by Shannon Betts
My daughter’s high school library has a teeny-tiny fiction collection. I mean teeny tiny. On a recent orientation visit, I found I could traverse the entire area in 8 steps from the A authors to the Zs.
I took in the rest of the room, with its soaring arches, flexible spaces, prominent and sparkling technology. It was a beautiful, well-designed room. But where were the rest of the fiction books? I reflected on how middle and high school libraries have changed. Our role in building readers seems to have been de-emphasized in our rush to modernize and prove our 21st-century relevance.
I might get tarred and feathered for writing this, but it makes me wonder if we’ve thrown out the baby with the bathwater.
School librarians have been inventing and reinventing our roles impacting student achievement for more than 20 years now, incorporating innovations from the learning commons model to makerspaces. We’re also integrating technology, digital citizenship, and information literacy into content classes like never before. Our titles have changed too: Are we teacher-librarians? Library media specialists? In some districts, we might have even morphed into technology integrationists. I branded my blog as The Information Literacy Teacher because the title ‘librarian’ didn’t seem to cover the scope of my job. Whatever the title, it’s been an exciting journey in which literacy, technology, and collaboration rule.
Yet, in the evolution of the school library, the book collection in some libraries has faded into a secondary role, as in:
“Books? Oh — yes, we also have books — they’re way over there against the wall, behind the Chromebooks, flexible seating, makerspace and the..! ”
And with the shrinking collections, the school librarian’s role as central readerpants has faded, too.
But I get it. We can’t be running at top speed in all facets of this complex work at once. Joyce Valenza describes the attempt to do it all in this honest post. She shows that librarians continually re-balance our multiple roles to preserve our sanity and keep every plate spinning in the air. In evaluating your priorities at the start of this school year, though, it’s a good time to re-examine your role as chief reader. It’s the one most likely to impact your students over their lifetimes.
I’m envisioning a change in libraries which have gone too far along the path in the pursuit of technology-as-the-holy-grail begin to shift course a bit.
The promotion of pleasure reading — both print and e-books, fiction and nonfiction, customized to reader interests — should form a major part of every re-imagined school library’s central mission.
In service to our highest purpose (If ya got ’em, salute with reading glasses here!), certified school librarians are actively engaged with classroom teachers, literacy specialists, and administration in building a culture of reading.
And here’s why:
Reading gives us clues about what it means to be human. And kids need these clues — lots of them. As an 11-year-old, I found some answers about relationships in Judy Blume’s books, the first to tell it straight to adolescents. I suffered from an all-consuming 6th-grade heartbreak; Blume helped me understand the mysterious behavior of one specific boy who shall go unnamed.
I found the truth in that book and shared it with all my friends. Funny thing about the truth: Once it gets out, it spreads like wildfire, helping us feel less alone.
Many have written about the importance of the story to help us learn about ourselves and others. Rudine Sims Bishop was the first to compare books to mirrors and windows which help us readers understand ourselves and others on this planet. The window that I needed in grade 6 was insight into the male pre-teen mind, but I also needed a mirror to help me understand my own heart.
Books also give readers the chance to live hundreds of lives instead of just one. Through story, we can imagine a different reality. Next to travel and a time machine, it’s the next best thing to help understand cultural, gender, or other perspectives outside our experience. As renowned author and library-lover Neil Gaiman recently put it, fiction gives us a way of imagining that, “THE WORLD DOESN’T NEED TO BE THIS WAY. It can be different” [emphasis is Gaiman’s]. And what better takeaway can you imagine for your students?
We already understand that kids who read for pleasure have a huge advantage in academic achievement. But did you know that lifelong reading can also increase earning power, life satisfaction and overall well-being?
Yet with all these proven benefits of pleasure reading, independent reading in middle school declines sharply and continues to plummet throughout high school. In fact, a broad research review done by Common Sense Media in 2014 shared some startling statistics. It showed that while 53 percent of 9-year-olds read for fun every day, by the time they reach 17, only 19 percent of students read by choice daily.
Do these statistics give you a sinking feeling? Put another way, this data suggests that our schools are churning out 81 percent of graduating students as young adults who do not read by choice. Though different studies vary in the breakdown of the data, the trend is clear.
