Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Learning about our families through the Family Heritage Project


By: Julia López-Robertson, University of South Carolina and Rocio Herron, Jackson Creek Elementary School

Last fall I taught a Family Dynamics course and was searching for a way to engage my undergraduate students in meaningful experiences with children and families; the course carries a community service component that is left up to the instructor to design and implement. I sought to involve my students in experiences that would help them develop strategies for authentic family and community engagement that they could later draw upon when they became classroom teachers.

I am very fortunate to be able to spend time in a local Pre-K classroom with a teacher, Rocio Herron, who willingly shares her students and families with me. Rocio has taught at Jackson Creek Elementary School since the school opened three years ago; the majority of the school population is African American (73%), followed by Latino students (13%), and 100% of the students receive free/reduced lunch.

Rocio and I have a history; she was my youngest son’s Pre-K teacher a few years ago (he is now 15). Rocio and I share similar views on teaching and learning and family engagement; we believe that children have a right to their language; children must be actively engaged in their learning; teachers must learn about their children lives outside of school in order to better teach them; and that trusting relationships with families are the cornerstone of teaching.

Family Heritage Project

I spend Friday mornings in Rocio’s classroom engaging the children in bilingual (Spanish/English) read alouds, songs, dances, and games. One Friday I mentioned to Rocio that I was teaching a course with a community service component and wondered if she had any ideas for my class. I explained the time commitment and my goals for the project and she excitedly exclaimed that she had a Family Heritage Project she was looking to do that would involve all three Pre-K classrooms.  

The purpose for the Pre-K Family Heritage project was to get to know the children and their families by engaging them in a project about their family. Rocio explained that she also wanted the families to know that they all had things to be proud of and to contribute to the school and society in general; too often our immigrant families and families of color are made to feel insignificant and that they have nothing to offer our schools or their children. Through the project, the families would investigate their heritage, family, and culture and uncover for themselves the tools they possess that can be used for helping their children learn; i.e. language, sewing, gardening.  I wanted my students to view the families as contributors of knowledge and see them through an asset-based lens where their funds of knowledge, their community-based ways of knowing (Moll, Amanti, Neff, González, 1992) are recognized as valuable instruments for school learning.  

The Family Heritage Project spanned a few weeks in the fall semester. Families were asked to come to school on three evenings; my students and I participated in all activities that took place over the three visits. The first evening was spent getting to know each other; Rocio engaged the families in a read aloud followed by a discussion, families sang songs that the children did in school, families played school games with the children and we all got to know each other. We expanded the view of ‘family heritage’ to include things that you do together as a family because we wanted to be inclusive of all families. Rocio asked them to think about things that they did together and gave the example of her spending time at the beach while in her home country of Costa Rica; she showed her beach bag and other artifacts. I shared that my family enjoyed going on road trips and explained that my artifact would be a car and a roadmap.

The second evening the families worked on creating a physical representation, an artifact, of their family and/or family heritage using supplies we had at school; paper, cereal boxes, soup cans, etc. The only rule for the artifacts was that they had to be handmade, nothing could be store bought. There was so much excitement, so many conversations and a busy hum filled the room! The third and final evening was a potluck celebration where each family shared their artifact and story with the group, the children presented a song, and we celebrated with a meal. I shared my car and road map representing our love of road trips, my students also shared their various artifacts as did all of the teachers. Artifacts were displayed on tables for all to see.  Once everyone shared, we had our meal which was the annual Thanksgiving celebration.

As I walked around, I heard laughter, families making connections with one another and sharing stories!   It was truly joyful!

What would we do different?

We were so eager for the project that we held the events in one month! We realize that having the meetings so close inhibited attendance, especially for the second meeting. The next time we do this, we will space out the meetings over a couple of months or over six weeks. 

Closing thoughts

As noted above immigrant families and families of color are often viewed through a deficit lens where what they do not posses is highlighted, for example; families do not know English or they live in a high poverty area. One of our main goals for the Family Heritage Night was for families to uncover their own riches and recognize that they indeed posses knowledge, skills, and strategies that will help their children succeed in school.  Engaging the undergraduate students helped them see this firsthand and also helped them see that family engagement is not scary. Finally, if we approach our families with love and respect and demonstrate that in everything that we do and say, our families begin to trust us and a trusting relationship with families is the foundation upon which everything is built.


Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & González, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory into practice31(2), 132-141.

About the Authors

Julia López-Robertson is a Professor of Instruction & Teacher Education at the University of South Carolina.

Rocio Herron is a Pre-K teacher Jackson Creek Elementary School.

What in the World Have you Been Doing?


By: Jeni Nix, SC School Librarian, and Rene Harris, SC Elementary School Principal

The Tale

There is a tale of a couple given a cruise as a wedding gift.  They were excited and grateful for the generous offering.  They embarked on the journey with great expectations. But once on the ship, their excitement and joy reversed mid-trip.  For most of the trip, they remained in their cabin. 

Photo by Arun Sharma on Unsplash

Near the cruise’s end, they met an elderly couple, and struck up a conversation comparing their impressions of their nautical excursions. The honeymoon couple shared how boring the trip had been, even expressing disappointment. But the elderly couple told how invigorated and engaged their experience had been, looking forward to the opportunity to travel this way again. Intrigued and perplexed by the evaluation of the honeymoon couple, they asked a series of questions. Did you go to the Deserted Island Luau party? Had you enjoyed the night of games in the Vegas lounge? Wasn’t the tropical water slide with exotic drinks at the pool bar amazing? The honeymooners looked at each other with puzzled faces. The wife spoke first and explained that they hadn’t experienced any of these events.  The husband chimed in that they were unaware that these activities were options, and questioned the cost of the happenings.  

The elderly couple now looked at each other with puzzled faces and smiled.  The wife spoke first, “There was no extra cost, these things were included in the cruise package.”  

“What in the world have you been doing!” the elderly man blurted out in confusion. 

The young couple’s embarrassment was evident. “Well, we’ve mostly been eating, sleeping, and walking along the edge of the ship.” That’s when it dawned on the seasoned pair that the honeymooners had never ventured beyond the edge, never explored the inside of the boat, or pursued all of the amenities their trip had offered. 

The Practice

As a young child, I loved to write but hated to read. I spent my entire youthful career on the edge of books, only walking among the book jackets and back covers, creating book reports and projects from a few marketing ads and summaries.  Cliff was my BFF.  It wasn’t until I was required to take the obligatory “Children’s Literature” course in grad school that I got to experience the joy and delight that an excellent book offers. 

The Secret Garden

As the instructional leader, I want to ensure that no child is left behind on the shore or in their cabin. I am honored to work with talented teachers who embrace our mission to promote reading as a pathway to success. Our explicit, overt attempts to celebrate reading as a choice versus chore have been productive and positive.  While I operate at the helm, standing in the bridge of the ship, our media center is the deck of our vessel with exponential and far-reaching impact. 

Our library is the center of our boat, helping us to enjoy a multitude of amenities propelled by its creativity and spirit.  Our book vending machine, reading lounge, Palmetto Shore amphitheater, and secret garden are all extensions of the media center and its strategies for promoting reading for enjoyment.  Icons of “what teachers are reading now” and endorsements of great reads, monthly celebrations of Terrific Readers are all portholes and pathways to the most happening place aboard our ship.  I may be the captain, but I know who is driving this rusty bucket… the Media Specialist.

Book Vending Machine

We strive to work together to create a print-rich environment where literacy is organically infused into our learning community. We strive to move away from extrinsic motivational tricks or reading tallies for counting’s sake. We model the importance of reading by being explicit about the value and joy of reading. As we cruise through our reading quest, we strive to ensure that every child enjoys the amenities along the way, so that reading is more than a rudimentary process, and becomes a lifelong pleasure. 

As my principal so eloquently painted the picture of a childhood spent on the periphery of the journey to immersing herself in a good book it reminds me of the fact that the library fills many different roles in our students’ lives. No matter what the reason for visiting, the library is a safe haven for all children. 

Reading Buddies

Before the pandemic, our students would come in daily seeking a variety of things. Some would be there because they were told to come and it was my challenge to lead them to the book that would finally make a trip to the library a treat instead of a mandate. For others, it was a place they sought out for their next adventure or to find a character or scenario that made them feel a little less alone. A place where they could see themselves between the pages and know there was someone in the world that saw what they saw or felt what they felt. That is why it’s more important now than ever before to strive for inclusive collections that equally represent all of the diversity in the students and families that we serve. 

