who have not yet realised that the library has something for them
  5. Understand the value of the results and enjoy them as much as the students.

 

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the read-aloud hat

hat_read_aloud

 

 

 

Last week I put on my casual relief/substitute’s hat and over three days I taught ten classes – over 250 children aged between four and nine.  And each of those children heard at least one story read aloud to them as part of a series of lessons I’d prepared in consultation with the regular TL and their classroom teachers.

But was I exploiting my position and offering “a fallback lesson” because I hadn’t planned “something more engaging and creative” , doing something that “a clerk…a parent or even a higher level student could do” as I sat “in front of a bunch of students holding a book — usually with a lot of pictures –” while I contorted  myself “to occasionally show the kids a picture — which cannot possibly be seen by the kids in the back row”? Even though I “know how to read” (so presumably the activity was not adding to my professional learning), were the children merely sitting there “engaged(?) in a basically passive activity”?

This was an observation posed on an international teacher librarian message board this week – posed not by a parent or a principal, but by an instructor in library science in a US university whose job it is to observe and mentor those who wish to join our profession as they undertake their practica as part of their learning journey.  The inquirer admitted that his entire career had been spent in the secondary sector but it is very disturbing that one whose job is to guide those who will follow in our footsteps had not bothered to acquaint himself with the very fundamentals of what it is to be a teacher librarian in a primary/elementary school where supporting the development of reading skills is as critical as supporting the development of research skills. Because if a child cannot read, how can they conduct effective and efficient research?

As many respondents indicated, the read-aloud hat is one of the most important in our wardrobe.

If reading to children were common instead of a rarity, we’d be facing fewer academic and social problems in this nation.

Trelease, J. 2001 The Read-Aloud Handbook 5th ed., New York: Penguin

 

In  Reading Magic, which international literacy consultant and children’s author Mem Fox believes may be  “the most important contribution I have made to the world” the benefits of reading aloud to a child from the day it is born are explicit. Reading aloud to a child in the first four months of its life is critical for laying down the foundations for successful reading later.

This book is a must-read for every teacher librarian and a must-have in every collection for teachers AND parents to borrow.  In Chapter 2, The Magic in Action, Fox describes a 15-minute session she spent with three-year-old Ben during which they shared three books and the joy and delight both experienced as they did. Apart from anything else, it was all about two people having a great time together.

Engaging in this kind of conspiracy with children is perhaps the greatest benefit of reading aloud to them… The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks that fly when a child, a book and the person reading make contact.

 

Listening to Possum Magic at just three days old - ten years on,  she's now reading everything!

Listening to Possum Magic at just three days old – ten years on, she’s now reading everything!

Sadly, many parents don’t, won’t or can’t read to their child during those critical early years and so it becomes the teacher’s and the TL’s job to do so. Through reading aloud, the child learns

  • the sounds and nuances of the language it is likely to speak most fluently throughout their life.  By 12 months the connections in the brain have been made and no matter what, no other language will ever become as natural as the one heard during that time.  Children cannot learn to talk without being spoken to and sharing a story and having a conversation about it brings a new dimension to the everyday topics introducing new ideas and understandings as well as introducing new words and ways to express them, building their confidence to speak in front of others
  • the abilty to concentrate for an extended period of time so the full story can be enjoyed, even savoured; the ability to solve problems and begin to predict, understand cause and effect; and the ability to participate in tricky situations and life lessons at arm’s length using their existing knowledge while being able to take risks in a very safe environment
  • the language of books through phrases such as ‘once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after’; through the formal grammar of the writng; through the rhyme and rhythm and repetition of the words; through the expression used as characters are assumed and they hear what their own inner voice should sound like in different situations
  • concepts about stories allowing them to go beyond their everyday lives, flying on imaginary journeys, meeting amazing people and taking part in spectacular events; concepts about stories being complete entities contained in a physical vessel; concepts about print and pictures, their purpose and how they work
  • about the cultures, ideologies, socioeconomic circumstances, and timeframes, that the stories they hear span and this enables them to bridge the gap between what is and what is imagined
  • to imagine, and as Einstien (Saturday Evening Post, 1929)  proclaims “imagination is more important than knowledge”. Without imagination we cannot predict, pretend, or propose – critical elements of problem solving 
  • how characters are developed and the issues and dangers of stereotyping; how mood and atmosphere can add to the interpretation;
  • the foundations of the information literacy process as they hear questions modelled, learn to read the pictures, participate in discussions, consider perspectives and justify their point of view
  • that reading opens up a world of topics, genres, authors and series that they might never discover for themselves

But most importantly, they learn that  reading is fun; it is valued by the adults in their lives so it is a worthwhile skill to have and activity to participate in; and it is something they can succeed at and enjoy. Rather than just showing them the path that leads to a world of wonder, reading aloud to them helps take them along it. If you or your colleagues and community are still not convinced then read the research… Reading to Young Children: A Head-Start in Life by a partnership arrangement between the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research or  The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.  (He even offers free, downloadable brochures to display or distribute.)

