What is Guided Reading?

It’s not unusual to hear the term guided reading used to describe small-group instruction. But does that term mean the same thing to everyone? Some teachers, any time they meet and read with small groups, call it guided reading regardless of the text they use, or the instructional focus of the lesson.

At Scholastic, we believe that teaching reading in small groups is just one part of the instructional practice known as guided reading.

In guided reading, the goal is to build independent readers who can read fluently with comprehension. A guided reading teacher plays the role of an expert reader who scaffolds—and, yes, guides—the lesson for less-experienced readers. Therefore, a guided reading teacher plans lessons and focuses instruction on the areas where students need support. By focusing instruction on these areas, a guided reading lesson prepares students to be able to read the next level of text complexity.

Of course, the devil is in the details. Just what should we expect to see in a guided reading lesson? Experts agree that small groups and leveled texts are necessary, and there is also consensus that teaching must be targeted and include progress monitoring.

Jan Richardson, in The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading: An Assess-Decide-Guide Framework for Supporting Every Reader (2016), offers three essentials of guided reading:

  1. Small groups

  2. Instructional-leveled texts

  3. Targeted teaching

Let’s dig in to these important components of guided reading.

Flexible, Small-Group Instruction

How do we know that small-group instruction is not always guided reading?

Think about it this way: Back when I was in elementary school, I was in the “blue” reading group. I was with the same students in second grade, in third grade, and… well, you get the picture. Usually, there was a low group, a high group, and a few middle groups. Unfortunately, students often stayed in the groups to which they were assigned, year after year. Small-group instruction on its own is not enough.

Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey and John Hattie have explained in Visible Learning for Literacy, Grades K-12: Implementing the Practices That Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning (2016) that small-group learning has been shown to accelerate student learning, if two conditions are met:

  1. Guided reading must occur in flexible groups. A teacher moves a student out of a group as soon as there is sufficient evidence that a student's reading behaviors are appropriate, her word accuracy shows mastery and her comprehension is sufficient. And in order to know that a student has reached that level, the teacher must monitor student progress on an ongoing basis.

  2. Guided reading instruction must match the needs of the learner.

So guided reading must be in small, flexible groups and the instructional focus must be based on student needs.

Teaching with Instructional-Leveled Text

Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell created an A-through-Z leveling system by examining and identifying the (many) characteristics of text that impact its difficulty. Since guided reading helps students read increasingly challenging texts, guided reading instruction provides students the reading behaviors they need as they encounter the various characteristics of each level.

Instructional-leveled text is a bit challenging, and requires students to use strategies as they read. So, it is important to determine at which level students are able to read with just the right amount of challenge. To do so, a teacher identifies the level at which a student can read with 90–97% word accuracy, and 70–89% comprehension.

Then the teacher, acting as the expert reader, scaffolds instruction by selecting appropriately challenging texts, preparing students before they read, then coaching them when they face challenges (Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, 2001). This is one reason why the text has to be at a student’s instructional level, and why the small groups must be flexible and based on students’ current reading levels.

Targeted Teaching

Guided reading teachers use a before, during and after model of reading instruction. 

  • Before students begin to read, the teacher prepares them by explaining the purpose, frontloading challenging terms or concepts, and activating students’ background knowledge.

  • During reading, teachers support students by offering feedback such as questions, prompts, and cues around the lessons’ instructional focus, comprehension, and the reader’s point of need.

  • After students finish reading, the teacher helps students synthesize what they have learned from the text, which helps students extend their thinking.

Guided reading is focused on reading. It is not a phonics lesson. The act of reading the text independently, with the support of the teacher, should be the centerpiece of a guided reading lesson. Fifty to sixty percent of reading instruction time should be spent on students reading. So, for example, in a 20-minute guided reading lesson, students should read for 10 to 12 minutes. 

Here is what doesn’t happen: round-robin or popcorn reading, or taking turns, whether in or out of order. As we all know, when students take turns reading, those waiting for their turn are practicing what they will read, and those who have finished reading just check out (Allington, 2013). So in guided reading, all students are reading, even if they’re whisper-reading or reading silently.

This Is Guided Reading

Successful guided reading classrooms are homes to small, flexible groups of students who are reading instructional-leveled text and employing strategies that allow them to read and comprehend. The teacher uses a before, during and after reading model as students independently read silently or whisper-read, and the groups change as students are able to read varying levels of text.

