Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Five Things I Learned from My Classroom Library

This week I packed up my classroom library.  As I was sorting through and placing books in different boxes, I could hear her talking to me, reminding me of all I have learned from her in my seven years of teaching.  Here is what she had to say.

1.  "If you make me special, they will think I am special."  My library is the heartbeat of my classroom.  When someone walks into my room, I want them to feel the beat and say, "Wow, reading is important in here."

This past year I rearranged some things to where my gathering area for mini-lessons is in the library.  Where else should we learn about reading and writing, but surrounded by books?  At the beginning of the year I stress the specialness of my library to my students by not letting them enter it the first couple of days. Although I have books out for them to read the first day of school, I have the actual library blocked off.  I immediately start to see the excitement and anticipation building.  I have a Library Grand Opening complete with a ribbon cutting ceremony and a pencil and bookmark to commemorate the event.

2.  "Better to lose the book than lose the reader."  I have tried many different ways of checking out books, and it seemed that checking out books took longer than choosing them.  In the beginning of my teaching career I put the pockets and cards in the back of the books, and the students signed the cards for the books they wanted to read.  This became a lengthy process and quite honestly, I don't like the feel of the pocket in the book because it doesn't open as easily.  Next, I tried to keep a log sheet. The students would write the title of the book and their name.  This became a nightmare because students would abandon books or forget to cross off their names. Now, I have a trust check-out system.  I trust my students to choose, read and return the books in my library.  Many times students know who is reading what, and they will keep them accountable.  But I decided that trusting my students was more important than the work it took to monitor every book in my library.  Do I chance losing books? Absolutely!  But I would rather lose books than lose readers.

3.  "Books need to be organized here just as they would be in the real world." This has been the hardest change for me and my students.  We are an AR school district and students have become readers by choosing books in their level. Therefore, most classroom libraries are organized by AR level.  Because I did not want to be completely rebellious, I gradually added baskets of books sorted by author, genre, or series.  I found that the kids loved this!  I would have students ask me where the second book in a series could be found or another book by a certain author, and we would have to look up the level.  Now, they can easily find those books.

I always tell the story about how excited one of students was because his grandmother was taking him to the bookstore on the weekend.  When he came back to school, I asked him about the books he bought and he replied, "I didn't get any because I couldn't find my level."  Now this is a totally made-up story, but my students don't need to know this.  It is important that we teach them how to find books in the real world, and the real world does not do this by AR level!  Organizing my library has been a work in progress, but I love the changes I have made.

4.  "Reading is more than just a novel."  Because we are an AR school district, most students in the upper grade levels read only fictional novels.  They don't like to read non-fiction because the "tests are too hard," and some teachers don't consider magazines or picture books as "reading" for upper-grade students.  I have slowly added many tubs of nonfiction, and each year I see more students reading from them.  I also allow my students to read picture books, and I have added magazines such as ZooBooks, Ranger Rick, National Geographic for Kids, and Sports Illustrated for Kids.  I read other things besides novels, so why shouldn't they?

5.  "It is all about choice."  If my library is the heartbeat of my classroom, then choice is the blood that runs through it.  Again, because we are an AR district, ZPD's are the way most students select books.  I had a student (not in my class) tell me he could't read The One and Only Ivan "because it is below my level."  I wanted to scream and cry at the same time.  At the beginning of the year we make an anchor chart of how or why we choose books.  I refuse to include because it is in my AR level on this chart.  My students can read what they want.  They soon learn which books strengthen their reading muscles and which ones do not.  They soon learn how to become an engaged reader.  They soon learn what it means to have a real reading life.  In my classroom choice matters.  It is what keeps the heartbeat going.


  1. Leigh Anne, I loved hearing every single bit about your library. It looks and sounds awesome! It's great to hear your philosophy too. I'm all about choice, and believe there are important books for students that may be below their level, but will connect with them in good ways. Thanks for sharing all your ideas, too. I will pass them along, especially that 'grand opening' one!

  2. Thanks for your timely and honest post. I just watched the video of The Two Sisters about how she had redone her library, but I teach 5th grade and it was only marginally helpful. I am headed to New York in a couple of weeks for Teachers College Summer Institute and I am hoping to have a better sense of how to tackle the library when I come back, but in the meantime I have, like you and for similar reasons, moved away from leveled baskets to genre, author and topics. I still have all the books on an Excel spreadsheet and categorize the level so I can check in on how a student is doing- but it is behind the scenes. Love reading your blog- I appreciate your experience so much!

  3. Hi Leigh Anne! Each of your musings resonate with my own preferences! In particular, I completely agree about how to organize classroom libraries. I enlisted my students' help when re-configuring our books from levels to genres. I also created a color-coded system so students could easily return their books to the correct location. For example, I used a green dot with TA to indicate Turn-Around stories and a yellow dot with an RF for realistic fiction. Your post inspires me to reorganize my home "library" :-)