However, reading aloud isn’t enough if it doesn’t engage the listener.  While Mem Fox focuses on the parent-child relationship and the privilege of sharing stories at bedtime to close the curtains on the day, the TL is more often in a 1:many situation in less-than-ideal circumstances.  To help address this I’ve written The Art of Reading Aloud.  It focuses on

  • creating a special space
  • choosing the story
  • setting the scene
  • the art of reading aloud

This last section is critical because it is the performance part – the part that will leave the lasting impression and leave the child wanting to be entertained that way again whether they are sharing a one-stop picture book or a serial spread over several reading times. It encourages you to watch children’s programs which share stories and model how the listeners are engaged and then practice, practice, practice.  If I can have a group of 9 year-old boys entranced in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka or 12 year-olds absorbed in The Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume (both picture books written for a younger audience) then anything’s possible.

Reading aloud does not stop just because students are old enough to read for themselves and so it’s abandoned.  But there are many reasons why we should continue to read aloud well beyond that.

This blog post  explains why this teacher is reading 180 picture books to her Yr 7s and 8s over the school year and the impact it is already having after just three weeks, and The Reading Promise  is the story of the bond formed between a father and daughter through reading aloud. 

Whether you are reading aloud to your child or to a class, do it as well as you can – you are conveying much more than the words on the page.

The read-aloud hat is so important we must wear it well and wear it with pride.

 

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the reader leader’s hat

hat_rdr_ldrBeing an “independent reader” is much more than the mastery of the mechanics – it involves having an emotional attachment that makes the experience a part of who we are as a person, embracing the affective domain as well as the cognitive and the physical. 

Being an independent reader means developing a lifelong habit that continues because we want to read  and not because we are required to or have to. It means that we read even when daily support such as dedicated in-class reading time such as the DEAR and USSR programs are no longer available.

 

 

gaiman_quote

 

In her book Reading in the Wild , a professional text that has had the greatest impact on my beliefs and actions of any I’ve read for a very long time, Donalyn Miller identifies five key characteristics of an independent reader…

  1. They make time to read and dedicate part of each day to doing so.
  2. They  have the confidence, experience and skills to self-select reading materials
  3. They share their books and reading experiences with other readers
  4. They have a reading plan– they know what they will read next.
  5. They show and share preferences for particular authors, genres and topics.

While Miller’s book focuses on her experiences with her classes who have access to an extensive classroom library, the purpose of this blog post is to examine how we, as teacher librarians, can put in place supports that will enable students to move along the spectrum of reading mastery to complete independence.

Read the research

Apart from the research about the value of being able to read well which Miller cites in her books, there are also some important studies being undertaken that we should know about, particularly if there are moves afoot to abandon print resources in the library or discourage the reading of fiction. These are the key papers that are impacting on current collection development that I believe we should all know about.

 All should be on our professional reading lists.

In her 2014 paper, Children and Reading : Literature Review Dr Dianne Dickenson provides a snapshot of what  5-14 year-olds in Australia are thinking and doing in relation to reading right now.  While it states that “there is a vibrant culture of reading and writing in Australia right now” it also identifies Australian Bureau of Statistics research which shows that there has been “a significant fall in children’s reading for pleasure … from 2006-2012”.  Libraries, although not school libraries specifically, are identified as an important source of reading materials for children but it also acknowledges that there is a new concept of what reading is emerging – that it no longer is confined to traditional print resources – and thus new research needs to be undertaken with this included.  It also identifies other gaps in the research which might offer food for thought for those with a research-oriented brain.

As well as formal research there are also some professional texts that should be a core element of your personal professional collection.

The Book Whisperer

The Book Whisperer

Reading in the Wild

Reading in the Wild

Reading Magic

Reading Magic

The Read-Aloud Handbook

The Read-Aloud Handbook

The Power of Reading

The Power of Reading

Igniting a Passion for Reading

Igniting a Passion for Reading

Readicide

Readicide

Think like a reader

When Miller talked to her students about reading, she discovered that many of them viewed reading as a school-based activity, something done to achieve something else, please someone else or an obligation done for points, a grade, or a positive comment on a report.  Others, including me, have found that students don’t see themselves as readers – that’s something that adults and others can do.  Seldom do they classify themselves as readers because in their view, readers read fluently and perfectly without errors – something they don’t yet do. They also see “real reading” as something done with a traditional print-based object even though they might be succeeding very well within a different medium. So we need to help them view themselves and reading in a different light.