As Fountas and Pinnell have written, “Guided reading is a small group instructional context in which a teacher supports each reader’s development of a systems of strategic actions for processing new texts at increasingly challenging levels of difficulty.” (Fountas and Pinnell, 2017)

Bringing It All Together in Literacy Instruction

Guided reading is a critical component of high-quality literacy instruction that supports students as they progress toward independence and mastery of reading, writing and critical thinking.

Using a gradual release model and authentic literacy rotations, expert literacy instructors use research-based practices—such as interactive read-alouds, shared reading, guided reading, integrated writing, and independent reading—to create purposeful, meaning-driven instruction every day. Each of these practices relies on the other to support students’ needs, learning styles and achievement.

Comprehensive literacy highlights teaching and learning and high-quality instruction. When instruction is focused on the whole child and is truly comprehensive, all core literacy instruction is aligned. This is a powerful illustration of evidence-based instructional promising practices working together to meet the needs of every child in a holistic way.

This article is the first in a series of posts about guided reading.


  • Allington, R. L. “What Really Matters When Working with Struggling Readers.” The Reading Teacher 66 (2013)  (520-530).

  • Fisher, D., Frey, N., and Hattie, J. Visible Learning for Literacy: Implementing Practices That Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin , 2016.

  • Fountas, I. C. and Pinnell, G. S. Guiding Readers and Writers Grades 3-6: Teaching Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001.

  • Fountas, I.C. and Pinnell, G.S. Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2017. 

  • Richardson, Jan. The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading: An Assess-Decide-Guide Framework for Supporting Every Reader. New York: Scholastic, 2016.

5 Reasons School Librarians Should Use Social Media

Tamiko Brown of Ed White E-STEM Magnet School in El Lago, TX was named School Librarian of the Year by School Library Journal and Scholastic in the 2017 School Librarian of the Year Awards. Below, she shares reasons why school librarians should use social media.

School libraries are literacy and learning powerhouses that positively impact the lives of young patrons. But this cannot effectively occur unless librarians are able to communicate all we can do to support kids’ learning.

Bulletin boards and marquees are great, but these days it’s not enough to capture anyone’s attention. Social media can positively change the perception of the library and promote all that we do in the library. This is true everywhere, but especially in a school like mine, which has a STEM focus!

Below are five strategies for using social media to advertise and tell my library’s story.

1. Promote Programs

At the School Library Journal summit earlier this fall, Dr. Bill Chapman (Superintendent, Jarrell ISD) said, librarians need to “market the library and show teachers and administrators your skills.” This was inspiring to me because this approach helps me demonstrate how libraries are a part of education. We can start by sharing the library’s story online. When new books arrive, an author visits students, book clubs meet, a new book display is set up, makerspace is in session, and for all library programs, I take pictures to post on social media platforms.

My professional accounts on Twitter, Pinterest, Linked In, and Instagram are in my name or my professional blog’s name, Makerspace Library. (I don’t recommend using your school’s name in the account because you might not stay at same location for your entire career, and you want keep ownership of these accounts if you change locations. At my last school I had a library blog in the school’s name, and I lost the blog when I left.) I have a private account on Facebook, so if I need to post something on Facebook for my school, I use the Ed White E-STEM PTA page. I also cross-post Twitter information on our Ed White E-STEM Twitter page to ensure the entire school community sees library news and information.

By sharing library programs on social media it empowers, advertises, and makes them a part of the library’s story. To save time, think about cross-posting or using a social media management tool such as StatusBrew or Hootsuite. This is a great way to see all of your accounts on one page, schedule posts, and run analytics on your accounts. Some social media management tools offer free accounts. If you Google “social media management tools” you can discover a list of social media management options.

2. Encourage Student Voice and Innovation

Sharing student projects and innovations on social media will empower students’ voices. Knowing their work is published online via social media is a confidence-builder for students. Taking pictures during makerspace sessions is an ideal time to snap a shot of student innovation or student voice in action. This can be done by simply taking a picture of a student’s work without the student’s name listed, which protects their privacy.

Empower student voice and innovation on Instagram by snapping a picture of their latest makerspace project, book review, book club meeting, or #bookface interpretation. I recently created a professional Instagram page. This platform will allow me to empower student voice, share innovations, and network.

