Recently Kylene Beers, researcher and educator extraordinaire, posted this humorous anecdote on Facebook:
I think this post resonated for so many of Kylene's readers because of the truth of it: books make all the difference, yet schools often continue to search for some other magic bullet. Often we (all of us: parents, teachers, and administrator alike) go looking for programs even when independent reading time is continually shortchanged in our buildings and good books are in short supply.
Donalyn Miller recently wrote an excellent post summarizing the research on the effectiveness of independent reading. This is research that every teacher needs to know about. It resonates with what in our heart of hearts we already know to be true: kids need lots of time to read books in school, and they need access to lots and lots of good books to read.
A first step toward making your classroom into a place that inspires kids to want to read a lot of books is to do a quick self-reflection on how things are going for you in your classroom.
1. Is the classroom library inviting and attractive? Does it inspire kids to want to read?
2. Is the classroom library organized by topics, interests, authors, characters, genres, and other categories that will spark curiosity?
3. Can kids find books that they can read with ease and fluency, whether they are marked with a level of some kind or not? If the levels are marked somehow, are you confident that the levels are somewhat accurate (to the extent that is possible since no leveling system is perfect)?
4. Are there enough books? (See below for a tool to help you with this).
5. Have you considered putting aside some of your books for later in the year? (For example, books that are clearly too difficult, or books that will be wonderful for a later unit of study).
1. Are there enough books in each book baggy to easily last a child one week? (10-12 for beginning readers, levels A-F, 8-10 for transitional readers, levels G-I, and 6-8 for early chapterbook readers, levels J-L). Do they swap their books routinely (about once a week) for fresh, new, exciting books?
2. Are the most of the books in the baggies matched to the reader for independent reading (with deep comprehension, ease, and fluency), plus some books that are instructional or practice texts?
3. Do the books support the work of your current unit of study? Are you sure? (Not all fiction books are equally supportive for interpretation work, for example. And that is a topic for another post!)
4. Are there any tools for reading workshop in the baggy? (For example, pointers, bookmarks, mini-charts, personal word wall, alphabet or blends chart, conference or small group reminders).
5. Looking across baggies: Is it clear that baggies are differentiated? Can you tell that kids choose their own books? Can you tell that tools that are geared for their particular needs? (Red flags: All kids have exactly the same tools and materials in their baggies, or an adult routineley selects books for students.)
Now that you've done a little reflecting, you may need to look a little closer. It might be helpful to do an inventory, to see what kind of books you really have and how many. Recently I did a quick informal inventory of every classroom library in our district (phew!). Through some trial and error, I created a template that you might find helpful as well.
Once you know how many books you have, plus have an idea of what you need, you can create a wish list of ordering and donation requests.
Kids love a classroom library that looks like a fun place to be. Check out 4th grade teacher Katie LeFrancois's classroom library at Richmond Elementary School in Richmond, Vermont. Her books are organized in baskets based on interesting topics, favorite authors, genres, and characters. She's always hunting for more books, looking for new ideas, and sharing her love of reading with her students:
Here's more of Katie's inviting library:
A close-up of some of those basket topics:
Kathleen Sokolowski's third-grade classroom at Saltzman East Memorial Elementary School in Farmingdale, New York, is the epitome of organization. She uses the space so well. Even the tiny area between the windows is used to display more book covers that might hook kids!
The book covers and photos of authors on book baskets draw kids in. It's so easy to take these small details for granted, but these are things that kids are attracted to, and will remember long after they've left your classroom behind.
Wouldn't you love to be a kid in these classrooms?
Need some more inspiration? Chances are you need not look any further than your own school building!
The next chance you get, pop into some of your colleagues' classrooms and gather some inspiration of your own. Bring your camera and take some notes on the pros and cons of different classroom library systems. Your kids will thank you for it!