Firstly, we need to broaden our concept of what reading is.  Is it confined to traditional print materials or does it include how children relate to the diversity of digital media? If we are observing their reading behaviour, either formally or informally, what is it that we are looking for?  Qualitative measures like enjoyment and engagement, sharing and suggesting, taking risks to try new authors, topics and genres? Or quantitative measures like progress along an arbitrary achievement line, comprehension scores and other standardised progress measures?

Secondly, we need to think about the language we use when we talk to them about their reading. Is their concept of “reading” the same as ours’?  As discussed in the learner’s hat one of the drivers of learning is that there is an expectation that the learner will succeed, so we need to shape our comments, questions, suggestions and tasks so the students believes they can achieve this exulted title of “reader”.

Thirdly, we need to get them to focus on their reading – what they read, what they like, how often they read, where they read … all sorts of questions that help them understand that they can and do read beyond the scope of a classroom-based task and a print-based object. In collaboration with the classroom teacher we can get students to complete a personal survey thinking_reading to focus on their habits which will give both student and teacher an insight into their preferences.

Then, we can get them to track their reading so they have a visible record of it.  Very young students might have something like a themed-chart with ten spaces and a star is placed in each for each book read while older readers could have personal reading journals which contain reading logs, responses, to-read plans and so forth. Services like Goodreads and Shelfari offer an online option for this but you might also consider Biblionasium or A Book and a Hug which have been designed for young readers.   However, while we want the students to track their reading so they can identify their preferences, plan their future reading – both characteristics of independent readers identified by Miller – and prove to themselves they are indeed readers, the paperwork should not become more important than the reading. While individuals might set themselves personal challenges to accomplish, the reading record should never be a competitive document.  Tracking their reading also enables them to make recommendations for their peers, both positive and negative, and this contributes significantly to their perceptions of themselves as readers. Many of these crowd-sourcing sites also offer suggestions for new reading based on the student’s entries, so that helps develop a reading plan for the future.

Time to read

No one will deny that reading proficiency is dependent on practice and that, of course, requires time.  But students, like adults often find it difficult to find this time both at school or at home. However, if students see that the significant people in their lives read and make the time to do so because they value reading they want to be be a part of that reading community, belong to that “in-group”, sharing experiences and forging bonds that help them define themselves as readers.

Students often see reading as an all-or-nothing event – something that is done in blocks of 30 minutes or so, 30 minutes that they don’t see themselves as having in their hectic school and after-school lives.  Miller suggests the solution to this is to get students to read “on the edge” although “in the gaps” might create a stronger visual image, but they need to learn how to identify those gaps, such as waiting for the bus or an appointment or during a sister’s soccer practice.  As TLs, we can lead a lesson where we help our students identify those gaps and turn them into opportunities.  Teach parents to read in the gaps too – encourage them to have a book in their bag that they can read aloud to their child, such as I did yesterday when I had the chance to look after Miss 2 while Miss 7 was busy so we sat and read together, much to the delight of the other patients who enjoyed her version of The Gruffalo’s Child and didn’t have a bored 2 year-old disturbing them. It teaches the young child so much about reading…

Miller suggests having them keep a reading itinerary for a week, identifying when they read, where they read and for how long. This not only helps them look for those opportunities but also helps them understand where they are most often and most comfortable reading. This can lead to individual discussions that help the student gain insight into their reading habits, and that it can be done anywhere, anytime even just for a few minutes.

As well as helping the students make time to read, look for opportunities to promote reading within the community and read aloud to students.  Consider…

For a comprehensive list of events as well as opportunities to highlight reading in the library click here.  Add to the document if you can.

A place to read

As the TL we should be able to set up areas that are conducive to personal reading within the library and which students can use during breaks. There should be spots for individuals who like to curl up in out-of-the-way spots and be alone in the world of their book as well as places where they can share what they’re reading with their friends. Have a special story-teller’s chair where they can role-play being the TL or their teacher -anywhere that invites them to spend a few minutes just reading.

Couches, beanbags ... comfortable seating entices readers

Couches, beanbags … comfortable seating entices readers

I purchased bean bags for my library and was fortunate enough to have a couple of couches donated.  Students love to curl up in these and read to themselves or to the teddies that were always there as a friend.