3. Network

Social media is a great way to connect with other librarians and educators around the world. Join an education chat on Twitter by using the group’s hashtag, and connect with other librarians and educators at a scheduled time. Search “education chat” on Google to see a list of scheduled chats around the world. Click (ctrl) (f) and type in a location or topic to narrow the search. This list is continually updated, so new chats can be added. Join the Future Ready Librarians page on Facebook to receive endless opportunities to share, learn, and connect. LinkedIn makes it possible to build a network of professional connections, endorsements, and take free professional development classes. They even have a course on using social media as a beginner or from an intermediate level.

4. Provide Limitless Access

This year I promoted my Scholastic Book Fair online by tweeting the information and posting it on Facebook.

Scholastic has made it easy by offering a webpage for my book fair and pre-scripted messages for Facebook and Twitter. Social media is a great tool to publicize library hours, library club information, library resources, and more. Share library programs and promotions online, and it will give everyone limitless access to library information.

5. Build a Brand 

When we say “brand” these days, what we mean is simply a “reputation.” Social media gives us a chance to be our own publicist, and set the tone of the library brand we create. Mark Moran co-founder of Sweet Search states librarians should be enthusiastic marketers of themselves, the library, and its programs and promotions. Instead of putting your lesson plans in a binder, try pinning some on Pinterest. This will brand your library as a place of curricular collaboration and student engagement.  

Is your library an integral part of the school? Is it the place where innovation happens? What’s special about your library? You have the power to create your library brand online using social media. Social media offers librarians a platform to positively brand the library, empower patron voice, and share the library’s story. Remember to keep post positive and protect your patrons’ privacy before you upload.


Civics for Middle and High school Students

At Scholastic Classroom Magazines, we want young people to become engaged and empathetic citizens. This blog post is the final in a series of three from the Classroom Magazines editorial team about how we tackle civics by grade level. Mary Kate Frank is the Deputy Editor of Junior Scholastic, and Ian Zack is the Executive Editor of The New York Times Upfront. 

With everything that’s going on in Washington and around the world, interest in civics seems to be at an all-time high. At Junior Scholastic and The New York Times Upfront, one of our main goals has always been to help students understand how our government works—and to encourage them to become informed, engaged citizens.

Seeing our democracy in action is an important part of civics education. That’s why we regularly cover topics like the Electoral College, primaries and caucuses, and the Supreme Court—all in digestible, student-friendly formats.

For example, Junior Scholastic’s popular 5-Minute Guide series breaks down complex topics like the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights in short, easy-to-understand text boxes and graphics. In Upfront, we dig a little deeper for our high-school-age audience, previewing the Supreme Court’s new term each October by featuring cases that will grab the attention of teens, such as whether the police can search our cellphones without a warrant. 

But civics is more than just learning about the three branches of government or the U.S. Constitution, though we cover those things, too. (In fact, we created an entire civics website curated with the best articles and videos from our magazines.) Learning about civics is also about figuring out how to be a responsible global citizen.

With that in mind, we routinely profile kids who are making a difference in their communities or around the world, from a 15-year-old who developed an app to combat cyberbullying to teens who are actually running for elected office in their communities.

Another perfect example: A recent story from Junior Scholastic about a group of middle school students fighting for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. The girls were outraged to learn that the Constitution doesn’t explicitly protect women’s rights. So they decided to do something about it.

During last year’s election, Upfront profiled teens who were volunteering for the campaigns of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. As they explained their motivations for getting involved, our readers got a sense of what it’s like to take action based on your beliefs—even if you’re not old enough yet to vote. 

Teaching young people to be responsible consumers is another major part of our civics mission. Our recent feature on the dark side of fast fashion, for example, exposed kids to the reality of how their clothes are made—while letting them know what they can do to help reverse the trend. 

This year, our civics coverage has focused extensively on media literacy and fake news—topics many teachers told us they desperately needed. Recent stories have included how-to guides on spotting made-up stories, identifying celebrity-endorsed ads on social media, and the importance of vetting sources. In today’s digital world, learning how to separate fact from fiction is more important than ever before—especially for tech-obsessed teens.

As you can see, a major goal of our team is to help students make sense of the world—and their place in it. We want young people to know that they have a voice and a role to play—and that getting involved in their communities is the responsibility of a good citizen. With these stories, we’re routinely reminded that just because some of our readers are too young to vote, they’re not too young to make a difference.

To read part one in this series, about teaching civics in early-grade magazines, click here.