In addition, librarians need to continue reaching out to students through social media outlets, and other platforms, to share new books and help them find the truth in the barrage of information coming at them every day. Our roles may have temporarily changed physical location but the importance and impact of the services we provide as librarians is more important than ever before. 

About the Authors

Mrs. Rene Wyatt Harris, Principal- Beech Hill Elementary School Rene has thirty-two years of teaching experience and is the principal of Beech Hill Elementary School.

Mrs. Jeni Nix, Media Specialist- Beech Hill Elementary Jeni has 25 years in education, as a teacher and a librarian in Dorchester District Two Schools. This Nationally-Board certified teacher is serving as the 2020-2021 SCASL School Librarian of the Year.

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

For the love of literacy


By: Charlene Aldrich, retired literacy instructor

I KNEW from an early age that books had an important place in life.  I was adventurous and brave with Encyclopedia Brown.  I dreamed about being a nurse with Cherry Ames.  I pondered survival instincts through The Lord of the Flies. I cried about Rascal and fell in love on The Island of the Blue Dolphins. 

I was always the one who brought every textbook home on the first day of school.  I HAD to know what we were going to learn that year.  And besides, ‘Library’ didn’t begin until the second week of school!   

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

But I soon realized that magazines were pretty great also: Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, even Popular Mechanics!  Whatever my parents had on the table became fodder for my mind.  So, maybe it wasn’t ‘books’ that were important; maybe it was just, plain reading!That made choosing a career pretty difficult – Write books? Work in a bookstore? Be a librarian? OR do research?  How does someone decide what they want to do for 40 years of his/her life?

Content Area Literacy and the Librarian

Read or write?   How about read AND write?  Isn’t that what teaching is all about?  That and having summers off? So what began in a second grade classroom morphed, over many years, into teaching Content Area Reading and Writing (CARW), first to students preparing for college courses and then to content area teachers who were required to become ‘reading and writing teachers’.  But that’s not exactly what the R2S law said; concerning teacher education, the law’s intention was for all teachers to be confident in USING reading and writing in their content area.  And who is the best resource for that?  The person in the school in charge of the books!  The librarian, aka media specialist.  

I LOVE providing reading and writing research, literacy resources, and instructional ideas for content area teachers to embrace reading and writing as valuable instructional practices.  Even better is when librarians sign up for my CARW courses.   You see, I believe that literacy is everyone’s responsibility and that collaborating across grade levels and across content areas improves the probability that literacy is possible.  

Photo by Wan San Yip on Unsplash

Librarians are in the perfect position to orchestrate this collaboration.  BUT you have to ask. They aren’t mind readers.  By becoming partners in literacy, you both can ‘do good things for students’.  HOW?

  • Parallel Reading suggestions connecting content areas
  • LMS Embedded Librarians for immediate and ongoing student access
  • Direct Instruction for efficient research

What does the number one provider of research information say about librarians? 

 “The primary purpose is to support the students, teachers, and curriculum of the school or school district. Often, teacher-librarians are qualified teachers who take academic courses for school library certification or earn a master’s degree in Library Science” (Wikipedia).

South Carolina only employs ‘teacher-librarians’ in the schools.  Yes, their duties overflow into media, but first and foremost, they are your partners.  They can connect content to reading resources; they can connect reading resources to students.  

Overall literacy proficiency is grown within the classroom; through the collaborative efforts of teachers and teacher-librarians, it overflows into students’ out-of-classroom learning experiences.  But the best indicators of overall literacy proficiency are the graduates/adults/employees/employers/parents who model lifetime learning through reading and writing.  They value the ability to apply their literacy  to listen, read, analyze, evaluate, and respond to the plethora of messages that the 24-hour media services produce.  

PS:  Summers off – the joke was on me.  I found out that improving reading, writing, and math literacy is a year-round gig.  And it was my pleasure to serve.  


Wikipedia contributors. (2020, May 18). Librarian. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:32, May 26, 2020, from  

About the Author

After 20 years of growing literacy in under-prepared college students, Charlene retired to focus on state-wide literacy initiatives such as LiD, 6-12 and her R2S approved literacy courses at College of Charleston.  She lets her life speak by empowering teachers to have the confidence and competence to implement a literacy model of instruction in any content area and at every grade level. Her best Covid-19 memory is teaching her grandson Algebra 1 via phone calls, Zoom, ztext messaging, and FaceTime.  It was online instruction at its best – synchronously and interactively.