But there’s also hope — as librarians (with parents, teachers and caregivers of every stripe), we’re positioned to help reverse this trend, and we have more influence than we think. It all hinges on these two immutable truths about reading, courtesy of Jim Trelease, author of the classic Read Aloud Handbook:
Here’s an action plan to keep books in the picture in our collective momentum to build independent readers in middle and high school. Given a decent-sized library collection, many of these activities are low- to no-cost. If you don’t have an adequate collection to generate enthusiasm for reading, build one! Activities like these and others require books, time, and a renewed focus on the importance on reading for pleasure.
Give Readers Time to Explore and Process
Make Reading More Social
by Shannon Betts
How do you begin researching a new topic? Do you reach for your phone, type in a couple of words and hope for the best? As tempting and convenient it is to jump right into the water and “Google it”, there are benefits for students to start research in a library database.
Many school districts like ours subscribe to a group of Gale resources, a large academic publisher. Research in Context is a newcomer to this go-to library staple and is a database designed to support middle school learners. (See an introduction to Research in Context by Gale Cengage below my comments.)
The differences between resources available online are not always obvious to students. In fact, digital information sources can appear very similar, but be worlds apart in quality. Here's some concrete imagery I use to contrast the two research experiences for students:
A subscription database is like an Olympic-sized swimming pool. It’s a good place to learn to swim.
There are lifeguards (the gatekeepers which review information before it's published, such as editors, fact-checkers, authors with reputations to protect).
The focus is on swimming vs. boogie-boarding, fishing, etc. (Focus is largely on informational writing, which is helpful for learning a new topic).
There are floaties to help you swim (kid-friendly writing; reading level filters).
The areas of the pool are clearly marked (easier to distinguish between different formats like magazines, reference articles, news, primary and secondary sources, etc).
There are staff members ready to offer up a set of flippers to speed up your pace (such as focused, reviewed writing; advanced search tools; subject terms/ keywords embedded in databases to help you locate other sources).
The open internet is like the ocean.
There are lifeguards (gatekeepers) in some areas along the coast (recommended websites; subject directories, .edu and .gov sites; organizations with a brick and mortar presence and strong reputations).
The ocean, like the internet, is home to many different activities besides swimming. Fishing, boating, illegal dumping, etc. all occur in in this broad, deep and unregulated environment. A variety of friendly and fierce organisms also live here. (Swimmers in the internet encounter a wide range of information quality. Trash and treasure float side by side.)
There is no focus to the information (Informational, entertainment, novelty, commercial, recreational, strange and wild information all share space, organized mostly in order of popularity, not by quality of information).
There are no floaties (No reading level filters; information is written in a range of complexity, from elementary level all the way up to doctoral dissertations. Do you have your PhD degree yet?).
The ocean is not clearly marked (Many beginning researchers tread water for hours, scrolling past related but not relevant sites. Others are swept out to sea by strong, distracting currents of information).
You have to keep your wits about you as you peer into the depths. What was that?! (It takes time and critical thinking to distinguish between different types of information and evaluate the author(s) who produce it. This can slow down your ability to find relevant, focused information fast).
I may have stretched my analogy past the point break, if I can misuse a surfing term. Yet, kids will likely remember the images. The fact is, there are amazing, relevant, high-quality sources published on the internet. The goal is to find the right one at the right time in an overwhelming sea of information. Your middle school learner will be much more able to recognize the right information if he or she has a solid introduction to a topic first through a library database like Research in Context. (Hint: look for a topic overview or an introduction in reference categories)
Library media specialists work with content-area teachers to help students develop information literacy skills at all levels. In middle and high school, students progress in their ability to evaluate online resources of every form, using frameworks such as C.A.R.S. Our efforts in teaching kids to “swim” are made more powerful by your support at home. See here for a tip sheet from Common Sense Media to help kids recognize quality websites. And before they hit Google, encourage them to search a library database first. And, depending on the topic, don't overlook the tried and true book.
Researching, Middle School Style
Staff Writer, Gale Cengage
Age can have a lot to do with the way we learn. For example, research resources geared toward a high school level student shouldn’t mirror those geared toward a sixth grader and vice versa. Say your tween is doing a report on the topic of abolition and Frederick Douglass. Where should they start to find age appropriate information on the subject? Well, Research In Context, a resource specially created for students at the middle school level, is a great jumping off point.
