WG: Can you tell What’s Good? readers a little bit about your experiences working with and supporting educators who work with struggling readers?
Barb: I have been interested in supporting struggling readers since I was a high school English teacher and then a high school librarian. I focused my efforts as a high school librarian in teaching students to think, to read with meaning, and to be independent readers and learners. I am so thankful for all those years of direct contact with students, because those experiences frame all my decisions as an administrator and now a library educator.
When I was Director of School Library Services in New York City, I tried to support librarians working with struggling readers by addressing three main issues – access, interest, and skills. Of course, the access issue is probably a major reason why students struggle. If students have had no access to reading materials in the home, then they have not had the same exposure to reading and books as other students. Libraries can fill that gap through robust collections and engaging library instructional programs. We offered regular professional development sessions for our librarians to help them develop the types of collections and the instructional services that targeted the needs of their students.
We were fortunate in New York City that some foundations and businesses recognized our students’ need for greater access to good school libraries and great books. The Heart of America Foundation worked with Capitol One and Target to fund a number of school library renovation grants. These makeovers included books for the library collection and books for the students to take home for their personal libraries. I will never forget one young elementary school girl who clutched her new books to her chest, looked me in the eye, and said, “For me?”
Interest is also critical for struggling readers. We have tried several programs in NYC to help librarians motivate students to read. For several years, our Office of Library Services has offered mini-grants to school libraries around reading. The mini-grants have enabled librarians to build their collections around teen-to-tween issues, nonfiction, teen fiction, and curriculum project ideas. Our Office developed a New Yorkers Read grant that focused on well-written nonfiction books and the formation of book clubs so that students could talk about the ideas in the books. Through the mini-grants, we tried to help our libraries offer up-to-date books on topics that students loved to read about. We wanted our students to be able to have choices about what they wanted to read.
Finally, we provided a lot of professional development and curriculum support for librarians to address the skill gaps of struggling readers. Our Information Fluency Continuum was designed to lay out the literacy, critical thinking, technology, and information skills that students need to gather meaning from what they read.