Best Way School Librarians Can Increase Student Reading Achievement

Best Way School Librarians Can Increase Student Reading Achievement - School Librarians can convince teachers that regularly scheduled library visits with Sustained Silent Reading will improve student reading achievement. Augment that success with these strategies & lessons. | No Sweat LibraryIn our modern globally-connected world, reading is the most essential literacy for anyone.

There are probably very few professions now where you are going to be able to make a living if you are not capable of reading and understanding instructions or rules about your business. (Steve Gardiner, Gamber-Thompson, 2019.)

So, when School Librarian listservs and Facebook groups post a question about how to promote more student reading, we jump in with dozens of suggestions. As I read, I rarely see evidence of an increase in student achievement, yet that is our most important purpose as a School Librarian! So how can a School Librarian identify the best way to increase student reading achievement?


Unfortunately, some honestly sincere suggestions may not have a significant impact on student reading achievement, because they are based on extrinsic rewards, rather than giving students the intrinsic motivation to read.

Gimmicks like food or party rewards, tokens for quantity reading, and other incentives may seem to get students excited, but I believe the results of success from such promotions are skewed. Prolific readers jump at such ploys because they know they can “win,” whereas nonreaders see no gratifying advantage to participate—the reward simply doesn’t override their reluctance to read. Not that we should cease doing it; just that we shouldn’t expect it to make a difference in reading proficiency or achievement for students.

Fancy bulletin boards and book displays also seem to excite students to read more because we’re inundated with requests from students to borrow the books shown. While these exhibits are a valuable way to boost the visibility of the school library, they still won’t increase reading proficiency because most nonreaders aren’t motivated enough to look at the titles, let alone read them.

As more schools push English Language Arts teachers to create classroom libraries, School Librarians lament the limitation of reading choices and the decrease in library circulation. The more important point is that having books in the classroom doesn’t necessarily boost student reading achievement. It depends on how a teacher implements reading activities; improperly done it can discourage reluctant readers even more, rather than make them more proficient.


The One Reading Strategy That Really Works - School Librarians impact student reading achievement when they have regularly scheduled library visits with Sustained Silent Reading. Here are 5 strategies we can implement in the library to make SSR even more valuable. | No Sweat LibraryTo make a real impact on student reading and a commensurate improvement in reading achievement, School Librarians can push for Sustained Silent Reading. There is substantial research that SSR works to improve student reading proficiency and comprehension, in spite of criticism: “When the research facts are unraveled from misinterpretations and opinion, we find that SSR is … supported by research.” (Garan & Devoogd, p336.)

No matter your feelings about standardized reading tests—state, national, or international—they are a valid indicator of reading proficiency and comprehension. At the time my middle school implemented SSR, our state reading scores were the lowest in the district, but over a 4-year period they increased by nearly 20 points. This included special populations, of which we had more than the other middle schools: highest diversity, highest poverty, highest transience. Our results astonished district administrators into pushing for SSR in all middle schools!

One major component of our approach is regularly scheduled full-period visits to the school library for Sustained Silent Reading. Each grade level chooses a certain day of the week, and they visit every other week for the entire school year. ELA teachers still provide short in-class read time, but having longer, continuous reading sessions in the library enables teachers to include more reading comprehension skills in the classroom.

Sustained Silent Reading is proven to increase student reading achievement. Here are 5 strategies that a School Librarian can implement to make it even more beneficial. | No Sweat LibraryAs the School Librarian, I implemented 5 strategies that heighten the impact of SSR. These strategies are the focus of my school library orientations, introducing them to new-to-the-school students and reviewing them with returning students.