With an interface that delivers the highly visual design and navigation preferred by younger users combined with the authoritative content and user-focused tool set needed to support middle school assignment and coursework, Research In Context is ideal for students in grades 6 to 8. The research tool is simple to use. Plus, any user with Google or Microsoft Account credentials will benefit from single sign-on capabilities. After initial authentication through the library, there's no need to remember a separate password!
Working on the go is also an option with the tool’s mobile responsive design. And, the map tool delivers strong visual callouts for users accessing maps on mobile devices. For example, a student could type, "abolition" and "Frederick Douglass" in the search box and a variety of images and information on the topics would be displayed with content written explicitly for middle schools.
Social studies and world history aren’t the only topics Research In Context covers. The resource tool is cross-disciplinary in nature—spanning literature, science, and social studies. You can expect to find reliable and up-to-date content from leading sources like National Geographic, Scholastic, NPR, NASA, AP Video News, and more. Research In Context sources are aligned with national and state curriculum standards for grades 6 to 12 in language arts, social studies, and science.
Who knew a research tool could be so specifically tailored to an age group? With a resource like this, middle school students are able to tackle a wide range of subjects from an abolitionist leader like Frederick Douglass to climate change and global warming, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. Experience Research In Context for yourself at this link or for more information, contact Mrs. Betts at firstname.lastname@example.org
A note from Mrs. Betts for R15 Parents:
Click here to go to the MMS LMC Gale Databases > Choose Research in Context from the bottom of the list. Contact me if you need the log-in credentials.
Sometimes it’s hard to be both a parent and a teacher. I feel conflicted, especially during conference times for our own two kids. In this post I describe the literacy partnership that we began 13 years ago, way before our first parent - teacher conference with Mr. Z. The jobs of teacher and parent aren’t the same, yet we are all in this together in supporting our readers.
Unmask that Author!
Helping Students Develop a Healthy Skepticism About Media
by Shannon Betts, LMS
Researching Author Bias in the Library Media Center
The class of twenty-two sixth graders silently reads the text displayed on the Smartboard. The silence grows longer as they continue to examine the webpage of two short paragraphs. One boy looks at the ceiling, bites the side of his thumb, then frowns at the text. He is joined by others who look at me, then back at the Smartboard, brows furrowing. Something is wrong here, they say.
by Shannon Betts, Teacher-Librarian, and Paula Gajewski, Literacy Specialist
Empower families with a community family literacy center embedded in a school library…
Schools are in the midst of great change, and librarians are searching for niches in which they can serve the information and social needs of communities. Most educators, such as school librarians and literacy specialists, are determined to keep pace with the rapid changes in our schools. The legacy of No Child Left Behind, the adoption of the Common Core Standards and rising pressure to raise test scores leave us feeling that meeting those challenges often requires a willingness to think bigger and break down silos that keep community resources separate. Where do we begin to raise student achievement?
We begin at the beginning, according to the late childhood researchers Dr. Betty Hart (1927-2013) and Dr. Todd Risley (1937-2007), that incredible window of time between birth and 5 when a child will learn between 2,100-2,200 vocabulary words and his brain will grow to 90% of an adult brain size. At no time in a human life span does the brain replicate this ability to learn vast amounts of information. Yet, incoming kindergartners enter school with significant differences in their exposure to books, language, social skills and other school readiness indicators. Furthermore, Hart and Risley also calculated a significant vocabulary word gap between high and low-income children by the age of 3.
Some innovative programs like the one in our school library, the Family Library Media Center, reach out to families to provide a coordinated literacy program, which uses community and district resources. This combined library approach unites some of the public library emphasis on individual growth and community support with a school library focus on children. In this way, it’s possible to reach entire families to strengthen literacy as a shared family goal. This hybrid library model is slowly getting more attention as a way to pool available resources. In some cases the combination of school and public library roles has been a solution for cash-strapped towns to consolidate services under one roof. In others, such as our library, the effect of targeted outreach to a complete family unit is well supported by research in affecting birth to 3 language acquisition.
As a child’s first and most important teachers, parents have a responsibility to provide a literacy environment that is stimulating from birth. As the Hart and Risley study data showed with startling clarity, students who go on to strong school achievement began early childhoods in a home environment which was rich in sensory and language experiences, followed by daily exposure to books. Daily routines of a child aged birth to 3-years need to be filled with these experiences, as well as speech to emphasize language acquisition. Community resources such as schools, preschools, social service agencies and libraries need to coordinate programs to provide this critical support to families. With resources, encouragement and opportunity for learning, parents can engage with their children to consistently provide an information-rich environment for their children that has long-reaching effects on learning.