To read part two, about teaching civics in upper-elementary grades, click here

Making Time for Independent Reading at School

Independent reading can ramp up students’ reading achievement and help them become proficient and advanced readers. As a middle school principal, I want students to find independent reading so enjoyable that they choose to read at school and at home!

The big question administrators face is, What can we do to support independent reading and improve the reading stamina of all students? 

First, I recommend you meet with your English department or ELA teams and review the three layers of reading:

  1. The interactive read aloud asks teachers to think aloud while reading a text that’s the same genre as students’ unit of study. The teacher makes visible how he or she infers and/or reacts to a text;

  2. Instructional reading happens at school so teachers observe students and support those needing help.

  3. Independent reading of self-selected books happens at school and at home.

Many administrators might be thinking that their school does not have time to add independent reading to the instructional piece. While reading this blog, I’m asking you to suspend that belief. Let me be your guide and help you make independent reading an integral part of your school’s curriculum.

I have wrestled with the challenges of finding more time for independent reading. Soon after I adopted the goal of creating a school-wide culture that values this type of reading, I reached out to staff and collaborated with them to find solutions.

To create a culture of readers, it is helpful to understand the current role of independent reading in your school. To assist you and your staff, I pose five questions, share my thoughts for each one, and close by providing suggestions for finding the time.

Since the culture and scheduling needs of each school are unique, your responses and reactions will vary. However, I’m confident that you will figure out how to build a school community that values independent reading.

Question 1: Do you see an independent reading book on students’ desks when you visit classes or complete a walkthrough?

Students should always have an independent reading book on their desks so when they complete class work, they can read. In fact, I encourage you to have students check out two to three independent reading books and keep these in a cubby or locker. This way, when they finish one, another is at their fingertips.

Access to books is a pathway to independent reading. All teachers including those who teach social studies, science, and math, should have class libraries. Having books available in class can make a difference. Find funds to provide starter class libraries: 400 books for ELA teachers the first year and another 400 books the next school year; 100 books for content teachers the first year and 100 books the next year. Continue adding new books on a range of topics, genres, and reading levels that match the needs of your student population. 

Making the time: Having books readily available diminishes the time students need to visit the library to find new books. Class libraries also provide opportunities for teachers to feature and introduce authors and genres bi-monthly. Time gained can transfer to more choice reading at school.

Question 2: Do all ELA teachers promote independent reading?

The goal is to get all teachers of reading and English promoting independent reading.  If staff that teaches reading celebrates and honors independent reading, then students feel their message and recognize the high value they place on choice reading.

Making the time: Set aside time to build teachers’ understanding of how independent reading supports achievement. Develop a unified voice among teachers, and they will find the time for independent reading. Do this by sharing with teachers the research on independent reading. Post articles on Google Docs for teachers to read, comment on, and share with colleagues. Discuss the research at faculty and team meetings. Encourage teachers to write a letter to parents explaining the importance of independent reading to their child’s literacy growth. Invite teachers to have students read thirty minutes a night at home.

Question 3: Are teachers reserving time for students to choose an independent reading book and read it at school?

Encourage teachers to set-aside twenty to thirty minutes of a reading class twice week for independent reading. When students read at school, the message they hear is that independent reading is truly important. If schedules don’t allow for this, then consider studying them and making changes that support independent reading.

Making the time: Some principals take a few minutes off each period or block and create a daily mini-period dedicated to independent reading. This is a great strategy for it guarantees independent reading.

Question 4: Is reading only part of the ELA classroom?

Reading is not something that’s just done in English class. Students read in all subjects and they need to learn, through teacher modeling, how to read and think in each subject. If all teachers set aside some time for independent reading related to their subject, just imagine the message it would send to students and parents!

Making the time: An excellent way to help all teachers find time for independent reading is to have those doing it send an email to the entire staff explaining their schedule adjustments. However, revisit independent reading frequently at team, department, and faculty meetings to ensure it’s alive and thriving.

Question 5: What are you doing as an administrator to encourage independent thinking?

Here are questions I urge you to tape to your desk so you see them and reflect on them frequently.

  • Do my teachers know how I feel about independent reading?

  • Have I clearly communicated my vision of all English teachers supporting and celebrating independent reading?

  • Is independent reading a priority at my school? 

  • Have I helped teachers understand that students don’t need to write a summary, essay, or complete a project on each book?