  1. Fiction Subject Spine Labels – Krashen’s evaluation of SSR research found that having interesting books was critical for success with SSR, and we must accept that most students have a preference for the kind of stories they like to read. So, adding Fiction Subject spine labels to books makes a huge difference for student buy-in of SSR. I eventually added color-coded transparent labels over the call number label and distributed books into Subject sections to make book selection even easier.
  2. NoSweatLibrary IT IS FOR ME appIT IS FOR ME checklist – This form—and the short video I created to introduce it—helps students quickly scan a book so they can decide if it’s right for them. They take one with them to the shelves at every library visit, and ELA teachers collect them for a no-stress daily participation grade.
    Get the checklist from my FREE Librarian Resources page!
  3. The 5-Finger Test – For SSR to succeed with reluctant and/or struggling readers, their book choice must be at an appropriate reading level, but we don’t want to label books. The 5-finger test helps them: Turning to the middle of the book they read the two pages in front of them, holding up a finger for each word they come to that they don’t know. If they reach 5 fingers, the book is a bit too hard and they need to find a better (don’t say easier) book.
  4. 20-page Guide – Students only read freely a story they like, and nothing is more discouraging than requiring students to finish a book they don’t like. I tell students to allow the author to introduce the story setting and characters, so read 20 pages and if they still don’t like a book, then definitely return it and get a different one—that’s why we offer them thousands of choices in the school library!
  5. Silent Invited Book Checkout – This is the one that made the most difference! I give students plenty of time to find a good book—at least 5-7 minutes–and they return to the table for Sustained Silent Reading time. This allows students to become immersed in their book so they’re more likely to continue reading and finish it. After a while, I walk over to a pair of tables and signal students to come up for book checkout. They line up single file, still reading. When finished with that group, I invite another pair of tables for checkout, continuing until all tables are done. Just a few students at a time for checkout ensures an orderly & quiet environment and I can do 2 full classes in about 10 minutes. Typically students have about 30 minutes total for SSR.


Sometimes, I augment an ELA library visit with a short lesson to support classroom learning, which research confirms can make a difference in student reading achievement.

Indeed, having librarians take an instructional role — and do it well — has been correlated with students’ success at meeting academic standards. … [when] librarians did an “excellent” job teaching to state reading and writing standards, students in their schools were more likely to excel and less likely to score poorly on corresponding tests. (Lance & Schwarz, 2012 in Lance & Kachel, 2018.)

Rendering “do it well” and “an excellent job” demands a School Librarian know best practices of SSR in order to bridge it with ongoing classroom instruction:

…reading widely across selected literary genres, setting personal goals for completing the reading of books within a timeframe, conferring with their teacher, and completing response projects to share the books they read with others. (Garan & Devoogd, p 342.)

School Librarians can use these standards-aligned lessons to ignite student independent reading and increase reading achievement. Use with library classes or as collaborative unit supporting ELA narrative literary text. | No Sweat LibraryGiving students a glimpse into the world of books expands their appreciation for reading and the school library. That’s the hook for my 3-Lesson Reading Fiction Books Unit that supports 6g ELA study of narrative literary text. Each of the lessons incorporates one practice mentioned above:

  1. How do folktales relate to fiction Subjects? helps students identify the characteristics of different kinds of fiction stories by associating them with types of folktales they learned about in elementary school. It incites students to try out different “Subjects” of fiction they hadn’t considered before.
  2. How can I find the “best” books to read? introduces national book awards, multicultural books, and state awards & reading lists, and provides a personal Reading Record for students to track the books they read.
  3. How can I help others find a good book to read? uses the 5 elements of fiction literature and a 3×5 index card to help students create a simple book “quick-talk” that they can share with peers.

The beauty of this unit is that it can be used as a collaborative ELA lesson or by those School Librarians who are “in the rotation” with regularly scheduled library periods. It’s a perfect follow-up to the library orientation, with enriching activities that continue to promote reading.


The greatest gift a School Librarian can give students is time: plenty of time to find a good book to read, and then plenty of time to begin reading and become immersed in the story. When we provide a guide to make browsing time profitable and offer evidence that Sustained Silent Reading works, we can convince teachers that this “time” is necessary for students to improve their reading achievement. The true value of Sustained Silent Reading is expressed by teacher Steve Gardiner:

Then my students would come back from college and say things like, “Wow, I got into this engineering program and I never imagined how much I was going to have to read for it. Thank you so much for teaching me, giving me that SSR that helped me learn that I was a reader, that I could read a full book from start to finish, and that I could stick with reading projects.” They would say things like, “It’s been so valuable for me now.” Dozens and dozens of students came back and thanked me for SSR. (Gamber-Thompson, 2019.)

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Gamber-Thompson, Liana. How Sustained Silent Reading Keeps Students Curious and Engaged. EdSurge Oct 7, 2019 Accessed December 27, 2021.

