Reading Comprehension at the Core of the Library Program

Just as the mission of the library program evolves from the school’s mission, the goals of school librarians’ curriculum and teaching evolves from the needs of administrators and classroom teachers. In the 21st-century, these needs are framed by standards such as Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (http://www.corestandards.org/).

School librarians also have the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Standards for the 21st-Century Learner that serves as a guide for information literacy standards that correlate easily to the CCSS. This correlation is established through an indicators Crosswalk organized by content area and grade level, found on the AASL website (http://www.ala.org/aasl/guidelinesandstandards/commoncorecrosswalk). Another source for standards can be found on the Texas Learning 4Life website. The state of Texas has not adopted the CCSS, so has created a matrix to show the alignment between the AASL Standards and the Texas English Language Arts and Reading standards (http://teksalign.pbworks.com).

The task of aligning the library program with standards initiatives is essential work for 21st-century school librarians. Using this context, how can school librarians best position their work at the core of the academic program?

READING COMPREHENSION INSTRUCTION

Even in the 21st Century when transliterate readers are spending more and more time reading electronic texts and engaged in multiple literacies, reading continues to be ranked by many as the number one skill. In March 2012, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development dedicated their professional journal, Educational Leadership, to the topic of reading: “Reading: The Core Skill.” As oft-quoted Jacques Barzum wrote, “No subject of study is more important than reading.… All other intellectual powers depend on it” (Schmoker 2006). There seems to be only one consensus in the education field; reading is THE foundational skill for learning.

Before students can effectively use information, they must be able to comprehend what they are reading, viewing, and hearing. If this is accurate, why is the school librarian’s role in reading so often described in terms of reading “promotion” or literature “appreciation” rather than reading “instruction”?

Correlational research in the field of school librarianship has repeatedly supported the supposition that school library programs make a positive impact on student achievement in the area of reading/language arts (Library Research Service 2012). “Research on school librarians and their association with students’ test scores is remarkably consistent in its findings: regardless of how rich or poor a community is, students tend to perform better on reading tests where, and when, their library programs are in the hands of endorsed librarians” (Lance and Hofshire 2012, 9).

FURTHER EVIDENCE FOR BEST PRACTICE

The “Position Statement on the School Librarian’s Role in Reading” notes, “School librarians partner with classroom teachers, specialists and other literacy colleagues to make decisions about reading initiatives and reading comprehension instruction, and to develop all learners’ curiosity in, and intellectual access to, appropriate resources in all formats and media” (AASL 2009). Teaching for “intellectual access” is more than developing appreciation for literature and providing physical access to resources. This responsibility far exceeds expectations for library programs as reading motivators and literacy promoters.

Figure 1 shows that reading comprehension strategies found in language arts standards are aligned with AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.

In addition, the manner in which school librarians teach these processes is also suggested by research. Kachel et al. (2011) summarized the research findings of the School Library Impact Studies (Library Research Service 2012) and identified a positive correlation between classroom-library collaboration for instruction and increased student achievement in fifteen out of the twenty-one studies they reviewed. Combined with the research on the school librarian’s positive impact on student achievement in reading, school librarians have research-based evidence to back up their efforts that they make a measurable difference in learning outcomes when they coteach reading comprehension strategies.

The potential benefits for learners and for educators are greater through coteaching. When educators coteach, they develop shared vocabulary, procedures, and processes that support student success. Coteaching between a classroom teacher and a school librarian provides opportunities to collaboratively model and monitor strategies. It means joint responsibility for formative assessments that guide interventions and future instruction. Coteaching can be especially important when new initiatives such as the CCSS are being phased into curriculum and teaching practices. Educators, working together, can clarify new standards and use terms and processes consistently while giving students multiple opportunities in the classroom and in the library to reach mastery.

