For Dr. Suess’s birthday, I did three school visits this week. The schools were vastly different: two were rural districts and one was probably one of the oldest buildings in the state; the other was urban and brand-new, complete with every bell and whistle, rug and computer you could want.
Yet, three things were constant:
First, the library media specialist was a VIP in the success of the school. It was obvious that these librarians cared, not just because they brought me in to speak (though, caring enough to bring in authors is special), but because they knew all the kids AND their taste in reading.
For the second and third things in common consider this: when I visit a school, I ask two questions. While I’m waiting for everyone to get into the auditorium or room, I talk to kids–hey, that’s what I’m there for, to interact with kids. “So,” I ask, “what have you been reading lately? Or what’s your favorite book you’ve read this year?”
And I ask the librarian, “What’s your circulation like? How many books do you check out each day/week/month? (Whichever stat they want to give me.)”
From those two questions, I can predict with almost 100% accuracy school with good reading scores and those on 2nd- or 3rd-year improvement (A term from the No Child Left Behind legislation, which loosely means their test scores are way below par).
Schools with high test scores
Kids are excited to tell me about the books they’ve been reading. Across a class, there are a number of titles, most of which I recognize, but often some I haven’t read or even heard of. The librarian reports checking out at least 1 book/child/week and usually the stats are far above that. (Ex. 500 books/week for a school with 500 students.)
Schools with low test scores
Kids often give excuses for not knowing the last book they read: I don’t like reading; I don’t remember, I just took the test and then forgot it; I don’t read. When titles are mentioned, it’s the one title that the teacher is currently reading aloud. The librarian reports few check-outs, usually citing the difficulty of keeping everything shelved.
For example, I went to one middle school of 500 students. The school had no library media specialist (mistake #1); the library aide reported that sometimes they checked out 25-30 books/day, but she liked it a lot better when they only checked out 15 because it was an easier day. What? A school of 500 students and they only checked out a max of 100-150 books/week and usually less than 100. Totally crazy!
Guess what? That school was on 2nd-year school improvement and was heading for a third year, with no help in sight (WHERE are you Library Media Specialist?)
Start asking the Questions when you visit schools and report back. If a school checks out at least 1 book/child/week–are the reading scores for that school good? And the opposite, if few books are checked out, are the scores awful? It’s easy to predict the success of a school from this one crucial question: are kids engaged with reading?
Library Media Specialist and Librarians–I love you! You make such a difference in the community of a school. Great new building? Falling down around you ancient building? Doesn’t matter. Technology up to date or ancient? Doesn’t matter. Give me the oldest school around and a great librarian-and I’ll take on the world!