Garan, Elaine & Devoogd, Glenn. (2008). The Benefits of Sustained Silent Reading: Scientific Research and Common Sense Converge. Reading Teacher – READ TEACH. 62. 336-344. Accessed December 30, 2021.

Krashen, Stephen. Non-Engagement in Sustained Silent Reading: How extensive is it? What can it teach us? Colorado Reading Council Journal 2011, vol 22: 5-10. Accessed December 28, 2021.

Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra Kachel. 2018. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Phi Delta Kappan Online. Accessed December 27, 2021.

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12 Ways a School Librarian Can Help Teachers (My Guest Post on 2 Peas & a Dog)

12 Ways a School Librarian Can Help Teachers (My Guest Post on 2 Peas & a Dog) - The expertise of a School Librarian is like pieces of a puzzle that fit together to create a picture for student success: Experienced Teacher, Instructional Partner, Information Specialist, Program Administrator, and School Leader. Here are 12 ways we can help teachers... #NoSweatLibraryI am so grateful to Kristy Avis, Canadian educator and blogger of 2 Peas and a Dog for inviting me to write a guest post about School Librarians and how we can help teachers in the classroom.

For this post, I focus on the 5 areas of expertise that help School Librarians contribute to student success:

  • Experienced Teacher
  • Instructional Partner
  • Information Specialist
  • Program Administrator
  • School Leader

Our expertise is like pieces of a puzzle that fit together to create a picture for student success!

The expertise of a School Librarian is like pieces of a puzzle that fit together to create a picture for student success!

Please support Kristy and me by reading 12 WAYS A SCHOOL LIBRARIAN CAN HELP TEACHERS.

You may also enjoy reading this article on the benefits of having a librarian in your school: The 2016 edition of Scholastic’s “School Libraries Work!”

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5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 1 Reading Literacy

5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 1 Reading Literacy - Our students need to be proficient in 5 Essential Literacies and School Librarians can integrate a Library Literacy component into every class visit. In Part 1 we look at incorporating Reading, the original literacy, into library visits. #NoSweatLibraryWhen we become a School Librarian we don’t stop being a Teacher, in fact, we take on a larger responsibility: to teach the essential Literacies that are so important in our global society. As I’ve mentioned before, our students need and deserve short, simple lessons that inculcate these multiple literacies through integration with subject area classroom activities.

Literacy is no longer just knowing how to read and write, so for every class visit to the library we need to integrate at least one literacy component with the classroom topic of study. In our complex, information-rich, culturally diverse world, students need to understand and be proficient in these Five Essential Literacies:

  1. Reading and Writing (the original literacy)
  2. Content-area Literacy (thinking specific to a discipline)
  3. Information Literacy (the library curriculum)
  4. Digital Literacy (when and how to use various technologies)
  5. Media Literacy (published works—encompasses all other literacies)

I want to address each of these literacies in a separate blog post and offer suggestions how School Librarians might incorporate each one into lessons. With this post I begin with what is still considered the most important literacy in our modern world: reading with the associated ability to write.


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) evaluates education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in ~70 countries. In their Program for International Student Assessment Report of 2003 they state:

The single most important predictor of academic success is the amount of time students spent reading, and this is a more accurate indicator than economic or social status. Time spent reading was highly correlated to success in math and science. The keys to success lie in teaching students how to read and then have them read as much as they can.

Their 2009 PISA report refines this by stating:

Having a deep understanding of reading strategies, and using those strategies, are even stronger predictors of reading performance than whether students read widely for pleasure.

Clearly the ability to read with discernment is the key to success in school, as well as the key to all other literacies. How might we, as School Librarians, make reading a key objective in our library program?


From kindergarten through high school, teachers bring students to our libraries to check out books. Those visits need to be more than just a quick in-and-out… grab a book, check it out, return to classroom. We need to help students develop a true appreciation for the value of reading.

Notice I said “appreciation for the value of reading,” not ‘a love of reading’. To love reading is a hobby, just like stamp collecting or building model planes, and we can no more teach a love of reading than we can a love of any other hobby. What we can do is expose students to a wide variety of books on many topics so some will come to love reading, and some who love crafts or sports or whatever will choose books on those topics so they can learn more, and that is the true goal: helping students see that reading brings them the information they need to be successful.