As well as making places and spaces in the library, look for other areas around the school where students have to wait and possibilities for reading are created. Ask parents for donations of comfortable chairs and leave a pile of books that can be taken and returned or not.

A reason to read

A writer can’t help but divide all the world he knows between readers and nonreaders.

I can only reach for the readers, and through them, the future. I conclude then, in the voice of a young reader,

I read because one life isn’t enough, and in the pages of a book I can be anybody;

I read because the words that build the story become mine, to build my life;

I read not for happy endings but for new beginnings; I’m just beginning myself, and I wouldn’t mind a map;

I read because I have friends who don’t, and young though they are, they’re beginning to run out of material;

I read because every journey begins at the library, and it’s time for me to start packing;

I read because one of these days I’m going to get out of this town, and I’m going to go everywhere and meet everybody, and I want to be ready.

Peck, R. (1991) Anonymously Yours. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Messner

Encourage students to read by setting up interactive displays that require them to read.  Two of the most popular I created were based on setting up Graeme Base’s The Eleventh Hour as a whodunnit with a clue released each day, and a series of challenges based on Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest  which meant the students had to read the books to complete the tasks and earn another stone for their belt. Look for books that lend themselves to such treatments and beg, borrow or buy enough copies for the participants.

CSI was very popular on television at the time so it inspired an interactive display based on The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base. The library was the place to be at lunchtime, and reading was the thing to do.  even the most reluctant readers in this cohort wanted to be part of the in-crowd.  csi3
csi4 csi1
csi5 csi2

Set challenges that can be completed by the students as a reading community.  HarperCollins have a poster of an A-Z of literary characters  which, because it has a strong US orientation, could be a model for creating an A-Z of Australian literary characters. Or set personal challenges such as Read-a-Rainbow in which each student selects seven genres to read over a set period time, completing an appropriately illustrated record for their reading journal.

The opportunities are endless but my rule of thumb was not to put anything on the walls that did not have a reason to read to accompany it.

 Growing readers

If our students are to grow into competent, confident, independent readers we need to help them by actively promoting opportunities for them to broaden their experiences. For every TL in every school library there is an idea of how this can be achieved but here are a few…

  • collaborate with the classroom-based teachers who set reading-based assignments, encouraging them to set open-ended tasks which students can meet using texts of their choice, avoiding the traditional one-size-fits-all class novel
  • support what is being taught in the classrooms by creating displays of resources, particularly fiction, which are aligned to the topic.  Teachers may well clear the shelves of non fiction resources but often fiction focusing on a particlar time, place, event or topic will offer extra insight
  • read aloud to students of all ages, not just those unable yet to read for themselves, and suggest appropriate read-alouds to your classroom-based colleagues. Read-alouds
    • build a sense of community through shared experiences and memories, as well as sharing those books that are valued by the community at large
    • introduce students to titles, authors, genres and topics that they might not discover for themselves or which they avoid or which are beyond their independent reading level at the time
    • they make popular texts accessible to those who, for whatever reason, are not yet able to read them for themselves enabling them to share in the conversations about current fads
    • support developing readers through discussion of unfamiliar vocabulary, concepts and contexts which enhance comprehension, as well as enabling them to hear fluent reading and the nuances of our spoken language
  • plan specific activities within your teaching programs which highlight books, authors, genres, formats and series so that students have a feeling of familiarity when they recognise them on the shelves
  • build anticipation for new releases through promotions and competitions, ensuring that allocations are fair and that there is the opportunity to reserve titles
  • recognise those readers who might have a passion for a particular author, genre, topic or series and direct inquiries about them to those students. This is particularly effective for those who may not be the leading lights in a class and whose self-esteem needs a boost.
  • talk to reluctant readers about the things they are interested in, not just what they like to read about, and direct them to titles – fiction and non fiction – so they learn that the library has stuff for them too.  Look to cater for that ‘long tail’ who have yet to learn that reading and libraries are relevant for them
  • create and promote displays of authors, illustrators or topics that you know appeal to a particular group but which they haven’t discovered yet
  • create and promote displays of themes such as sustainability, values, international stories to bring unfamiliar resources to the fore
  • offer an engaging display of genres and have students commit to reading a selection of them including some that are unfamiliar but allow them the ownership of their choices
  • troll winners of awards from home and overseas, add them to your collection and promote them
  • if award winners drive your literature program but you need those titles for teaching, look for other titles by the authors and offer these
  • offer reading materials in a variety of formats so they appeal to a wider range of readers
  • challenge students to read the winners, honour books or shortlists for a particular award for the year they were born
  • capitalise on special days and develop activities that promote these such as speed-dating with books on Valentine’s Day
  • exploit interest in movies, television shows, online games and apps by providing the books on which they are based
  • promote author studies and organise author visits
  • publicise and promote target resources through blogs, booktalks, book trailers, school notices and newsletters – any opportunity which presents itself
  • if your school requires readers to keep a reading journal then 10 authentic ways to hold students accountable for home reading offers suggestions that might refresh old practices. Biblionasium is a great place for under-13s to reflect and share.

