Education for the 21st century has evolved in many ways, not the least of which relates to how we teach literacy. While reading is still a critical literacy, students now must be well-versed in digital and information literacy, and all literacies must be taught across all content areas.
Additionally, the Common Core Curriculum Standards emphasize that schools must graduate students who are college and career ready, which means preparing students with more than just content area knowledge. High school graduates must know how to effectively access and analyze information, and ethically synthesize it to create anything from a well-written research paper to a tech-infused presentation.
In many school districts there is one person who has the expertise and training to bridge the gap between content knowledge and the various literacy skills needed to succeed. Sadly, there are still many schools lacking a full-time certified librarian, a loss often resulting from budget cuts or a lack of vision, despite many studies correlating an increase in reading and test scores with a thriving library program.
Literacy and Reading Support
School librarians match readers, reluctant as they might be, with books that fit their reading level and spark their interest. One well-chosen book can make the difference between life-long readers and nonreaders. Parents and teachers at Crossroads North Middle School seek out librarian Kim Zito for help with students who lack enthusiasm about reading.
Librarians also nourish students who have a passion for reading. At Crossroads, language arts teachers partner with the librarians for book tastings, in which students sample a variety of books to create lists of those they plan to read. Teachers and librarians create book trailers using animoto, or use QR codes to link to existing book trailers. Teachers schedule time into the library for book talks in a variety of genres and themes.
In the broader community, the school librarians partner with South Brunswick Public Library to share South
Brunswick Reads, a community-wide program that brings together all who enjoy books. Recent themes have included Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead and titles have included The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. All of these activities provide the framework of reading that permits the content area study to be understood.
School librarians take the lead in ensuring that students are critical evaluators of information. Those who think students can “just Google it”, forget that the information found on the Internet may as likely to be written by another student as by an expert. This month at Crossroads North, 7th grade classes are scheduled to utilize the library to learn to recognize techniques used by media to create bias.
Crossroads Librarians Zito and Rita Nannini collaborated with middle school teachers and supervisors to create an inquiry and research process, now being adopted uniformly by students in grades 3-12. Library lessons ensure that students develop a common model that allows students to explore topics and develop their own questions to research. This is the critical thinking students need for success.
Librarians also ensure that students use information ethically, teaching them to give proper credit for their sources. In schools without librarians, who provides the guidance in these areas? Prominent public instances of plagiarism highlight the need for leadership in graduating students with this ethic and awareness.
The prominence of personal electronic devices and social media has created a need to develop good digital citizenship in our students. Digital literacy includes understanding what one’s online reputation, or “digital footprint”, looks like and how it impacts others’ perceptions. For 8th graders at Crossroads North, Ms. Zito brings focus to the issue of digital literacy. In her lessons, she asks important questions such as what will colleges and employers see when they search names of applicants?
In June 2016, a partnership between South Brunswick librarians, Joyce Valenza, Professor of Library and Information Science at Rutgers, and the New Jersey Association of School Librarians culminated in the Library Lit Unconference held at Crossroads North, a celebration and exploration of literacy in all its forms. School and public librarians from 3 states attended, but more importantly, teachers and administrator partners joined to discuss and share ideas to improve literacy.
Literacy Partners for the 21st Century
Teachers in the content areas are experts in their subjects. Content knowledge is critical, but only part of the equation. School librarians provide the balance necessary for lifelong learning and preparation for a rapidly changing world. In partnerships with teachers, librarians teach lessons that provide students with the overarching critical thinking and skills needed to be successful, independent and ethical researchers, and accomplished and thoughtful readers across all subject areas.
South Brunswick students are fortunate to have a robust, articulated library program supporting them throughout their education, and school librarians in South Brunswick would wish the same for all students throughout the state. Equity of access to a certified school librarian and a well-stocked library should be of concern to all in a state that hopes to maintain a great tradition of excellence in education.
Kim Zito is a Library Media Specialist at Crossroads North Middle School in South Brunswick.