Putting theory into practice with an idea that can be replicated elsewhere:
Our experience in community family outreach began with a school principal’s vision of possibilities that could be achieved through the school library. Funded through the generosity of several grants such as Even Start, the Community Foundation of Northwest Connecticut, and the William Caspar Graustien Foundation, the district family literacy specialist and the library media specialist worked together to create a dedicated space for families in the community. The space was called The Community Family Literacy Center (CFLC). The CFLC offers a range of parenting materials and extends borrowing privileges of the 17,000-item school library collection, use of computers and iPads to the entire Torrington, Connecticut, USA community. Our patrons include families from all five-district elementary schools and families with children ages birth through five living in Torrington. Like a public library, The Community Family Literacy center is open after-school on Tuesday evenings and projected summer hours.
The CFLC provides a variety of rich materials, but is far from a passive collection. The active programming offered on Tuesday evenings throughout the school year encourages family interaction with the materials and technology provided in enhancing parenting practices. For example, an author of a book on active child movement spoke at one of the Tuesday evening programs and parents checked out copies of his book to use at home with their children. In another presentation, the chief of pediatrics from the local hospital spoke to parents about child development—a topic represented broadly in the parenting collection.
We recognize the challenges that early education teachers and home care providers face in developing literacy curricula. These critical teacher links in the birth to pre-kindergarten literacy continuum are often underpaid and underserved in professional development opportunities. For this reason, a section of the Community Family Literacy Center is dedicated to early childhood reference materials and classroom learning materials. The literacy specialist provides instructional programming for teachers throughout the year, exploring topics like managing challenging classroom behaviors and providing rich-literacy early childhood experiences through read-aloud strategies.
It takes a community effort to provide programming to raise literacy levels.
Schools and public libraries have always shared the mission of providing the right information at the right time for patrons both big and small. Also squarely in our shared mandate is helping to raise literacy levels among adults and create a more even playing field among our youngest patrons. Reaching out to all families in a community to provide coordinated literacy programming using our shared collections encourages parents to provide these experiences at the very beginning of a child’s life. This critical window of growth deserves the support that can make such a difference in the trajectory of literacy. The stakes are incredibly high.
About the Authors:
Shannon Betts (MLS, MAT) has spent 7 years as reference and instruction librarian at the university level, and is now a teacher-librarian and Even Start Family Educator in a K-5 school in Connecticut. Shannon focuses on information literacy and finding ways to innovate the library classroom for children and families using technology. Follow Shannon on Twitter @Sbetts8 to keep up with the latest in information/digital literacy and educational technology.
Paula Gajewski (MS & Certified Reading and Language Arts Consultant) is an Early Childhood Literacy Specialist, Family Educator, and coordinator for the Community Family Literacy Center for the Torrington Public Schools. Paula works with families and teachers of preschool children, is a literacy support for the Even Start program, is an active member of the Torrington Early Childhood Collaborative, coordinates events, writes grants for funding, and promotes and markets the Community Family Literacy Center to the community. Follow the CFLC on Twitter @TorringtonCFLC
Originally published at Connect Learning Today.
by Shannon Betts, LMS
Like many Teaching Librarians across the country, the librarian position in my school had been reduced to part-time before I came to the school. I taught a fixed schedule for grades 1-3 and a flexible, project-based schedule for grades 4 and 5. Managing to fit in all those classes in two days a week required stamina and imagination. I had been reading about the flipped classroom model for months on all my professional development “channels” such as Twitter, EdWeb, and Edmodo and wondered if pieces could be adapted for research instruction at the elementary level.
This seemed a partial solution to my packed teaching and administrative schedule, in which I felt stretched thin. Besides, I reasoned, a cohesive unit based around in-person and recorded sessions for whole classes could free me to work more with small groups in their research. I decided to try it out in my library classroom with my grade 5 students and their flexible team of teachers. This model of collaboration works best with staff willing to experiment.