We Need S’More Literacy from the Library!


By: Amanda Harris, South Carolina High Media Specialist

I love reading books, cataloging and shelving books, shopping for books, and placing books in readers’ hands, but as a high school media specialist, all that fun with books is only a small portion of my actual job. As a highly qualified educator who shares my literacy instruction skills with students and colleagues every day, my role goes far beyond the library stacks.

Since it’s summertime and I’m a girl who loves chocolate, indulge me for a few minutes and let me explain the library’s role in school-wide literacy instruction as an ooey, gooey, warm, melty, delicious s’more

The Graham Cracker

The foundation of a s’more is the graham cracker, providing support and structure on both sides to hold the entire concoction together. My goal as a media specialist is to provide resources and support for all content areas so that all teachers can be more effective in guiding students to content-specific literacy. Even though my district has 1:1 Chromebooks and students may think they can just Google everything for research, someone still has to teach them how to wade through their search results! One of the most important items on my to-do list in this graham cracker part of my job is to actively recruit teachers to share their classes with me. Once I have led them to realize how desperately they needed to schedule time for co-teaching (sometimes with free coffee involved in the persuasion), I make a point of threading my info literacy standards and skills over and over through every unit I teach across the curriculum. 

When I’m handing out the metaphorical graham crackers for the s’mores, I have to be intentional with teacher relationships, creative with my curriculum ideas, and even a little bit repetitive with teaching the skills to students, but without these graham crackers, the whole s’more falls apart and students lose opportunities for big-picture literacy application across the curriculum. 


My favorite part of the s’more, of course, is the chocolate, and my favorite part of being a school media specialist is definitely the fun library offerings: student book clubs over Chick-fil-a lunch boxes, faculty book clubs with grown-up conversation over breakfast snacks, author visits, makerspace crafting days, games and Legos out on the tables, and independent choice reading checkouts. These are the pieces of the school-wide curriculum puzzle that make the whole idea of literacy more enjoyable. 

Photo by Allie on Unsplash

The obvious sticking point here is that by the time students reach high school, very few of them are going to seek pleasure reading opportunities or spend their free time hanging out with a book club. How do I offer chocolate for the s’mores of students who are reluctant readers? I’m grateful to have some fantastic colleagues (not just in the English department!) who value choice reading enough to bring their students to me for independent reading checkouts. Sometimes they have target genres, sometimes they have target themes, and sometimes they want students to just pick anything that looks interesting.

During this past year, we blocked off a weekly time with some of the English 1 and 2 classes to just come into the library for a routine sustained reading period. Their classroom teacher, my fellow media specialist, and I all sat down with them on the couches and modeled reading for fun, too! (Well, that was the plan. I actually spent more of my time up out of my seat, in the stacks, helping students find their next books to read, but that was fine with me!) When we suddenly switched to distance learning, I missed all of my students, but these two classes were the ones I most desperately wished to see.

Pleasure reading and finding a book to enjoy is the chocolate in the middle of the school-wide literacy s’more, and while I do love chocolate with all my heart, seeing reluctant readers find books they like and seeing students come to the library for fun in their free time brings me more joy than an entire one-year supply of my favorite Harry & David dark chocolate truffles.

Sticky Marshmallows

Photo by Rebecca Freeman on Unsplash

Finally, I must address the sticky, fire-roasted marshmallow that holds everything together between the graham crackers. At my school, this is the part of my media specialist role that doesn’t exactly fit the typical mold, but it just makes sense. If the library is the heart of the school and the media specialists should be dabbling in teaching with every department in the building, why not have your media specialist(s) serve as writing instructional lead teachers? 

I’m on a flex schedule and my teaching calendar does fill up with research projects and other library lessons. However, because there are two of us serving as full-time media specialists, we are able to schedule time to actively help teachers with writing instruction. We conference with teachers during their planning periods, or we go to their classrooms and help with a writing lesson or student writing conferences. The best part about this role is that sitting down to brainstorm a writing assignment with a teacher gives me an easy opportunity to market the library’s resources. 

I’ll be honest: Writing can sometimes be the stickiest part of school-wide literacy. Sure, everybody can fit more reading into their classrooms, but writing? Writing takes time to assess! Writing takes time to actually do in the classroom, precious time that is also needed to teach content-specific skills! Some students just don’t want to write, and it’s just more painful for everyone involved! Yes, yes, and yes. I totally get it, especially after 10 years in the English classroom and many hours of sleep lost to essay grading, but that doesn’t mean that writing instruction can just be swept aside. Writing = thinking, and it’s a critical part of the learning process.

