Book Lover: Literacy Coordinator Working To Diversify Classroom Libraries

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Christina Fifeld has spent her whole life in Farmington Public Schools. From kindergarten through 12th grade, she went to schools in the district. Then, she started teaching at two of the schools she attended, working alongside her former teachers!

Now, she’s the district’s Secondary Literacy Coordinator. She works with middle and high school teachers with reading and writing, and helps find resources and books for classrooms.

Obviously, Fifeld is passionate about books and learning. Read about how COVID impacted the school libraries, what motivated her to become a literacy coordinator, and more.

Question: How has COVID impacted school libraries?

Answer: I work mostly with classrooms, but I did have a great collaboration over the past year with Jim White, the district Media Coordinator who focuses on the district’s library collection. Many middle school classroom library books got lost in the shutdown last March, so I’ve been working with teachers to figure out what’s missing so we can replenish those books so that kids have great choices of books right at their fingertips in each classroom, and I’m also working on getting newer titles into classroom libraries. Because we were virtual for so long (and some kids still are), Mr. White and I worked together to reestablish our district’s Sora account so kids could check out ebooks and audiobooks online. We found a lot of great titles to add to our selection, so kids can have a lot of great choices online as well.

Q: Could you tell me more about your goal to diversify the bookshelves of your district classrooms?

A: Diversifying classroom libraries has been a focus of mine for a couple of years now. Our classroom libraries need to have books that represent the diversity of our students and our world. There are more and more great books being written every day, and we want students to have access to all those stories and perspectives so they can learn more about themselves and the world around them. My favorite pastime is reading as many middle grade and young adult books as possible so that I can help teachers put a wide range of books in students’ hands.

Q: What do you say to kids who don’t like to read?

A: I firmly believe that everyone likes to read something; it just might not be the traditional books we ask them to read in school. So, when I have a student tell me they don’t like to read, I generally just ask them a lot of questions to learn more about their reading experiences to get to the bottom of things. Sometimes it’s just that they’ve never read a book that they connect to. Sometimes it’s that they’ve never been given choices in genre or format. Sometimes it is just that the act of reading is not easy for them to do or they just don’t picture themselves as a reader. Once I learn more about the student, then I have a better idea of how to help them like reading more (or maybe just hate it a little less).

I learned something a few years ago that helped me understand why some readers don’t like to read certain books. Personally, I never liked reading graphic novels. I purchased them for my classroom because I knew that kids loved them, but I did not enjoy them myself, therefore I did not read them. Then the book Ghosts by Raina Telgmeier came out. I wanted to read it because the little sister in the book has Cystic Fibrosis, which is something I myself have. I wanted to see how they approached it in the book, so I decided to read the copy I bought for my classroom. I ended up really liking it, but realized that graphic novels were hard to read! I had to read words and read pictures, simultaneously! I was not very good at that! I found that I had to go back and reread a lot (both words and pictures) because I was constantly missing details that I didn’t pick up on. I was so used to relying on text, that I missed the parts of the story the images were telling. This realization was huge for me. Now, whenever I’m reading graphic novels (which I do more often), I slow down and really focus on taking in all the words and images. It is more work for me, but with the amazing graphic novels being written today, it’s totally worth it.

Q: As a kid, what were your favorite books? How about now?

A: I loved all the books by Judy Blume because they dealt with the real life issues (body image, divorce, growing up) that I was dealing with myself. I also loved the Sweet Valley High series and remember one summer where I read one book from the series every single day. They weren’t complicated, in fact, they were very formulaic, but I liked watching the drama unfold between the two sisters over time and it was nice knowing the characters so well. In high school I became hooked on Night Shift by Stephen King (a far cry from Sweet Valley High), a book of suspenseful, scary, creepy short stories. I didn’t have days to dedicate to reading back then, so the short story format was just the right thing for me.

I can’t say that I have a favorite book right now. In fact, I think I add new favorites all the time! I tend to read more non-fiction books now than I used to, and while those are definitely more challenging to read for me because of all the new information they include, I recently enjoyed A Promised Land by Barack Obama and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (which I also listened to on audiobook – it’s narrated by Jason Reynolds and I just love his voice). I have also read a lot of great young adult books lately. Some of my favorites are Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay and Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo. Both of those books focus on teenagers trying to find their identity, so those are similar to the books I read as a student, but much more involved. Just today I finished Ground Zero by Alan Gratz; another great historical fiction that tells two stories of 9/11 from alternating perspectives – a boy from New York who was in the North Tower when the planes hit, and a girl in Afghanistan 20 years later. I always enjoy alternating perspectives of history because as they say, “there is always more than one side to the story.”

Q: What inspired you to become a literacy coordinator?

A: I really loved teaching middle school English Language Arts, and I really loved working on curriculum and finding new books and resources, so when the school district posted the job for Secondary Literacy Coordinator, I felt like my dream job had been created. I get to do all of the things I love in order to help kids improve their literacy skills across the whole district. I do really miss being with kids in the classroom every day, but I’m hopeful that I can begin spending time in classrooms again in the near future.

Q: How do you determine the difference between a good book and a not-so-good book?

A: As a trained English teacher, I could definitely critique books on their literary merit and categorize them as good and not-so-good, however, I know that what’s good for one reader is not necessarily good for another. We all have preferences and tastes in books, just like we do in food, music, and movies. So, I try not to judge. A good book is one that a reader connects with and enjoys. A great book is one a reader can’t put down. A not-so-good book is probably just not the right fit for the reader.

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