Making the time: Like me, your challenge is to champion change. One way is to plan with a teacher and find the time for you to read silently with a class. You can also reserve the first ten to twelve minutes of meetings for you and a few teachers to share a favorite book.

Closing Thoughts

Show teachers the benefits of making time during the school day for independent reading. Educate staff and families about reading, and find funds to bring more books into the school library and classrooms! When you have developed among students and staff an “I love to read!” mindset, you’ll know that your entire school values independent reading. Remember. Continue. Promoting. Independent. Reading. 


This post is the first in an ongoing series about independent reading.

Twitter Chat Recap: Striving Readers with Adria Klein

Last night @ScholasticEd hosted a Twitter chat all about striving readers with literacy expert Adria Klein, Ph.D. We asked Adria all about striving readers, from what it means to be a striving readers, to behaviors to look for and strategies to address the needs of all readers. We were joined by teachers, literacy coaches, academics and others, all of whom were passionate about literacy! 

We created a Storify with some of the highlights, below. Follow @ScholasticEd to find out about our next chat!

[View the story "#StrivingReaders " on Storify]

They Want to Know!: Civics for Upper-Elementary Students

At Scholastic Classroom Magazines, we want young people to become engaged and empathetic citizens. This blog post is the second of three from the Classroom Magazines editorial team about how we tackle civics by grade level. Steph Smith is an Editorial Director for Scholastic News Editions 3-6. 

We include a lot of civics in our news magazines for upper-elementary students—and they don’t hate it!

Far from it, in fact. The 8–12-year-old set absolutely loves to know about this stuff—from the three branches of government to our electoral process, to everyone’s role in our democracy.

Need proof? (I don’t blame you.) On a visit to a 4th-grade classroom in a presidential election year, I asked the kids to tell me what their favorite story was in the Scholastic News issue they were discussing. I had assumed everyone would rave about the cover story about mountain lions. I certainly would have! But no. Their favorite story was about third-party political candidates! They didn’t know that there were more than the two major-party candidates. They were thrilled to finally learn that, and were outraged at how unfair it was that the other two candidates got all the attention! Fair is big with these folks—and so is knowledge!

Elections are a huge civics topic for Scholastic News. We cover presidential elections extensively in the magazines—including the candidates, the issues, and even the Electoral College! We also offer a special election website with lots of interactivity. Our Election 2016 website focused on interactive timelines, maps, and games to explore the electoral process and candidates. It also included a mock election poll where kids could cast their votes for president. Many teachers get Scholastic News because of our election coverage—it’s civics in real-time!

When we cover civics—elections or otherwise—in the printed magazines, we work hard to make sure the formats and layouts are as engaging as possible. For example, for Constitution Day one recent year (That’s September 17, people!) we listed the 5 things kids need to know about the Constitution. The information was presented in short, fun digestible bits as opposed to pages of running text.

Giving kids a voice—and letting them know they have one—is perhaps the most important part of our everyday civics mission.We regularly publish debates that get kids thinking critically about news and civics. Here’s a debate about whether voting should be required by law. Kids love to debate these issues in the classroom and vote online in our polls.

We also often run features about kids doing civics-minded projects, like working to get state and local laws passed and helping people in need.

Today, civics goes beyond lessons about our government and the importance of an active citizenry. Media Literacy is obviously also a hot topic. Our recent cover story on fake news was a huge hit. We included a fake news story—about a class adopting a lion!—in our article designed to help teach kids how to spot a fake. It was really fun, even if some kids may have been disappointed to learn that there will be no pet lion in their future.

We also think it’s vital to explain key moments in American history, especially times Americans courageously stepped up to make our nation a more just place. For example, we regularly cover the struggle for civil rights. A recent story featured Ayanna Najuma. In 1958, seven-year-old Ayanna and her friends staged a sit in at a segregated lunch counter in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Their heroic efforts helped end segregation in Oklahoma City.

Many kids are still working to make America a better, more inclusive place in ways big and small. Last year, we featured at story about a fifth-grade girl in California who befriended a boy who had recently moved there from Mexico. He was sitting alone at lunch, in class, and at recess. He didn’t speak English so making friends was hard. She learned some Spanish and wrote him a note. He hugged her. They’re now best friends.

As you can see, civics is a big part of Scholastic News for upper elementary students. In fact, we know if we even tried to keep those topics from our readers, they’d call us on it. They want to know. It’s not right—or fair!—if they don't.