Photo by Josh Campbell on Unsplash

Helping teachers regularly include more quality writing in their daily classroom routine has challenged me. I have had to study and learn more about how content literacy should look different across the departments, and I have had to lead some tense meetings, but I have also been able to see the exciting success my colleagues are having. To return to the marshmallow comparison, sometimes I accidentally drop my actual literal marshmallow in the fire, so I have to toss it and try again. Sometimes I don’t leave it in the fire long enough, so I have to try again. In the big literacy picture, writing instruction is the marshmallow, and sometimes we have to toss what we did and try again. Isn’t that what drafting and revising is all about? In the end, while the marshmallow is challenging to get just right, the finished s’more just isn’t complete without it.

Are you ready to go make some s’mores yet? If you want to get started on some figurative s’mores, go ahead and email your media specialist to get started on ideas for collaboration this year. If you want literal s’mores, keep the campfire far, far away from the library books.

About the Author

Amanda has twelve years of teaching experience and is beginning her third year as a high school media specialist at Walhalla High School.

The School Librarian and You


By: Kelley Rider, South Carolina School Librarian

I believe that the library should be the heart of the school. It is usually the largest academic space in the building. The librarian is trained to meet the curricular and non-curricular literacy needs of students. The library has books, technology, and other materials that students and teachers can use and enjoy. However, sometimes the library doesn’t get used to its full potential because teachers and students don’t realize the wealth of resources that are available there. 

The school librarian can be a resource for teachers and students. The librarian is a teacher who is trained to teach, collaborate, find resources, and support literacy. I’d like to encourage any educator to reach out to their school librarian to collaborate and enhance student achievement. 

Ways teachers can collaborate with the school librarian to enhance learning in content area classrooms: 

Bounce ideas around with your librarian.

Once the AP biology teacher came into my school library. She looked like she needed someone to talk to, so I approached her and asked if she needed help. She had been teaching about cell membranes. She felt like the students had recently hit a wall. She needed to mix up the next lesson so she didn’t lose their attention.  We talked for a bit about what she had done in the past and what her learning objectives were for her students. Then, I gave her an idea to try a different approach. Together we came up with a plan to have the students divide the cell into four sections and each student had to draw and label the cell in their quadrant. Then the students had to collaborate, help each other, and rationalize to the group what he/she had drawn. The teacher just needed some inspiration to try a new strategy.

Procure resources from your librarian.

Many of the English teachers in my building require students to read a book of their choice independently for a unit of study. Each teacher’s requirement for this assignment looks a little different than the next. They will often ask if I can pull appropriate materials for this assignment for the students to browse through. As students are browsing, I often tell them about selections to help them make their final decisions. Additionally, the school librarian can share information about non-fiction materials for research, Discus databases, and technology available to students.

Plan lessons or units with your librarian.

A little over a year ago I was introduced to a teacher who had just been hired for the upcoming school year. She came by the school library to introduce herself and see what my library collection looked like so that she could prepare for the fall. I enthusiastically showed her around and sincerely told her that I would love to help to find resources or even teach lessons when appropriate in the next school year. 

A couple months went by, summer came, and then I got an email from her asking me to review a list of books she was interested in purchasing for her classroom library. She was worried that some of the novels would be too mature, and she wanted to get my opinion on how our community would react to themes in the books. These exchanges have led to this teacher and I having a great working relationship where she comes to me for help planning lessons and units. 

She wanted to embrace the teaching of Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s work which encourages teachers to allow students choice in what they read. What began with this teacher creating a more robust classroom library turned into me encouraging her to go with her gut to create a literary choice unit. The students selected a book from a teacher made list and then worked in small reading groups (lit circles) to complete assignments in class. I helped her facilitate this by helping to choose appropriate books and by teaching a couple lessons to her classes. 

The unit was such a success that she tried it again in the second semester. The instructional coach and I helped her procure books to facilitate themed lit circles. I added those new books to the library collection so that we could better track lost items.

About the Author

Kelley Rider is a third year high school librarian and former English teacher in Anderson, SC. She is Pendleton High School’s 2020 Teacher of the Year.  She serves on the Advocacy and Awards committees for the South Carolina Association of School Librarians.

