Notes from the Field
School Library Monthly/Volume XXVIII, Number 5/February 2012
Reading Workshop: The School Librarian's Role
by Kym Kramer
Kym Kramer is a student inquiry specialist for MSD Pike Township in Indianapolis district and an adjunct instructor in the school library program at IU-Bloomington. She also supervises MLS student teachers. She taught 2nd and 3rd grades for six years, and was a K-5 school librarian for ten years before moving to her current district role. Email: KKramer@pike.k12.in.us
Reading workshop (also referred to as reader's workshop) has a natural link to school libraries and school librarians, yet many of the most respected experts on the subject do not mention this connection. It is not that these acknowledged reading experts do not think books are important. Absolutely not! Each centers his/her reading curriculum design and suggestions on the importance of having students read authentic literature and matching the right book to the right reader. It is a READING workshop, after all. So, it is up to the school librarian to help teachers and others see and understand the role of the school librarian and the library in establishing and making the idea of reading workshop work.
Workshop Approach Defined
Reading instruction often has teachers on either side of the great debate: teach reading using one of the scripted basal programs with an emphasis on phonics instruction, or teach children to read using literature and the strategies that real readers use—including phonemic awareness. Reading workshop is not a commercial program, but rather a research-based curriculum that uses self-selected literature as a cornerstone. It also includes daily modeling and instruction on the strategies readers use, and heavy use of formative assessment to guide students as the strategies are applied (Calkins 2001; Serafini 2001).
Reading workshop is not the latest fad. The seminal work by Lucy McCormick Calkins, The Art of Teaching Reading, was published in 2001. Calkins is considered by many to be a guru in the field of reading curriculum design and instruction methodologies. The components of this reading curriculum are based on the research of best practice over decades (Calkins 2001, 42).
Within the context of a broader literacy curriculum, Calkins defines reading workshop as a series of reading instruction components that take approximately one hour each class day to complete. Although the order of activities may vary, the daily reading workshop time includes a mini-lesson on a reading strategy, independent reading time, and conferring and coaching time with the teacher. Additionally, the teacher routinely targets small groups of readers who need similar support with specific strategies or guided reading lessons (Calkins 2001, 43-44).
In the same year, Frank Serafini published his own work entitled The Reading Workshop: Creating Space for Readers. His definition of reading workshop runs parallel to Calkins and includes a multi-page description of what this "single block of time dedicated to the exploration of literature and the development of children’s reading processes" looks like (Serafini 2001, 1-5). Both authors insist that although an outside observer might mistake the work children are doing as chaotic, there is actually a symphony of events taking place that foster children’s independence and responsibility toward growth as readers. There is a daily scaffold of predictable reading events students rely upon. Equally important are the teacher's daily interactions with individual readers that help shape the teacher’s instructional decisions for them. Strategy lessons are planned based on point-of-need interactions. Suggestions for future book choices come on the heels of conversations about current book choices. Group read alouds are chosen for their ability to inspire creative turns-of-phrase and to paint vivid mental pictures that transport readers into other worlds.
Curiously, if one reads just the final three lines of the previous paragraph, it is easy to identify the role of the school librarian. After all, who intimately knows books with savory language and striking imagery? Who is always able to tell readers, "If you liked this, then you will surely want to read that" while handing a student the latest book? And who, due to sheer necessity, is able to teach the latest information or technology skill when a teacher or student needs it? The school librarian!
Natural Connections for School Librarians
The obvious fit into reading workshop is the selection of high-quality literature for classroom libraries. This absolutely does not mean school librarians should be asked or should offer the school library budget as a sacrifice for a classroom library. A school librarian can, however, share his/her expertise in book selection. Most classroom teachers have not had extensive training to select books and often choose directly from catalogs or select and use familiar books, series, and authors as a known commodity. Helping teachers and administrators use collection development tools to design vibrant and diverse collections and showing how to make budgets stretch, while meeting classroom needs, is a perfect fit.
A related niche when there are classroom library books involves reading the books and helping teachers figure out levels for the text. About one-third of a classroom library should be leveled (Calkins 2001, 119). As readers advance, the text they select should reflect increasing complexity and maturity of theme, style, format, and vocabulary. This type of leveling does not rely on Lexile text scores that are merely for word frequency and sentence length (Frequently Asked Questions 2010). Including the librarian in this task creates a symbiotic relationship. School librarians will be better able to match readers to just-right books when they visit the school library, and classroom teachers will gain a wealth of expertise for the ongoing task of maintaining and knowing their classroom collections. (NOTE: School libraries should not be leveled.)
Because school librarians keep up with newly published children and young adult literature, familiarity with selections that are well-suited for read alouds or that model particular reading strategies will be also be beneficial. School librarians can match the perfect pieces of literature to the reading strategies teachers need to model by becoming versed in those strategies. Embedding the strategies into information literacy lessons is another natural fit.
The evolution and acceptance of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in over forty states creates the next intersection for school librarians. The CCSS insists on a shift from a 60% fiction vs. 40% informational text ratio in the primary grade levels to the use of 70% informational text by grade 12 (Indiana State Department 2010). A core tenet of a curriculum using reading workshop is matching each child to a just-right book. A librarian’s selection skills and knowledge of nonfiction may outpace a teacher’s. Helping the teachers find compelling, well-written informational text such as memoirs, biographies, or books on complex issues can fill a huge gap for the teachers.
Finally, when it comes to just-in-time teaching, school librarians undoubtedly hold the trump card during the transition to more and more digital reading options. Not only will school librarians be able to help provide the physical resources such as eReaders and eBooks to participants in reading workshop, school librarians are often on the cutting edge of emerging technology. A partnership can develop between teachers and school librarians as they begin identifying and understanding the types of reading skills and strategies children need for the digital interface.
Even without being explicitly included in the reading workshop literature, school librarians are undoubtedly a natural fit!
Calkins, Lucy McCormick. The Art of Teaching Reading. Addison-Wesley, 2001.
"Frequently Asked Questions." The Lexile© Framework for Reading. 2010. http://www.lexile.com (accessed November 15, 2011.)
Indiana Department of Education. "Major Shift #1: An Increased Emphasis on Informational Text." Common Core State Standards Initiative: Preparing America’s Students for College & Career. 2010. http://www.doe.in.gov/ (accessed November 16, 2011).
Serafini, Frank. The Reading Workshop: Creating Space for Readers. Heinemann, 2001.
Essential Reads for RW
See "ER: Essential Reads" in this issue of SLM, page 29, for more reading suggestions related to Reading Workshop. Or, download the page and share with others (http://www.schoollibrarymonthly.com/pdf/ERdetail.pdf).