THE COMMON CORE AND SCHOOL LIBRARIANS

Some have described the pedagogical changes that should result from a movement to the CCSS as moving from a teacher-centered oral education with visual and text-based support (meaning the teacher is doing the text analysis) to a text-based, writer-centered education. This text-based approach, with oral and visual support, requires that learners independently apply strategies to determine how authors position readers to draw conclusions from texts. This is what school librarians have always aspired to do—help learners become independent, effective, and critical users of ideas and information.

The CCSS initiative calls for using literary nonfiction and informational texts in content areas as well as in English language arts. The College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards, cited in the CCSS, use terms associated with reading comprehension and AASL standards indicators.

How can school librarians respond? Rather than attempting to get colleagues to see how school librarians contribute to student learning in terms of “information literacy skills,” AASL standards indicators can be aligned with reading comprehension strategies and CCSS or other state standards in order to demonstrate how learning through the school library program makes a positive impact on student achievement on “their” terms. The bolded words in Figure 2 are points of connection where school librarians can capitalize.Comprehending CCSS vocabulary is critical. Standards and references related to fiction, literary nonfiction, and informational texts are found throughout the CCSS. Traditional library organization supports students and educators in identifying fiction texts. Literary nonfiction, however, presents challenges in the physical space of the Dewey-organized library. Although the term is not used consistently throughout the CCSS, literary nonfiction first gained traction with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Reading Framework (U.S. Department of Education 2009). In the NAEP framework, “literary nonfiction” refers to essays, speeches, autobiographies, and biographies. Even though these texts are informational in content, readers can interact with the narrative style of these genres in ways more closely akin to fiction. In the NAEP’s framework, informational texts are divided into three broad categories: exposition, argumentation and persuasion, and procedural texts that include step-by-step instructions such as science lab directions. These categorizations are found throughout the CCSS. Understanding these terms and being able to identify and teach reading comprehension strategies with these texts in print and online are essential for school librarians as they coteach with colleagues or integrate reading comprehension strategies into their stand-alone library storytimes and lessons.

Fig. 2: Selected College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language Arts in K-5 and 6-12 Cited in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

ReadingKey Ideas and Details
1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text [determining main ideas] and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
Craft and Structure
6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text [draw inferences].
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take [synthesize].
Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity
10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently (CCSS 10, 35).
WritingResearch to Build and Present Knowledge
7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research (CCSS 18, 63).
Speaking and ListeningComprehension and Collaboration
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas
5. Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations. (CCSS 22, 48).
Excerpted from the Common Core State Standards (2010). Available for download at http://corestandards.org.


CORE READING STRATEGIES

When readers encounter comprehension problems, regardless of text type, these seven strategies can help them gain or regain comprehension: activating or building background knowledge; using sensory images including visualization; questioning before, during, and after reading; making predictions and drawing inferences; determining main ideas; using “fix-up options” to regain comprehension; and synthesizing. Through direct instruction using think-alouds, educators teach reading comprehension strategies so that developing readers learn to apply them as needed in various combinations in their independent interactions with texts (Allen 2008; Keene and Zimmermann 2007; Moreillon 2007a, 2012b). With practice, these strategies become skills that readers use without conscious effort.

School librarians can integrate comprehension strategies through close reading as part of library instruction. Close reading requires modeling with a small chunk of text and investigating how the writer used words or images to lead readers to draw conclusions. For example, when school librarians teach notemaking with a text sample, they use think-alouds in which they share their thought processes to help students learn how to determine main ideas and distinguish them from supporting details. As youth matriculate through the grades, they continue to benefit from close reading of complex texts and applying reading comprehension strategies to different genres and more complex texts.

Whether they are reading a history or science text in print or online, readers must recognize when they have lost comprehension and use strategies to regain it. They need to activate their background knowledge or build it, if they lack it, make predictions and draw inferences, ask questions, determine main ideas, and synthesize across texts. All of these processes are part of information literacy as well as reading comprehension.

DRILLING DOWN TO THE CORE

Reading and writing across the curriculum and collaborative literacy teams are central themes of the CCSS. However, most content-area teachers are not taught how to teach reading comprehension during their preservice teacher preparation programs. Many do not think teaching reading (or writing) is or should be their job. This creates a perfect opportunity for a school librarian to practice job-embedded professional development, in which educators learn together in site-based, authentic professional learning opportunities that position school librarians in a leadership role (Yukawa and Harada 2011).