Who Needs a “Media Specialist” When Google’s Got It All?


By: Betty (BT) Bouton, South Carolina Teacher-librarian

Right off the rip, I prefer the title teacher-librarian (TL). That’s what we are, and “media specialist” sounds inflatedly special. And as for whether TLs have anything to offer teachers in the world of unlimited access to almost everything, “Dang right, we do!”

Given the ongoing COVID-19 changes in instruction, I’ve divided my comments into two parts, like the vinyl 45 records that were THE medium in my youth.  

Side A (also known as the “Big Hit”): Dream Dream Dream

Side A is the big hit — what your teacher-librarian is itching to do to help embed literacy skills in your classes in the “normal” school environment. (Warning: focus on SS, science, ELA, arts, and exceptional children. Math, I need help.) TLs truly “dream” of ways we can help our colleagues plan, gather resources, teach, and evaluate, using our standards along with state curriculum standards.


Teachers need resources to deliver personalized and differentiated instruction, and Google supplies LOTS of results. Your TL is popping to be your teammate in selecting the BEST sites and sources. 

Photo by fabio on Unsplash

We will curate the open-source material; but even better, we can guide teachers and students to powerful information resources and student-friendly tools (leveled articles, translations, audio, built-in dictionaries, and citation creators) available in databases, which are not the natural go-to sources for students and many teachers. For example, Charleston County School District provides access to SC Discus and additional databases through MackinVia, and our Destiny library system allows for TLs to create resource collections (on any topic/standard) that include books, websites, and database articles — all available to teachers and students. Ask, and we will collaborate!


But even Side A has its challenges: teachers create and assign great projects, but then are disappointed with students’ underwhelming results. Again, TLs are classroom teachers’ backup when it comes to down-and-dirty teaching: collaborating in direct instruction to guide students as they form research questions, evaluate sources, process information, and synthesize their results. TLs can also help with innovative methods for students to “publish” their work. 

Photo by Nicolas Lobos on Unsplash

Some of my most productive teaching experiences recently have been in science classrooms, collaborating on DBQs. As a co-teacher in an eighth-grade science unit about travel to Mars, the classroom teacher was the “science,” and I was the “search, source, cite.” Together, we addressed the needs of a range of students: the high fliers, students with IEPs, students with English as their second language, and struggling learners. The science teacher and I together planned, delivered instruction, created the scoring rubric, and graded students’ work.


But there’s more! I’ve just begun using MakerSpace projects to support literacy, admittedly late realizing how powerful hands-on activities are in improving literacy and learning. This year I hosted Maker lunches for 6th graders, using simple, fun activities to complement content standards. In a session on electrical circuits, students watched a short BrainPop video twice: before and after I led them through directions for a pre-made activity (with their hands on the supplies and directions). Then we let it roll. The light bulbs went off literally, and also figuratively for several at-risk students: “Hey, this is what we’re doing in science!”

And the possibilities for Ozobots in HS history and MS SS, especially for interactive timelines! Here’s an elementary-level project provided by Ozobot – substitute your content and start dreaming of teaming with your TL.

Side B (also known as the “Flip Side”): Hang on Sloopy

Well, this side of the vinyl is not yet a hit. The 12 weeks of “online learning” were a cipher and challenge to me as a TL. As I try to plan for the new school year, some days I can’t even get my Side B to spin on the turntable. That chipper “song” writer for Side A has been replaced by this less confident, but still hopeful TL.

On the plus, I did district-wide read-alouds of Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart, my school’s guest author in 2019. Dan participated in one of the first sessions, trading time reading with me and talking about his next novel. But student engagement was low, as it was for most of our district-sponsored read-alouds for MS and HS.

On the minus, I struggled to find my traction for how to help content-area teachers. I created/updated a spreadsheet with online resources that supported the Quarter 4 standards for each subject/grade level; worked with some Related Arts teachers to set up Google classrooms (which they had not previously needed), and trouble-shot teachers’ and students’ technical issues. But I did not establish new and meaningful ways to support literacy. Shame on me.

Photo by Gabriel Barletta on Unsplash
Photo by Gabriel Barletta on Unsplash

But even during this summer limbo, TLs are spinning the turntable: sharing ideas about supporting literacy with new instructional models. As we teachers “hang on” to learn what instruction will look like, your school’s TL is ready to jump in to make the new model work for you and your students. With collaboration, Side B has the potential to be a chart-topping hit!

