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. #NoSweatLibrary(1) During 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.

(2) 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.)

(3) 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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Educators Need to Know About This “Invisible” Disability

Educators Need to Know About This "Invisible" Disability - The Americans with Disabilities Act considers Multiple Chemical Sensitivity a disability. School Librarians and teachers who daily interact with students who suffer from this "invisible" condition may be surprised how dangerous your perfumes and air fresheners can be. #NoSweatLibrarySometimes it’s important to talk about issues larger than our collection and lessons, especially if they impact the students we work with. That said, I need to make you aware of an “invisible” disability that is all too prevalent today. That disability is called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.

Lest you think I’m referring to some extreme hypochondriac’s wild fantasy, let me assure you that MCS is hardly a rare condition. More than 10 million Americans suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity. That’s greater than the population of 41 individual U.S. states!


The Federal government addresses Multiple Chemical Sensitivity in various departmental guidelines. Bennie Howard, Acting Director of the Office of Disability Policy at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C. states that, under the Fair Housing Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, HUD considers multiple chemical sensitivity to be a disability.

The Center for Disease Control, another Federal agency, implemented a new Indoor Environmental Quality Policy in June 2009 for all its facilities. It addresses the issue of MCS as follows:

Only green cleaning products shall be specified and used within CDC facilities and leased spaces unless otherwise approved by the Office of Health and Safety. [Under Definitions, Green Cleaning Products are “Janitorial cleaning products that are biodegradable, of low toxicity, fragrance-free, and otherwise less hazardous to human health or the environment.”]

Building Occupants
1. Non-Permissible Products
Scented or fragranced products are prohibited at all times in all interior space owned, rented, or leased by CDC. This includes the use of:

  • Incense, candles, or reed diffusers
  • Fragrance-emitting devices of any kind
  • Wall-mounted devices, similar to fragrance-emitting devices, that operate automatically or by pushing a button to dispense deodorizers or disinfectants
  • Potpourri
  • Plug-in or spray air fresheners
  • Urinal or toilet blocks
  • Other fragranced deodorizer/re-odorizer products

Personal care products (e.g. colognes, perfumes, essential oils, scented skin and hair products) should not be applied at or near actual workstations, restrooms, or anywhere in CDC owned or leased buildings.

Students Need Fragrance Free School Libraries & Classrooms - Chemical sensitivity is a growing concern in schools, as more children & teens exhibit asthma and allergic reactions to fragrances. We can guarantee an optimum learning environment for our students by eliminating fragrances & other pervasive chemicals in our school libraries and classrooms. #NoSweatLibraryIn addition, CDC encourages employees to be as fragrance-free as possible when they arrive in the workplace. Fragrance is not appropriate for a professional work environment, and the use of some products with fragrance may be detrimental to the health of workers with chemical sensitivities, allergies, asthma, and chronic headaches/migraines.

Employees should avoid using scented detergents and fabric softeners on clothes worn to the office. Many fragrance-free personal care and laundry products are easily available and provide safer alternatives.

Still not convinced? Dr. Anne Steinemann, formerly a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Public Affairs at the University of Washington, has recently published important research documenting the presence of a large number of toxic chemicals in widely used fragranced products, including detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, air fresheners, disinfectants, cleaning products, shampoos, and other household and personal-care products.


The topic of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities is important to me, because I have this “invisible” disability. I’m especially sensitive to fragrances and it’s amazing how frequently I am unable to enjoy my life in such basic and essential areas as employment, education, and securing goods and services. Decision makers are not the only ones unaware of barriers to people with a chemical and environmental disability, so I feel compelled to make the rest of you aware of how your inadvertent choices can have a significant negative impact on those around you.

If exposed to fragrances, I experience, progressively, a burning in my mouth ⇒ shooting pains through my head increased histamine activity in my eyes, nose and throat ⇒ difficulty in breathing due to closure of my throat ⇒ coughing ⇒ heaving in my lungs ⇒ loss of my voice ⇒ disorientation and dizziness ⇒ inability to think. After 20 minutes of strong continuous exposure, I pass out…as in unconscious. Even brief exposure to fragrances requires nearly an hour of recovery, and longer exposure can require up to a full day. You can only imagine what this does to my brain and thinking processes!

Since fragrances permeate people’s personal hygiene (soaps, shampoos, deodorants, makeup, hair spray, and laundry products), it is difficult to avoid them. The accumulation of smells from your products induces a deadening of your senses, promoting the overuse of perfumes and colognes, which is even more perilous for an MCS sufferer. Needless to say, I am assaulted nearly everywhere I go, and because I must often avoid or remove myself from groups of people, those unaware of my condition consider me antisocial, snobbish, or weird. I can handle it—I’m an adult. But, on behalf of children everywhere, I caution those of you who regularly interact with them.


baby with gas mask

Children are especially sensitive to chemical and environmental factors, and even parents may be unaware of their child’s vulnerability. While asthmatic attacks are very visible, your fragrances can also cause confused, erratic thinking and lethargy in a child with whom you are in close proximity, or alternately cause heightened hypersensitivity to the point of attention-deficit and hyperactivity. I have personally seen positive changes in the personality, behavior, and learning of children removed from a “toxic” adult or classroom.

Here is a comment about the mental effects of fragrances from a formerly bright and creative young woman, who now suffers from MCS:

Spelling is hard; numbers are hard. I have dyslexia sometimes now. I always check and double check. I would write an envelope, and it would be returned because I mixed up my numbers. I never had a problem with numbers before. I did calculus and differential equations. If somebody asks me numbers or to spell something, it’s really hard. (J. Duncan from Chemical Sensitivity Foundation video)

If you regularly work with children, please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or after shaves, and minimize the mixture of fragranced products you use, perhaps buying some unscented ones.

If children will be in your classroom or library for extended periods of time, please abstain from using scented candles or room deodorizers.

From the Chemical Sensitivity Foundation, these powerful videos show the symptoms of two different MCS sufferers: inability to swallow or catch breath, progressive hoarseness of voice, spasms and seizures.

An 8-minute trailer previewing scenes from the video Fragrance Free Workplace
Watch the full 53-minute Fragrance Free Workplaces video on YouTube

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