In the spring of 2012, 28,619 people signed a White House petition in support of the role school librarians play in the education of the nation’s youth. In the official White House response, Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy Roberto Rodriguez used the term “reading” twice and “literacy” (suggesting reading and writing) fifteen times; the words “research,” “information,” “inquiry,” and “information literacy” did not appear in his response (Rodriguez 2012). Just as athletes “play to their strengths,” school librarians can play to their strengths as well. Repeatedly, research shows that the impact of school libraries on student achievement is most evident in the area of reading. Also, library stakeholders, government officials, and the general public already associate libraries with reading. If the question is how school librarians can propel the profession into prominence in the current educational climate, the answer is coteaching reading comprehension strategies. In a collaborative climate focused on literacy improvement, school librarians can serve as teacher leaders as states transition to the CCSS and other literacy initiatives. Carpe diem!

Further Reading

Allen, Janet. Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading 4-12. Stenhouse, 2000.; American Association of School Librarians. Position Statement on the School Librarian's Role in Reading. American Association of School Librarians, 2009. http://ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/aaslissues/positionstatements/roleinreading.cfm (accessed August 2, 2012).; American Association of School Librarians. Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. American Library Association, 2007. (Downloadable for free at: http://www.ala.org/aasl/standards).; Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS). 2010. http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards (accessed August 2, 2012).; Kachel, Debra E., et al. School Library Research Summarized: A Graduate Class Project. School of Library & Information Technologies Department, Mansfield University, 2011. http://libweb.mansfield.edu/upload/kachel/ImpactStudy.pdf (accessed August 2, 2012).; Keene, Ellin Oliver, and Susan Zimmermann. Mosaic of Thought: The Power of Comprehension Strategy Instruction. 2nd ed. Heinemann, 2007.; Lance, Keith Curry, and Linda Hofshire. "Report: A Closer Look: Change in School Library Staffing Linked to Change in CSAP Reading Performance, 2005 – 2011." Library Research Service, 2012. http://www.lrs.org/documents/closer_look/CO4_2012_Closer_Look_Report.pdf (accessed August 2, 2012).; Library Research Service. School Library Impact Studies, 2012. http://www.lrs.org/impact.php (accessed August 2, 2012).; Moreillon, Judi. Collaborative Strategies for Teaching Reading Comprehension: Maximizing Your Impact. ALA Editions, 2007.; Moreillon, Judi. Coteaching Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact. ALA Editions, 2012.; Rodriguez, Roberto. Official White House Response to "Supporting School Libraries and the Critical Role They Play" Petition. 2012. https://wwws.whitehouse.gov/petitions#!/response/supporting-school-libraries-and-critical-role-they-play (accessed August 2, 2012).; Schmoker, Mike. Results Now: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching and Learning. Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2006.; U.S. Department of Education. Reading Framework for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress. National Assessment Governing Board, 2008.; Yukawa, Joyce, and Violet H. Harada. "Authentic Learning Is Not Just for Students: It's for Librarians, Too!" School Library Monthly 27, no. 4 (January 2011): 5-8.

About the Author

Judi Moreillon, MLS, PhD, is a literacies and libraries consultant. She earned her master's in library science and her doctorate in education at the University of Arizona. Judi is a former school librarian who served at all three instructional levels. She taught preservice school librarians for twenty-one years, most recently as an associate professor. Her latest professional book for school librarians and classroom teachers, Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy, was published in 2018 by ALA Editions. Judi's homepage is http://storytrail.com; she tweets @CactusWoman and can be reached at info@storytrail.com.

MLA Citation Moreillon, Judi. "Reading Comprehension at the Core of the Library Program." School Library Monthly, 29, no. 2, November 2012. School Library Connection, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2233189.

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Entry ID: 1967518

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