Most importantly, we must give students time to find a book they’ll want to read and then give them more time to begin reading it…to make sure it’s what they want. I begin the year with a Library Orientation for English Language Arts classes focused entirely on reading. I give students plenty of time to find a book, and then we have silent sustained reading till the end of the period (we called it DEAR Time: Drop Everything And Read).

Add Sustained Silent Reading To School Library Visits To Raise Student Achievement - The single most important predictor of academic success is the amount of time students spend reading. School Librarians can give students this "gift" by adding SSR and silent checkout during bi-weekly library visits. #NoSweatLibraryAllowing students plenty of time to choose a book and then giving them time to begin reading it allows them to become immersed in the story—they stick with it, they finish it faster, and they want to begin another book. My ELA teachers and I schedule library visits every other week for the entire school year, following the same procedure: short lesson→long book browse→longer silent reading. The biggest benefit to recurring free reading time was that our yearly State Reading Test scores moved steadily upward and remained above state averages!

Interestingly, one year we followed a district directive for ELA classes to read 5-10 minutes daily at the start of the period. Our library visits deteriorated because students became restless during long-term reading. The ELA teachers and I understood why, and when the new semester began, we went right back to DEAR time for the whole period. This convinced us how important it is to give students prolonged reading time.


3 School Library Practices to Promote Reading - Read about 3 practices I use in my middle school library to encourage students to enjoy reading and check out more books! FREE download of my IT IS FOR ME book chooser 'app' from my Librarian Resources page. #NoSweatLibraryDuring Book Browse our students use my “IT IS FOR ME” mnemonic checklist to find a book. The 6g ELA teachers require it as an exit ticket for each library visit. The 7g teachers use it at the start of the year, then intermittently as students begin using the procedure automatically. By 8th grade, returning students are proficient, so teachers focus on establishing the process with newly enrolled students, who quickly adopt it.

During silent reading we have a quiet invited checkout procedure: I begin on one side of the library and invite students at 2 or 3 tables, depending on numbers, to check out. They line up single file at the circulation desk, continue to read as the line moves up, and after I check out their book they return to their seat. When each group is done, I quietly go over and invite 2 or 3 more tables for checkout. It’s an orderly process with only 8-10 students checking out at a time, and it takes maybe 10 minutes for an entire class, less than 20 minutes for a double class. (If students talk while in line, I send them back to their tables to check out after everyone else; they rarely do it again.)

My 3rd year as School Librarian I decided to eliminate overdue fines. I wrote about this in another blog post: my reasoning is that fines discourage students from reading and collecting fines is time-consuming work for us with little benefit.

Never, ever, refuse a child the opportunity to read!


While it’s important to promote independent reading, it’s even more important for School Librarians to employ reading comprehension strategies—predicting, making connections, questioning, annotating, inferring, organizing, and summarizing—during library lessons that involve reading.

I’ve written about my love for graphic organizers. They organize critical content and students learn to identify text structures by the type of graphic organizer used: classification, compare/contrast, order/sequence, cause/effect, and problem/solution.

Graphic Organizer Multi Pack from Cult of Pedagogy on Teachers Pay Teachers. Only $6For a set of these text structure organizers
and other organizers, take a look at
Cult of Pedagogy’s Graphic Organizer MultiPack.

Summarizing is the most frequently missed type of question on standardized reading tests. It’s a strategy that students desperately need help with and we School Librarians can do that. I use the prior year’s student magazines and a guided worksheet for an introductory lesson on summarizing informational text. Join my email group to gain access to the worksheet and many other great products!

2 Reading Strategy Worksheets - Verbal-Visual and Frayer help students learn new vocabulary by making connections to prior knowledge and through visualization.Vocabulary is a common stumbling block for students when learning new content, especially some of our information literacy terminology. I often use graphic organizers to introduce new concepts, especially those that help them make connections between the new words and what they already know. Here are my two favorites:

These are just 3 types of reading strategies we can use to boost students’ comprehension of informational text. I’ve written previously about other ways to promote reading. If you haven’t read them yet, why not do it now and learn more about how you can help students develop Reading Literacy:

This is the first entry in my series of blog posts on the 5 Essential Literacies for Students. I invite readers to offer comments and suggestions about any or all of these literacies.

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