And because we know civics is so important, we created a free civics website that features articles and videos from our magazines, with supporting material from Scholastic GO! Click here to visit the site.

To read part one in this series, about teaching civics in early-grade magazines, click here.


Teaching Civics in Early-Grade Magazines

At Scholastic Classroom Magazines, we want young people to become engaged and empathetic citizens. This blog post is the first of three from the Classroom Magazines editorial team about how we tackle civics by grade level. Laine Falk is an Editorial Director for Scholastic News. She and her team create the first- and second-grade editions of Scholastic News

Civics sounds like a class you take in high school. But learning how to be a good citizen starts even before a young child ever steps into a classroom. Civics is not just about learning the three branches of government or what the city council does. It’s about learning how to be a good citizen in the family, the classroom, the neighborhood, the country, and the world.

In Scholastic’s early-grade magazines, we always start the school year with articles about friendship and school rules. How should we treat each other in our classroom and on the playground? How can we show respect to our classmates and our teacher? How do we solve conflicts, such as two children wanting to use the same crayon?

We cover these topics every year, but after the particularly contentious 2016 election, we were flooded with requests from teachers to publish even more materials about being kind. In response, we did a kindness campaign! We created even more issues and posters about kindness. (Click here to see an issue that’s part of the Scholastic News kindness campaign.) 

Kindness and respect may seem like nothing more than sweet, early-childhood topics to teach. But they are so crucial to the functioning of a healthy society. We’re not born knowing how to interact with each other respectfully; we need to be taught how. That’s why we suffuse our articles, all year long, with themes of good citizenship.

Civics instruction in early childhood also includes helping children understand basic facts about the United States. One of my favorite anecdotes about how kids view their place in the world came from a friend who visited a kindergarten class:

“How many of you think we live on Earth?” asked the teacher. All the hands shot up. “How many of you think we live on Mars?” she followed up. All the hands shot up again!

So we include maps of the United States and articles about American symbols such as the flag and the Statue of Liberty. These are concepts that can be confusing for young children, but when teachers introduce these concepts in age-appropriate ways, children gain a better understanding of their place in the world.

Our issues about civics continue throughout the year. We teach kids about veterans and the jobs they do for our country. In the early-childhood magazines, we talk to real veterans who are also moms and dads, making the topic relatable to our readers. We also teach kids about our country’s history in articles about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln for Presidents’ Day. We continue the history lessons with articles about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; kids learn that cruel things can happen in our country, but that people can stand up for their beliefs and work to make a change. We cover what it means to protest peacefully and how doing so is a responsibility of a good citizen. 

Another way that we cover civics is by keeping our eyes and hearts open to the society in which we live. We change with the times, and we strive to represent diversity, which is a great strength and beauty of our country. For example, in our Thanksgiving issues, we teach kids not only about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower crossing, but also about the Wampanoag, the people who had lived in Massachusetts for thousands of years before the Pilgrims arrived. In our second-grade magazines, we have even told several true stories from both the Pilgrim and the Wampanoag perspectives, which allows teachers to embed social-emotional learning (understanding point of view) in a history lesson.

One big goal of our team is to make kids good citizens: citizens who are knowledgeable, who participate in the society around them, and who work to make that society better. Our readers are young, but they can understand a lot. And the future belongs to them.  

It’s all about the books—or is it?

April Wathen of George W. Carver Elementary School in Lexington Park, MD was named Hero of Equitable Access by School Library Journal and Scholastic in the 2017 School Librarian of the Year Awards. Below, she shares five things you might not know about librarians today.

Not too long ago, I was out to dinner, celebrating a friend’s birthday. When someone asked me what I do for a living, I proudly shared, “I am a teacher librarian!”

The response was, “Oh! So that’s a fancy term for librarian, and you check out books to kids. Got it.”

On the flip side, in a recent conversation with author Liz Garton Scanlon, when she learned I am a Pre-K—5th grade teacher librarian at a Title I school, she said, “Oh, you get all the grades!! Lucky you—and, also, amazing you.” 

When is the last time you thought about the duties of a 21st-century librarian?

Gone are those days of simply curating and circulating books and sharing stories with children. Now, we get to do so much more.

Below are five things you might not know about librarians today:

  1. We are customer service. We have the power to positively affect many lives through our work. We pair closely with our administration, teachers, students and parents on a daily basis. We have the ability to create lifelong readers and a population who is digitally literate. We learn our customer’s needs and desires and allow them to see mirrors and windows through books. It is powerful work.

