Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Classroom Libraries Create Readers

There is plenty of research available about the correlation between creating a classroom library and student reading improvement. (Be careful though, there is an art to creating an attractive and functional classroom library.)  My own "research" has also proven this to be true as I developed a classroom library of a little over 800 books and I was still in the process of adding to it before I took a new position.  Usually I don't limit how much I spend on books, (shhh....don't tell my husband) but recently I was forced to be a bit more frugal and play around with my Scholastic points and use those more sparingly. But let me tell you, a visit to Barnes in Noble always resorts in me having to hide what I spent in the checkbook. (I easily justify it by saying "Honey, it's for the kids!")

For those of you who are wondering, I arranged my classroom library by genre as the students usually flock to a particular bin to see what is new or what they hadn't read from my library yet.  I encouraged my kids to read as much as they could recreationally, yet still tried to guide them to other genres as well. I shared my struggles with trying to read historical fiction as well as my new found excitement for sports fiction and fantasy with the students. (At one point, I refused to read anything from those genres-bad Mrs. R!)  My passion for YA literature has seriously evolved over the years and I keep track of what I read with a Goodreads account.  There I can mark the books I want to read, what I am currently reading, write reviews, get recommendations and share this information with others. (I can easily make updates with an app I've installed both on my phone and on my Kindle.) It is important to surround students with books and I often rotated books on my front display.  Students would easily notice the books I placed there.  I even took the time to rotate books from my bins to the front that were popular or recommended by past students. This is picture from the front of my former classroom.

It becomes an interesting phenomenon as students begin to talk about the books they are reading.  When I encouraged one of my female reluctant readers to read the Hush, Hush series by Becca Fitzpatrick, her friends began fighting to read it as well.  Not only were they reading, but they began having discussions about the characters, what they liked and didn't like about the plot, and even about the writing itself.  I overheard a deep seventh grade conversation about the writing of Becca Ftizpatrick versus the writing of Stephenie Meyer--and I didn't have anything to do with starting it.  (Except for providing the books!)

Do I have a check out system? Yes. I use the old "card in the pocket" because that works for me.  Each book has an index card and I take the time on the first day of school to train the students in the process and we practice it together. I require them to write their name and the date on the card and place it in a card box on my front table. Books are also returned in a basket on that same table and not by the classroom library.  It helps me take notice of what they are reading.  (Keep in mind that students are often willing to help with the "check in/check out" system.)

The fact of the matter is, if you, as a teacher, begin reading young adult literature, take the time to get to know what your students like, and then put the two together, it creates a simple equation that equals students who will read. I've always said, the only time it should be completely silent in my classroom is during Drop Everything And Read aka DEAR time. It was almost always silent.  Don't believe me? Watch this video of my students reading in my classroom! I just quietly pulled out my phone and started taking video of them one day.

And check out the same class on another day!

Yes, this can happen in your classroom too! :)

Here are a few helpful tips to get students reading at any age:

1. Purchase or find the money to purchase a variety of books from different genres including non-fiction topics written at a variety of levels to house in your classroom. Yes, one could argue that there already is a school library, but it kind of goes along with the theory of "If you build it, he will come."  If you have the books right in front of them, they will read! (Also, in a sad era in which Library Media Specialists are being cut or eliminated, teachers must take charge and add yet another thing to their already overflowing plates.) I mentioned the Scholastic book order points.  I would also often purchase from Goodwill or Savers (when it was still here).  Believe it or not students were also willing to donate their books to my library when they were finished reading books they purchased on their own.

2. Model yourself as a reader.  You need to read and share your excitement and struggles with reading.  It doesn't matter what it is. The students will notice and ask you about it.

3. Do Book Talks! Lots of them! Also, let them know when you have added new books to your collection.  Even if you haven't read them yet.  Share the title, the author, read the back and offer the chance to preview. (Steven Layne shares his process for teaching students how to preview books in Igniting a Passion for Reading.)

4. Allow CHOICE. Let the students pick what they want to read. Do not limit them to lexile range or to how many "points" it is.  (This is the quickest way to turn student off to reading.) At times, students will need a little guidance or a nudge.  Some like fiction, some like non-fiction.  It doesn't matter.  Just let them read what they want to read and always allow the option to abandon a book. I certainly don't force myself to continue to read a book I am not enjoying. Do you?

5. Provide the time for the students to read.  If you do it at school, they will (sometimes--fingers crossed) do it at home. (And they will if they are deeply into a particular book.) My argument was I can only control what happens in my classroom.  If I can provide 10- 15 minutes of uninterrupted reading time, I am guaranteeing that kids are reading.  The only way to become a better reader is to READ! (I also reminded them of this repeatedly!)

Furthermore, be realistic. Expect and accept that some books from your classroom library will get lost or stolen.  It happens.  I really emphasize the importance of sharing. They are for ALL OF US!  I purchased them myself and they are not the school's books.  Sometimes students need a little re-training and a few reminders on how to treat the classroom library.  They also knew that if they treated it well, I continued to add to it!

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