About the Author

BT has been teaching for 36 years, the last 12 as a teacher-librarian at Camp Road Middle School on James Island, SC.

In the Middle of It All


By: Cynthia Johnson, SC Media Specialist

How do the narratives shape or create our understanding of mortality? Cynthia, would you like to respond? “

I froze. 

Was it my daydreaming gaze that gave away that I had not read a page or line from Hamlet?  I never read any of the classics while matriculating through High School, where the classics were deemed an important rite of passage which could not be avoided. I managed to bob and weave through them as an active listener, a benefit in the battle with books by a self-declared non-reader. 

As I entered Spelman College, I realized that it wasn’t reading that I hated. It was the selection of text and, more specifically, the absence of my voice and my perspective within the selected texts. I am not ashamed of my lack of knowledge in classics like To Kill A Mockingbird, Hamlet, or “The Iliad.” It shaped me into a better literacy instructor and more relatable librarian, someone both students and teachers alike could seek out for authenticity in thoughts and suggestions. 

Literacy Instruction Begins With Choice 

Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

When I became a school librarian, I wanted to introduce students and adults to reading in a way to make them realize that we are all readers. We just need the right book that sparks our interest. “Reader’s choice” became my mantra for increasing students reading in and out of the classroom. I intentionally created class activities to share with teachers to show that when we provide students options, they will and can read text to master and accomplish skills they seek. 

Coffee, Cake, and a Cool Takeaway

Initially, I enticed teachers with “Coffee, Cake, and a Cool Takeaway.”  In order to share what I can offer and how Media Center resources can be used. I invited teachers and staff to come to the media center during their planning periods to enjoy coffee, juice, and cake. It didn’t hurt that I had Media Center resources set out for viewing and interaction, too. I began with content collection development, using various multimedia, public library resources, websites, and primary sources. Many teachers create their own collections; however, in a very short period of time I was able to show how I could help. 

I also shared the newest information on our state virtual library and its various databases in order to offer resources to engage students in diverse texts. Overall, I was able to sell my services and the media center resources for teachers to use as they facilitate lessons for students to master standards. 

The Roots of My Beliefs Concerning Literacy

I believe that literacy needs to be deeply rooted in personal experiences. This allows students to examine their own histories as they make choices and connections in literacy. For the past two years, I have shared this belief in my collaboration with two teams of teachers. One team was the 6th grade English Language Arts teachers. We selected books from various time periods, but each narrative was told through the lens of an African American perspective. Students were allowed to choose which book interested them and we formed student cohorts based on the books chosen by the students. Each teacher, including myself, taught one book to a cohort of students. During that time, students received literacy instruction based on the book of their choice. 

Suggesting reading materials and teaching materials are two completely different experiences; therefore, I immersed myself in weekly, if not daily, conversations with my team as we moved through our books to ensure standards were mastered and engagement was maintained. We concluded the unit by hosting author, India Hill Brown, who spoke about writing and the history of unmarked graves and cemeteries in South Carolina. 

Creating literacy rich environments requires collaboration, as well as choice. I have discovered that in order to collaborate, you must build relationships. My teachers have come to trust my expertise based on my actions and not just my words. Whether it’s having a school wide read using diverse texts like Kwame Alexander’s Crossover or House Arrest by KA Holt, picture book Read-Alouds and discussions, specifically highlighting Black, Indigenous, other People of Color and LGBTQA in the books, in advisory classes, or Book Tastings focusing on challenging or interesting themes (e.g. George by Alex Gino), I always provide choice. I learned from one of my most avid readers while we discussed books one day. She informed me that she had a goal to read 100 books in 1 year. She was 76 books in! Clearly, this was a student who loved to read. She revealed to me, though, that the moment her teacher told her she had to read a specific book, whether it was an excellent read or not, she was unmotivated. That conversation drove me to examine teaching literacy even more closely, as I changed lenses to look through the eyes of the ever-changing middle school student.

As I looked at my own relationship with students – and, in turn, their relationship with reading. I realized that my practice of always offering choice has made book talks and other various activities an easy sell because the children knew my intentions were pure, and I was advocating for them. They trusted the suggestions and practices I brought them. They could relax, knowing that I wouldn’t battle them on content. I just want them to read a book.

