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SD Department of Education
April 2019  

TEACHER FEATURE: Nothing beats rich text at Robert Frost Elementary

“I need a nap,” Korey Erickson told his wife after his first day as the school librarian at Robert Frost Elementary in Sioux Falls.

Erickson’s previous library experience was part-time at a college library, while working full-time as a middle school English and reading teacher. He came to enjoy the part-time library gig so much that when he saw the job opening at Robert Frost Elementary, he went for it.

Four years in, he’s glad he made the leap. And he doesn’t need naps anymore.

What was that transition like, going from college and middle school students to the elementary level?
It’s a lot more energy-based instruction, trying to be exciting, trying to keep them engaged. At this level, the focus is on trying to get these students to develop a love of reading and to also build their stamina for reading.

Tell us more about how you seek to develop young readers.
I truly do not believe anything will ever beat rich text. If you can get that rich text for read alouds and kids are engaged to the point you could hear a pin drop, that’s key. That’s something I always try to do is have fantastic read alouds for great picture books, grades K-5.

How do you prepare for read alouds?
It’s not just reading the book; I’m “doing” the book for the kids. I’ll have had it in my back office for a few weeks, so I know how the story goes. I’m not literally acting it out, but I know it well enough that I’m not sitting there just turning the pages, reading it. I’m looking at them, making eye contact. When I’m up there, it’s a little bit of a show.

Erickson Book Read

What’s your favorite thing about being an elementary school librarian?
The best part about being a librarian is that I get to put books in kids’ hands. I feel like, having been here for four years, I’ve developed a collection that is well-utilized by students. When a kid says, “I love this book,” that is one of the best feelings to get.

Do your students read the books that are nominated annually for the Prairie Bud, Prairie Bloom, Prairie Pasque, and Young Adult Reading Program (YARP) awards?
Yes, I even serve on the committee that chooses nominees. I pepper the nominees throughout our read alouds, and I encourage my older students to read all of the nominees on their own as well. It’s always one of the students’ favorite things to vote on those. I’ll have kids asking, which one is the winner? Which ones did South Dakota vote for? So they’re excited about it. They want to know the winner, and they want to know if the one they voted for is the champion.

What other reading programs do you offer?
Our fourth and fifth graders can form teams to participate in a Book Battle. There’s a list of 15 books, and the teams try to make sure everyone’s read at least one of them. At the competition, we ask comprehension questions about the books. This program is another way I try to encourage students to read high-quality books—some of the “newer classics,” like “Hatchet,” for instance. It’s good for students to learn that even if the pages might be a little yellowed, it can still be a good book.

I also host some book talks for the older students.

How do you encourage students to read more in general, and more challenging books specifically?
As part of my lessons, I always try to include 10 minutes for students to just grab a good book and read by themselves.

I was also fortunate recently to receive a grant from our PTO that I used to purchase several Playaway devices. These are media devices that each contain one audiobook. For each device, I also purchased the print version of the book. So one thing I’m trying with these is to encourage intermediate students who aren’t yet able to read text at their grade level. My hope is that being able to listen to it and have eyes on the text will make challenging books more accessible to them.

How is the role of the modern school librarian evolving?
I’m trying to help students develop that love of reading, but also prepare them for navigating the digital world, so they can be good citizens of that online world and develop tools to evaluate and think critically about the information they see. A lot of these kids have their own YouTube channels and are even doing coding at home, so it’s also important that they learn to be responsible producers of information, too.

I think technology has shifted the role of the librarian from being just the gatekeeper and protector of the books. Today’s school library should be a buzzing, busy place. It should be the heart of the school, where students (and teachers!) come to discover answers to questions they didn’t even know they had.

How do you define information literacy?
I think of it as being able to locate, evaluate, and use information in an ethical manner. It’s finding information, but also being able to dig into what that information is saying and making sure that when you’re using or presenting it that you’re not misrepresenting what the information is saying.

How do you help students learn to evaluate the quality of information?
One of my favorite lessons is looking at a fake website called Dog Island. It has all this information about how you can send your dog to live on this island with other dogs. The students fall for it every time, and then we have a discussion about not believing everything we see online. I give them a list of other fake websites, and they evaluate one based on a set of standards or criteria, looking at things like its authenticity, authorship, and currency. We go into other discussions about web address extensions like .com, .edu, .org, and .net. It’s a good jumping point for getting them ready to do real research on topics.

You served on the work group that recently updated South Dakota’s school library standards. What makes the new standards better?
As we were writing them, we wanted to make clear that these standards are not meant to be taught in isolation. We were aiming for collaboration, so that hopefully librarians are either in the classroom helping incorporate library standards into content area standards, or there is some co-teaching going on. The new standards empower librarians to not only teach library skills, but to be integral leaders in their school for all subject areas.

The Robert Frost Elementary school library is a 21st Century School Library awardee. Why is applying for that award a valuable process?
It’s a great chance to look at what you’re doing in your library and to be reflective. The process allows a librarian to celebrate the great things they’re doing for their school, but it can also lead to transformative action by realizing areas where they can improve, be innovative, and achieve that next goal.

Erickson Book Read

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