Grade 5 students in my school participated in an extended interdisciplinary science fair unit, which includes an experiment, research essay and culminating science fair presentations. The flipped classroom model definition by the ALA (American Library Association) in which greater responsibility is placed on the learner to complete work out of class would not work in its original form at the elementary level. We considered the flipped classroom model as more of an inspiration than a blueprint. In our version, it would extend library instruction online, allowing the classroom teacher to forge ahead with my lessons in the computer lab without me physically in the room, and scheduled to teach other classes in the library at the same time. This approach would also free me to work with small research groups online in applying the information literacy concepts. In our Title 1 school, not all students have access to computers at home and not all have the discipline or parental support necessary to replicate the ALA model. At the same time, putting these resources online would allow the more self-directed students access to them at any time. We would experiment and modify to find what worked for these students.
We started planning early, and I scouted for free or low-cost tech tools to bring library instruction to students and to measure their mastery of objectives. Edmodo formed the core as a course management system, as the science teacher had introduced it to our school the year before and could mentor me in its use. Using the Big6 as a general guide, I would focus on student evaluation of resources for credibility. Determining an author’s credibility and bias applies to every information source and is a central Common Core skill.
We began with an information-literacy pre-test, a brief ten-question assessment delivered by TRAILS, Tool for Real-Time Assessment of Information Literacy. Two in-person lessons for each class section followed to introduce/review the library resources. Armed with broad topics of interest, students reviewed intermediate-level searching for books in Destiny, the online catalog by Follett. Next we turned to article searching, comparing Grolier Online with a subscription database at EbscoHost, Searchasaurus and Kids Search.
The science teacher registered all students in Edmodo and made sure the parental permissions were in place. And the teacher also covered the basic concepts of digital citizenship with students. Students would access resources on Thursdays, when the science teacher would rotate the sections through our one computer lab, use my online videos and teach my lessons. Admittedly, giving up this control was the hardest part for me. I worried that I would feel disconnected with no first-hand knowledge of student responses.
Following the first and second in-person teaching sessions, I asked students to evaluate the databases they had explored and compare their coverage of their topics. As their first written activity, they were to post responses via Padlet, a virtual sharing wall. This required students to practice searching different databases by individual topic, identify what types of information were indexed and then judge how well each database would meet their research needs. I hoped that students would take ownership of their searching through posting a public review of each database.
In evaluating information, it’s important that students understand the role of gatekeeper, the trained editor, or editorial team, which evaluate the quality of information published in books, newspapers and most magazines. In contrast to the review done by an editor, information searched on the open Internet is often not reviewed. That puts the student in the role of gatekeeper himself or herself. For that reason, our next in-person class and follow-up videos focused on evaluating websites. As a 3-part sequence, I created an animated cartoon with Powtoons and videos with the screencasting tools Jing and Screencast-O-Matic. Students were put “in the driver’s seat” by searching for websites guided by essential questions and evaluating them using a checklist using the C.A.R.S. framework (Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support).
After this collaborative instruction using a variety of tools delivered through Edmodo, the science teacher created research groups based on common inquiry topics. Edmodo is flexible and allows teachers to develop many interactive tools to engage students. I used polls, review questions and assignments to assess each group’s progress in locating, evaluating and using information. Students were able to store digital resources that other teachers and I recommended in their Edmodo backpacks and access them from home. Though I had felt disconnected during the “flipped” computer lab lessons in which I was only virtually “there”, the benefits of my differentiated small group guidance on Edmodo became clear. We created a community in which the excitement of discovery learning initiated in-person chats. My grade 5 drop-in traffic dramatically increased as groups came to visit me in the library to talk about their projects. Students were engaged. Their questions allowed me to embed information literacy instruction and technology support at the point of need.
Though student excitement about learning rates very high in determining the success of any unit, achievement data is also important. Have students progressed, and if so, by how much? We administered a post-test using TRAILS to compare the outcome. The student mean increased 7 percentage points in the TRAILS Evaluation of Resources module during this 3-month unit. Because I had selected the grade 6 level tests for these 5th graders, this was significant. At the end of the day, our students demonstrated that they were more able to identify credible information. Not bad for a first year with a new unit.
It’s challenging to learn many new tools during the year when there are so many other professional demands. I spent a lot of time learning the tool functions and recording while putting together this unit. I believe the time spent paid dividends. Now I can edit and improve my existing video footage. I can also create more integrated supporting materials to engage student responses. Rubrics, checklists and other activities are important to measure progress during this unit. As a culminating product to measure information literacy objectives, I'd plan to create the ultimate assessment to measure a student’s understanding of evaluating websites: a student-created tutorial using a screencasting tool.