Wednesday, January 16, 2013

School Libraries and the Reading-Writing Connection

Recently, a request to sign this White House petition came into my email inbox.  I signed it, although I am not sure it will go any further than the request last year for mandating school libraries at the federal level. The 2012 petition received enough support to gain a response from the White House, but the response focused on literacy in general, and did not address specific issues regarding the connection between literacy achievement and school libraries.

This fall, a very exciting research study on the impact of school libraries in the state of Pennsylvania was released. The research, conducted by the Education Law Center, the Health Sciences Library Consortium, and the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, looked at the 2010-2011 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests in Reading and Writing grades 3-11. Specifically:

"The report examined the 2010-­‐11 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests in Reading and Writing for students in grades three through 11, and tracked outcomes for students based on five factors: staffing, collections, digital resources and technology infrastructure, library access, and funding.

Overall, the greatest impact on student test scores was seen from having a full-­‐time, certified librarian.
  • Students who have access to a full-­‐time, certified librarian scored higher on the PSSA Reading Test than those students who do not have such access. This finding is true for all students, regardless of their socio-­‐economic, racial/ethnic, and/or disability status.
  • For several student groups that tend to experience achievement gaps—economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, Black, and those with IEPS (Individualized Education Programs)— Reading and Writing results are markedly better when those student attend a school with a librarian and library support staff, according to the research. In fact, they benefit more proportionally than the general student population."
As a nation, we have focused on isolated reading instruction far too much over the past decade, and ignored what we know about the reading-writing connection and the valuable suggestions offered in the National Commission on Writing's 2003 report "The Neglected R: The Need for a Writing Revolution" The report advocates for many changes in how we approach writing instruction in Prek-12 schools, most of which have been ignored. In the upper grades, the report suggests "half the students" and "twice the time" in class for effective and meaningful writing instruction. Certainly, educators and literacy experts have long been aware of the reading-writing connection and the ways in which reading impacts writing and in turn writing impacts reading. Preschoolers often "encode" with drawings and attempts at forming letters and words before they start to "decode" words on the page. But writing takes time, and thoughtful and effective writing instruction takes place in the context of using trade books and other print and digital texts as mentor texts for student writing. This is yet another reason why the quantitative evidence provided by the Pennsylvania report, linking school libraries with success in reading and writing, is so valuable. Perhaps it can influence policy.

Yesterday, Deval Patrick announced a new vision for public funding of education in the state of Massachusetts, where I work as a teacher educator. There are many good ideas in this proposal  although I have not yet seen the details. I do very much hope that school libraries become a part of the discussion.

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