Here are some more suggestions from teachers in the UK … How to encourage students to read for pleasure: teachers share their top tips.

Growing readers is one of the most important parts of our role – it requires both our teacher and librarian hats because we need to know how students learn to read and then how to develop a collection which meets their needs.

Encouraging self-selection

Neil Gaiman says

Read. Read anything. Read  the things they say are good for you, and the things they claim are junk.  You’ll find what you need to find.  Just read.

It is our role as teacher librarians to enable our students to do just that. Confident self-selection is one of the hallmarks of an independent reader and there is a range of research which demonstrates how choosing their own texts enhances engagement and promotes reading motivation and interest. Allowing students to take responsibility for selecting their reading materials 

  • boosts their confidence in their ability to make decisions
  • provides a sense of ownership of the choices and thus a greater motivation to read them
  • increases their knowledge about authors, topics, series, genres and formats
  • helps them become more discerning about their likes and dislikes
  • teaches them that it is OK not to finish something that doesn’t live up to expectations
  • enables them to match their choices to their particular life circumstances at the time – sometimes a light read is appropriate, sometimes something more challenging

As teacher librarians and student advocates we must resist any demands to organise the library’s collection based on arbitrarily imposed reading levels, grade levels, points systems or any other device or system which limits the students’ choices.  We need to refuse to identify books in any way that might marginalise readers or discriminate against them whether that be ability-based, cultural, religious, or sexual orientations, or any other criterion that might result in a student refusing to read at all.  We need to know the research so our refusal can be defended on pedagogical grounds and be willing to require those wanting change to answer those questions identified in the information specialist’s hat.

Self-selection needs support and I’ve already shared some suggestions on how to do that as you grow readers. However, Miller also identifies having a reading plan as a critical characteristic of being an independent reader and in her case her students have preview stacks of books they might like drawn from her extensive classroom library. A more practical situation in the school library situation is to encourage students to create to-read lists, either print-based in their reading journals such as growing_reading or using an online service such as Goodreads. or Biblionasium for the under-13sRecording recommendations not only offers a plan for the future but it jogs the memory and allows the reader consider options that might meet the particular circumstances.

Miller also encourages her students to examine their reading, particularly the last five books they’ve read, and ask these questions to help them reflect on their selection methods and thus fine-tune them.

    • How do you find out about books that you would like to read?
    • Which sources influence you the most? Why?
    • When you see a book or hear about it, how do you decide that it is a book you would or would not like to read?
    • Do you ever abandon a book? Why or why not?
    • Are you successful in choosing your own books to read?  Why or why not?

Enabling students to self-select and ensuring they have the skills to do so is one of the most critical things we can do for our students.

Sharing reading

Sharing reading is an important indicator of an independent reader.  Being able to reflect on what has been read, contribute to a discussion about it and make a judgement about its worthiness shows both competence and confidence. Providing a supportive environment which fosters a reading community in which each member sees that reading is valued and valuable and that they themselves are considered readers is a critical element. 

Reading as a leisure activity needs to be as accepted as any other pursuit, and not just for those with “brains” or nerds or the socially inept.  We need to surround our students with models of reading, particularly those whom they hold in high regard. So invite community members in to read to them, display posters and create displays of celebrities and sports stars reading; reach out to the classroom, home and beyond – anything that helps show that reading is cool and a mainstream activity.