About the Author

Cynthia Johnson is an 8-year veteran school librarian at Longleaf Middle School, Columbia SC. She is a Member at Large for the South Carolina Association of School Librarians.

School Librarians: Your Literacy Partners


By: Tamara Cox and Pamela Williams, SC Media Specialists

“What we teach children to love and desire will always outweigh what we make them learn.”

Jim Trelease

One of our goals as educators is to help students become life-long readers. Too often we focus solely on the mechanics of reading without addressing how we build the love of reading. Life-long readers find joy in reading. We want our students to enjoy reading, which will fuel their desire to read and help them build habits to carry them throughout school and into their future. The school librarian can help spark that love of reading.

The school librarian can be your partner in nurturing readers and building those habits. As educators we all have different roles to play in the process of teaching students. The expertise of the school librarian can strengthen your school’s reading culture and literacy outcomes. School librarians fill an important “interdisciplinary, instructional role, particularly in teaching students to be better consumers and producers of information” (Lance, 2014).


Numerous studies spanning multiple states and decades have shown that a high-quality library program positively impacts student achievement, graduation rates, and mastery of academic standards. These correlations exist regardless of student demographics or school funding levels. In fact, these correlations are most pronounced in our vulnerable student populations, including students of color, students from low income homes, and students with disabilities (Lance, 2018). School library impact studies have been conducted in 24 states, including South Carolina. The South Carolina study confirmed the findings of other studies by showing that having a fully staffed school library (certified school librarian and assistant) that is well-funded results in higher test scores (Lance, 2014). 

Let’s Work Together

There are many ways that the librarian can be your partner in literacy. Please reach out to your librarian so that you can find ways to work together. Here are some of the impactful ways that librarians can support the literacy goals of the school:

  • Collaborate with classroom teachers by planning lessons together.
  • Curate print and digital resources for lessons and standards.
  • Plan reading programs and celebrations.
  • Share booktalks and recommended book lists with teachers, students, and families.
  • Provide reader advisory services.
  • Provide book access for recreational reading, no reading level limits.
  • Curate recommended book lists around a theme, unit, or topic.
  • Assist with literature circle discussions.
  • Organize or help with a faculty and/or student book club.
  • Organize and host online and in-person author chats.
  • Share reading resources and strategies with families.
  • Host book fairs to help increase book access and ownership.
  • Provide professional development on a variety of literacy and technology topics.
  • Help teachers integrate technology tools into their literacy lessons.
  • Teach lessons on information and media literacy.
  • Provide instruction on research skills.
  • Work with teachers to build an inclusive, engaging library collection that supports the curriculum.
  • Serve on school-wide literacy and leadership committees.
  • Create a library space that is safe and welcoming to all students.


The benefits of a robust and effective library program under the leadership of a certified librarian are undeniable. By utilizing the librarian’s expertise and nurturing collaboration with your librarian, your school can see positive changes in student learning and achievement. The school library program can be your partner in literacy success!


Lance, K. C., & Kachel, D. E. (2018). Why school librarians matter: What years of research tell us. Phi Delta Kappan. Retrieved from

Lance, K. C., Schwarz, B., & Rodney, M. J. (2014). How libraries transform schools by contributing to student success: Evidence linking South Carolina school libraries and PASS & HSAP results. In RSL research group. Retrieved from

Lance, K. C., Schwarz, B., & Rodney, M. J. (2014). How libraries transform schools by contributing to student success: Evidence linking South Carolina school libraries and PASS & HSAP results, phase II. In RSL research group. Retrieved from

South Carolina Association of School Librarians. (2015). South Carolina school librarians make schools stronger [Image]. Retrieved from

An entire page dedicated to research sharing how librarians impact reading and literacy:

About the Authors

Tamara Cox is the National Board certified librarian at Wren High School, Awards Chair for the SC Association of School Librarians, 2020 Library Journal Mover & Shaker, 2019-2020 South Carolina School Librarian of the Year, Honor Roll finalist for the South Carolina Teacher of the Year, and recipient of the 2018 I Love My Librarian Award. Contact her at or @coxtl on Twitter.

Pamela Williams is the 2019-2020 President of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians (SCASL), a National Board certified school librarian at Richland Northeast High School, and a former South Carolina School Librarian of the Year. She can be contacted by email at or on Twitter @readingrocksPam.