Helping literacy learners: the vital role of librarians

By Kerrie Shanahan

Kerrie Shanahan explores the vital early literacy skills students need to become independent readers.

We all love that feeling of being lost in a book, fully engrossed in a novel or an interesting biography. As educators it’s also wonderful to see children immersed in books when they too have developed a love of reading. 

For this to happen, it’s essential that students develop the skills needed to become independent readers in their early years. Teaching these vital foundational literacy skills is a complex task, and it’s one in which library professionals play a key role. 

Three children in a library reading, sitting on a mound of pillows in from of book displays

Understanding literacy learning

Substantial research over the past few decades provides us with an evidence base on how children learn to read. This evidence base is referred to as the science of reading. Our understanding  of the science of reading is crucial because it informs us about what to teach and how to teach it. 

We know that learning to read requires children to develop skills in six main areas. Commonly known as the ‘Big Six’,  these areas of development are: oral language, phonological awareness, phonics, comprehension, fluency, vocabulary. 

All areas of the Big Six need to be taught to students, and this involves:

• clearly and explicitly teaching concepts, and modelling skills
• planning for students to practise skills in a supported way
• giving targeted feedback that reinforces skills and knowledge and corrects any errors or misconceptions.

The Big Six is a great framework to use when planning teaching programs in your library. Understanding the elements of the Big Six will also help when sharing resources with teachers, and when reflecting on your own professional development.

Teaching practices to support literacy learning 

What might teaching the Big Six look like in your library? There  are a range of teaching strategies you can use that incorporate this teaching. 

Modelled reading 

As you read aloud to students you can model a range of reading skills such as comprehension, vocabulary building and fluency. For example, you could use the think aloud process to explain what you do to understand the text you are reading.

Shared reading 

As you read aloud, have students join in as they feel confident. This provides opportunities to develop students’ phonological awareness of the sounds and patterns of language. During a shared reading session, you can revisit the book or parts of it  to do a ‘deeper dive’ and focus on various aspects such as the structure of the text, word choice, visual elements and meaning. 

Oral storytelling

Telling a story orally to students models exemplary oral language skills, and helps students develop listening skills. Students could also act out a story or role-play parts of it to practise their developing oral language skills. 

Resources to support library staff

If you’re looking for evidence-based resources for F–2 students in your role as a library professional, visit the Literacy Hub. You’ll discover great ideas for your teaching and can also build your knowledge and confidence to support school leaders, teachers and families in their quest to develop children’s literacy skills.

On the Literacy Hub you can:

  • explore classroom resources
  • find out more about the latest research regarding literacy learning 
  • access planning and curriculum documents 
  • complete professional learning  
  • learn about strategies to support students’ literacy development.

In particular, you might like to read more about the Big Six and discover related practical ideas for your students.

So, if you’d like to refresh your knowledge on literacy learning, find out about the latest research or browse the wide range of exciting and up-to-date resources, then the Literacy Hub is a wonderful place to start. Happy reading!

Kerrie Shanahan

Content Manager, Literacy Hub

Education Services Australia

Kerrie has a strong background in education, having taught in both the primary and tertiary sectors. She is an experienced educational author who has published more than 150 books for students, as well as many varied resources for teachers, specialising in the early years.