  2. We get to teach any topic, anytime. Think, just for a second, we can incorporate our American Association of School Librarian (AASL) standards into just about any topic. Feeling more New Generation Science this quarter? Go for it! Feeling more math-centered for the quarter? Do it! Our standards fit any topic. There is no limit to the topics we can use for design, inquiry and personalized learning. We meet students where they are so that they can succeed!

  3. We get to see the same group of students grow over the years. I cannot think of a more rewarding position to be in than to watch babies cross our threshold as they join us their first years in elementary school, that timid year as a 6th or 7th grader, or high school freshman, only to see them blossom as learners, to allow them to believe in themselves and see the power of their voices. I hope this makes your heart soar as it does mine.

  4. We get to see the connection sparks fly! How often is it that a position permits a person to encourage students to “hang out” with top professionals nationwide? We are lucky to be able to connect students with local businesses to enrich the lives of students. We have the privilege of breaking down so many walls and barriers for our students, and we get to see the sparks fly when connections are made.

  5. We get to play all day! Just about the books? I don’t think so! Who would have thought, ten years ago, that the library would be called a Learning Commons? Now we have the joy of introducing students to robots, circuits, sewing, weaving, knitting, engineering, identifying problems and creating solutions, making with hundreds of students across the state in a statewide maker day.

Of course, school libraries cannot meet their maximum potential without true collaboration of classroom teachers! They are an important part of this puzzle. Teachers: we have so many skills and ideas we are itching to share. When you are stumped with that lesson, looking for a trusty sidekick, or simply looking for a resource to add a little burst of excitement to your lesson, reach out! We are here to assist you in any way you need. Remember, teamwork makes the dream work. We are in the business of making student dreams come true!


Equity through comprehensive literacy

The critical need to strategically address inequity in education increases as the diversity of learners—who have varied academic and social needs—in our schools grows.

Of course, we know that equity does not mean that we provide the same resources to every student—it means that every student gets what he or she needs to be successful. A key component of these efforts is literacy. When students are able to read, then—and only then—do they embark upon the path to becoming ready for career, college, and life.

In 2003, Bill Daggett found that the texts that most adults need to be able to read and understand (such as loan applications, newspapers and tax documents) require the ability to read and comprehend text at a relatively high Lexile level. Coupled with the strong correlation between illiteracy and drop-out rates, the findings confirmed that students’ ability to read is absolutely critical to success in life.

How can this knowledge serve as a guidepost for school leaders’ work? What are evidence-based practices that work for students? How do we ensure that all students are readers? The comprehensive literacy framework provides educators with the resources and professional development needed to support the literacy of our diverse learners.

What is comprehensive literacy?

Comprehensive Literacy is a framework that includes all the components that students need to become readers, writers, communicators, and active listeners. It normally includes:

  • Read Aloud

  • Shared Reading

  • Guided Reading

  • Independent Reading

  • Shared Writing

  • Independent Writing

Comprehensive literacy is year-round, it engages families and communities, and incorporates learning supports. The comprehensive literacy framework also works with any national or state standards. Therefore, districts with strong comprehensive frameworks will be successful even as standards change, because the framework is balanced for students.

As with any successful implementation, bringing comprehensive literacy to your school or district must be supported with clear definitions, actions, and resources. Below are strategic steps my school took to ensure my students were able to learn and thrive with a comprehensive literacy framework.

Outline Available Resources

There are resources necessary to the implementation of each component of comprehensive literacy.

For example, students must have books to read for independent reading. Therefore, teachers need a diverse classroom library to support independent reading. Classroom libraries should have a minimum of 750 books in good condition (or about 30 books per student). But beyond sheer quantity, it is critical to have a wide variety books for diverse readers with varied (and changing) interests.

After we made sure we had enough good books for our students to read, we needed to evaluate whether our classrooms were set up for independent reading. Was there ample space? Were there dividers for students who need more privacy? Were there carpets and comfy places to read? This is an in-depth look, but it is important.

Teachers and students need particular tools to become readers and writers. Our team had to complete an evaluation process for each element of comprehensive literacy. As a team, we looked at what we had and what we would need. For example, for read-aloud, we knew that teachers had access to quality trade books in our book room. Do you know what resources are in your district and school to support comprehensive literacy? Have you outlined these with your staff?