Providing readers with the opportunity to share their reading means it becomes a two-way street where students know they can give and their gifts are valued. As with growing readers, there are as many ways to provide students with opportunities to share as there are TLs in libraries. But here are a few…

  • Provide time for and encourage students to talk about their reading informally -often what looks like idle chit-chat is actually a reflection and and a recommendation
  • Establish a quotable quotes wall.  Have speech bubble templates on hand so students can record significant sentences from stories they read. Have them include the title, author and location.

dumbledore_quote

  • Create a book snapshots wall. Take photos of what each student in a class is reading at a particular time and create a collage. Change it regularly so all classes have a turn.
  • Create a five-star display and poster where students can record the details of books they believe to have a five star rating.
  • Have a Recommended Returns display where books which students highly recommend are displayed for others to borrow without having to search the shelves. Scan the covers   and keep them in a folder for students to browse when they’re looking for something new.
  • Invite students to create displays focusing on their favourite authors, themes or genres.
  • Display a catchy caption such as The Land Before Time and have students find the resources, fiction and non fiction, that they think should be part of a display.
  • Leave a legacy.  Have your graduating classes decide the five titles every student should read before they leave your school and develop a display with their reasons for recommending them.
  • Have students create book trailers, bookmark reviews, and blurbs to display in commonly-used places such as the bathrooms.
  • Encourage students to read_and_reflect
  • Explore the use of QR codes encouraging students to provide the back-end information.
  • Encourage students to contribute comments to the library’s blog or other communication tools, recommending reads they have enjoyed.
  • Have students track their reading using an online service such  Biblionasium, Goodreads or Shelfari or using a print form such as tracking_reading

Reaching readers

We need to reach out to readers who believe reading is not for them – those who can read but choose not to and those who are still learning and are finding it a challenge – as well as those who don’t have the opportunity

  • When you create a display on a topic or genre, include titles that cater for a range of abilities so students can choose the fit for them
  • Invite suggestions for titles and authors from the students so you make an effort to reach out to that long tail of those who don’t come into the library
  • Look for out-of-library ways to promote what you’re offering, again to reach that long tail
  • Look beyond the staff and student body and consider how you can support the parents and the preschoolers so they understand the value of reading at home and can put it into practice 
  • Offer reading in all its guises – picture books, ebooks, novels, graphic novels, magazines, comics, instructions, captions, fiction, non fiction, in print and online – so it is seen as accessible, purposeful, valuable and valued

Putting on the reader leader’s hat is one of the most important aspects of the teacher librarian’s role.  Not only does it need to be big enough to hold all the ideas and suggestions we have, it also needs to be big enough to encompass those who come under our influence.

 

 

 

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the reader’s hat

the reader's hat

There is a perception that the role of the teacher librarian is to sit and read all day. After all, we are ‘the gatekeepers of the literature’, with the power and ability to “bring the beauty and the joy of the written word to students”.

So it comes as a surprise to many, including those who entering the profession that we are not English teachers or language arts teachers or literacy coaches on steroids. It also comes as a shock that to have any time to read anything during the day is a rare time indeed!

Nevertheless, the teacher librarian as a reader is a critical role if we are to guide students on their reading journeys, confirming their choices, consolidating their skills and helping them plan new adventures.

It is not the purpose of this post to examine the value of literature to children.  Others much more knowledgeable have written about this such as Maurice Saxby’s The gift of wings: The value of literature to children. Neither is it to provide a crash course in children’s literature – there are many university courses to do that including those from Charles Sturt University. And nor is it to examine the role of literature in education – there are hundreds of pedagogical texts which address that. It’s not even to offer an opinion on what sort of literature to add to your collection and promote – your collection policy should be your guide for that. Rather, it is to consider our role as the readers’ advisory service and how we might do this better given the limited time we have.

The high purpose of book selection is to provide the right book for the right reader at the right time.

Drury, F.K.W. (1930) Book Selection Chicago: American Library Association

Every reader his or her book…

Every book its reader.

Ranganathan, S. R. (1931) The five laws of library science. Madras, India:Madras Library Association

As can be seen by the date of these two quotes, the concept of the librarian and teacher librarian as being the readers’ adviser has been around for a long time, and while it may be impossible these days to put the right book in the right reader’s hands at the right time because there are so many book and so many readers and only one of us, we do have a responsibility to have

  • an understanding of the significant stages in reading development across the ages of our clientele
  • an understanding of the sorts of text formats and features which support reading development at different times
  • a working knowledge of those titles  in the library’s collection
  • a desire to continue reading the literature that is most appropriate for those in our care

Because we are teacher librarians. there is an expectation that we will have a knowledge of a child’s literacy development from the reading-like behaviour of the toddler mimicking the adult who reads to them to the independent reader who has mastered not only the mechanics but who has also taken responsibility for their “reading life” (Miller, Reading in the Wild p.xviii). Although it is not our role to be reading instructors, there is much that we can offer to support reading instruction by making selections to add to the collection that are age and stage appropriate. 

In my opinion, and that of many others – experts and practitioners alike –  it is not the library’s role to support instructional reading to the extent that we organise our collections according to an artificial measure such as the in-vogue assignment of a lexile which does not take into account the prior knowledge or maturity level required to enjoy the book to its fullest, or according to a points system imposed by a commercial scheme or any other arbitrary standard that is likely to limit or marginalise our students based on their choices. However, we do have a responsibility to provide titles which have the textual and graphical formats and features that support the students at different times in their reading lives.

We need to know that

  • role play readers display reading-like behaviour which imitates those who read to them as they reconstruct the story for themselves, often differently each time as they use the pictures to prompt their memories. They need durable books with bright pictures that have recognisable elements and have text which incorporates rhyme, rhythm and repetition so they can join in as it is read or repeat it as they retell it.
Role-play readers know that there is meaning and enjoyment in stories.

Role-play readers know that there is meaning and enjoyment in stories.

  • experimental readers rely on their memory of familiar stories to retell them and the retelling is close to the original story as they understand that text carries a constant meaning. They rely on pictures to prompt their recall and may recognise familiar words so they need books with limited text where key words are often enlarged or in a different font; have repetitive phrases either cumulative or alliterative which they can memorise and repeat; and pictures which are lifelike and may have fun elements such as lift-the-flap. They also like stories featuring familiar characters from their favourite television series as they bring their knowledge of the situation and the character to an unfamiliar situation.
experimental

Some of the elements which support experimental readers.

  • early readers read texts slowly and deliberately, concentrating on every word and using their knowledge of the context and pictorial clues to support their meaning-making and their retelling. They are ready for new characters in new situations although they like these to mirror their own experiences and issues.  Animals and toys in human-like dilemmas allow them to discuss and reflect on their own situations, setting up the foundation for the development of critical literacy skills. They prefer their stories to be completed in one sitting although many will listen to serialised stories where there is a complete adventure in each chapter such as The Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton.
  • transitional readers are able to use a variety of strategies to make meaning from texts and adapt their reading to different types of text. They understand the basics of story construction such as setting, plot and characterisation and are beginning to think critically about texts. They are making the transition from basal readers and picture books to novels which have short chapters, larger fonts and monochrome illustrations which still support the storyline. They’re willing to move beyond settings and characters with which they are familiar and into the realms of the imaginary and the fantastic.  Series are popular and they are beginning to identify favourite authors and topics.

tashi1

A willingness to explore the imagninary and the fantastic take these readers to new worlds.

Books for this stage are characterised by short chapters, larger font and monochrome illustration which support the story.

Books for this stage are characterised by short chapters, larger font and monochrome illustration which support the story.

  • independent readers are just that.  They can read, retell and reflect on texts choosing from a wide range of authors, series, subjects and genres.  They have favourites and can justify their choices, and select according to need, interest and mood. They have developed the emotional connections that lifelong readers possess and share an innate love of reading.

Adapted from Reading Developmental Continnuum. Education Department of Western Australia, 1994

Even if our clientele do not span the range of readers, we should know where they have come from and to where they are headed.

Miller tells us

The path to lifelong reading habits depends on internalising a reading lifestyle along with reading skills and strategies.

And she also says

We must push ourselves to read widely in order to best serve our students – as role models who read for diverse purposes and reading advisers who know a lot about books that appeal to all types of readers.  The more widely we read, the more expterise we offer to our students.

This is where we must put on the reader’s hat.  If we are to help our students along their road to independence then we must read and read and read so we can assist them with their choices, and assist their teachers in their choices. It may be that during term time your pile of to-be-read books comprises only children’s literature but it will pay off because not only will the staff and students view you as the go-to person when they’re wondering what to read next, but it puts the library at the hub of the school’s literacy program known for a collection that is built on professional knowledge and tested against a set of selection criteria that ensures it meets certain standards.

Just as we should not let personal bias interfere with the selection of resources for the collection, so we should not let personal preferences dictate our reading selections.  Of course, as we first start to learn about the collection from the inside out, we will start with our favourite authors, topics, series and genres but we need to read beyond those boundaries so we can build a broad base of knowledge and understanding.