Filling the Gaps

Our school had to find a way to fill the gaps we discovered during our analysis of resources. We set priorities by determining what would help our kids read on grade level as soon as possible. We decided we needed to focus on building our classroom libraries and our leveled reading book room. Each grade level filled out a grant to get books, and we partnered with companies to get the best prices. Our leveled book room was more expensive, so we used Title I funding along with a bank donation to purchase the books.

It is important to note that our book purchases were strategic. Our literacy team pulled all of the books from the book room and found where we had gaps in levels and in genres. We looked at the diversity and relevance of the books in our book room. This allowed us to get more bang for our buck, which we all know we need to do with our funding.

Creating a Checklist

Our team created a checklist from different resources such as Ohio State University’s Literacy Collaborative Framework and the Children’s Literacy Initiative to define what makes a literacy-rich environment and to support teachers’ success. Below is an example of my school’s beliefs. Our staff used the Ohio State Framework, the Children’s Literacy Initiative Framework and our backgrounds and knowledge to create these beliefs.

A literacy-rich environment is one where:

  • Students learn by reading and exploring an abundance of text and build the love for reading

  • Students learn by listening, talking and writing about text

  • Students have access to many texts and materials including level, genre, content that encourage language and literacy development

  • Students get time to think within, beyond and about the text

  • Students are in a classroom that has the resources and structure to support daily reading, writing, speaking, and listening

To ensure comprehensive literacy comes to life for all children, we have to be strategic; it does not just happen. Districts and schools must put steps in place to support all students as they learn how to read. If students are to be career-, college- and life-ready, they must be able to read, write, speak, and listen confidently at high school levels and beyond.

Educators can mitigate the equity and achievement gap by focusing on comprehensive literacy. If your school or district plans to implement a comprehensive literacy framework, remember that you (and ultimately, your students) will be successful if you have a strategy that helps you assess what you have and what you need, and a process for putting it all in place.


School librarians support teaching and learning

Jan Wilson of Brookwood High School in Snellville, GA was named Hero of Collaboration by School Library Journal and Scholastic in the 2017 School Librarian of the Year Awards. Below, she shares her thoughts on redefining the role of school librarians.

If the teachers and administrators at your school were asked to list your professional responsibilities and daily tasks, how would they respond?

How would your students describe what’s happening in your space? Would they say that you check out books? Laminate? Straighten the shelves? Store equipment? If you and your school library are viewed in a limited role, there’s only one person who can change that—you!  

When I interviewed at Brookwood High School in Snellville, GA in 2010, the principal described what she expected of a media specialist and media program: to support teaching and learning. I’ll never forget her five-word reply.

I feel passionate about this mission, because there are countless ways we can fulfill this expectation: we design lessons, teach classes, provide staff development, promote reading, and build a relevant collection. Our school libraries must provide a variety of spaces, furniture, equipment and staff to support the needs of our students so they can explore, evaluate, share and create. 

Several years ago, my district media director expressed the importance of not getting caught behind the circulation desk or shelving books. Without a clerk at my school, this does happen occasionally, but it’s not the image we should consistently project to our patrons and stakeholders.

With our areas of expertise, school librarians need to be circulating the floor—not circulating books—to assist students and teachers. In the past few years, it has become more important than ever to positively market our roles and school media programs. There are many people, inside and outside the field of education, who do not understand what we do. When thinking about our profession, they visit a past memory of their time in a school library...usually decades ago! Our profession seems to be caught in a time warp, focused on the idea that we are merely managers of materials. But we can work to change that perception! 

Collaboration has allowed me to change the way that I am viewed by both my teaching staff and my students. Every year, my co-media specialist and I meet with new teachers during pre-planning, and again during the first month of school. We meet with brand-new teachers and with veteran teachers who are new to Brookwood High School. During this meeting, we explain what to expect from our program and emphasize that we are here to support and supplement their instruction.

Remember, collaboration doesn’t have to be formal. I sit with teachers at lunch, school functions, sporting events and fine arts performances. I want my teachers to know that I am their instructional partner and a resource for their curriculum. Sitting with them at a basketball game can lead to conversations about what’s going on in the classroom. I strongly believe that connecting with staff outside of the school day leads to increased interaction during the school day.  

As you reflect on your professional role, I urge you to make changes if you are stuck in a traditional role. Having a high level of collaboration among all stakeholders creates a culture of success. Your school library should provide opportunities for the diversity of all students. You can do this!


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