Many of us will have childhood favourites or those we have used in our classroom practice and which we know children enjoy and it’s worth finding these and re-reading them as a starting point.  Then start to branch out. There are many sources…

  • Publishers have regular free newsletters that you can subscribe to so you can keep up-to-date with new releases. As well as Australian publishing houses, I also subscribe to some in the US and UK which is how I had copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on the shelves when students came in demanding it. 
  • Use subscription services which provide reviews and overviews from a wide range of publishers. I like Publisher’s Weekly which has a range of free e-newsletters including Children’s Bookshelf which has a plethora of articles related to children’s literature including reviews, meet-the-author, podcasts and news but others include Booklist, Horn Book, School Library Journal, Scan, and Magpies which includes The Source and The Literature Base.
  • Look at the publishers’ catalogues and websites, particularly those of the independents who often publish new authors or books with interesting topics. If you’re going to a conference or network meeting, browse the vendor displays – and perhaps pick up a bargain!
  • Learn which newspapers and periodicals promote books for your target clientele and follow their reviews and recommendations.
  • Know your students’ favourite authors as well as those who write for your students’ age group and keep tabs on their websites and blogs. There are often sneak previews, sample chapters, book trailers, information about public appearances and what they’re currently working on so you can look for them in the future.
  • Look for new authors whose work might appeal to your students by becoming familiar with the independent publishers as well as the mainstream ones.  Find the CBCA page on Facebook where new authors often let others know of their work, including that which has been self-published.
  • Browse the bookstore displays to see what’s new and recommended in a variety of genres.  Some bookstores promote staff recommendations so you can discuss possibilities with them.
  • check out second-hand stores for older titles that may no longer be in print but which are still popular
  • Look at what other TLs are posting on their library blogs and websites to discover what other students are reading
  • Seek out blogs which review the titles for your target age group.  There are many of these, particularly for YA,  and I’ve gathered some of them on Blogs About Books. Three that are great for younger readers are A Book and a Hug (have your readers take the What kind of reading superhero are you? quiz to find out what they might like); The Book Chook which has a strong Australian flavour and The Bottom Shelf where I review picture books, old and new, for the under-8s. Create your own blog where you share your reading with others.
  • Read reviews.  There are many sites and journals which are dedicated to reviewing children’s literature and I’ve collated some of these on the Read a Review page.
  • Get recommendations from other teachers and teacher librarians using your personal learning networks such as OZTL_NET. Everyone has a favourite they like to share. If schools have organised book clubs, find out what books they are focusing on.
  • Use crowd-sourcing sites such as Goodreads  and Shelfari where you can get recommendations as well as creating your own reading journal. Follow dedicated pages on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Talk to the students about what they are reading. Miss 9, an avid reader, told me that the favourite story among her peers this year was the classic Black Beauty and she was delighted when she found a copy of it among a collection of other classics on my home shelves.  She’s now reading her way through them, as well as War Horse by Michael Morpurgo which is of a similar nature to Black Beauty. One conversation and she had two pathways to follow – the classics, which may well open up new paths in themselves, and the other works of Morpurgo. 
  • Ask the students what they think you should be reading. Many will have favourites that they have sourced beyond the school library and which you need to know about and consider for the collection.  Peer recommendations are powerful, as even the most reluctant reader wants to be part of the in-crowd.
  • Keep abreast of new and upcoming releases through sites such as
  • Troll the best-of lists that come out at the end of the year from a range of sources. It’s surprising how many titles are common entries on these lists, indicating that they are worth considering.  If you want to discover the best of the best of times gone by, look for publications such as 1001 Children’s Books you must read before you grow up 

 

1001 Children's Books you must read before you grow up

1001 Children’s Books you must read before you grow up

 

  • Look at the award winners such as the Australian Children’s Book of the Year, the Newbery Medal, the Caldecott Medal, The Kate Greenaway Medal and The Carnegie Medal
  • Look for and explore if-you-like-x-then-try… lists.  They are a great source of new titles that match an identified preference.
  • Know which books have been turned into movies, or are about to be, and read the print versions of them so both you and your students are familiar with them, but be aware that the movie’s rating may be different to that of the book.  Useful sites are…
  • Trust your experience and expertise – if you see a book that you think will appeal, read it.
  • If you want to try before you buy, check out what your public library has.  Build a relationship with your local children’s services librarian and discover what are the most commonly borrowed titles there.
  • Maintain your professional reading with books like The Book Whisperer, Reading in the Wild, Readicide, The Rights of the Reader, The Power of Reading, The Read-Aloud Handbook and Igniting a Passion for Reading. Each will help you understand how to wear your reader’s hat well.

Wear your reader’s hat in public. Let the children see you reading in those rare spare minutes that you get.  Let them see your pile of to-be-reads.  Let them see the reading goals you have set yourself and which you celebrate as you achieve them.  Let them flip through your reading journal where you keep an annotated record of what you’ve read, what you want to read and their recommendations.

If you put your reader’s hat on, they will too.

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