Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Building a Classroom Library

At the beginning of every school year, I open one or two boxes of books each day during the first few weeks of school. It takes about that long to open all of the boxes of books I now have available. Each day brings a new adventure as we open up a new box to find out what books are inside, what literary treasures await us. This opening of the library boxes is a yearly ritual in my classroom and is designed to help students get a sense of the variety of books that are available. I also do this to help students understand that the books are there for them to read and are not there merely for display purposes. The books in the classroom are there to be looked at, thumbed through and read. Every book is available to everyone.
            As we open each new box, the contents are placed on tables around the room to allow students in small groups to spend time investigating each title. We stop periodically to share favorite books we know and love as a whole class, and introduce each other to new titles we haven’t seen before. We get excited sharing the books we remember from previous years, as well as any new titles I may have purchased over the summer. Old favorites and new books are strewn across the table tops, the conversation is lively, and children are beginning to feel like a part of our community of readers. Students use their writers' notebooks to write down any special titles that they want to be sure and revisit soon. I also ask students to write down any categories or genres that they are noticing. I want them to begin to think about ways to organize the books in the library. This organization will be our next class project.
            As students are going through the books scattered around on the tables in the classroom, we begin to make a chart of all the types of books or genres that we are finding. Using a large piece of butcher paper, I list all of the names the give to the books in the room. Art books, nature books, funny books, books about friendship, poetry books, fairy tales, counting books, alphabet books, family stories are just some of the names given in the past. After we go through all of the boxes and have listed all of the types of books we have found, I take each name and make a separate card for it. This way, we can move them around so we can begin to develop categories based on the common features in the names we have selected. For example, nature books, rock books, space books and geography books are categorized into a group called "Science Books." This category then becomes one of the shelves or one of the boxes in our library. We have worked together to organize our library, and in the process have had some great discussions about genres and categories of books.
            Of course, there are some books that I keep “hidden away” for surprises during the year, but for the most part all of my books are available to my students from the beginning of the school year. I do keep some extremely valuable books and some autographed copies of certain titles on a special shelf near my desk, but these are also available for students to read, they simply have to ask. I want students to feel free to select any books in the classroom, while at the same time teaching them to assume responsibility for caring for the classroom book collection.
            As the various boxes are opened during the beginning of the year, small groups of children assume responsibility for the creation of the library, the checkout procedures, the signs and posters for the library walls, the arrangement of the library furniture, the plants that will decorate the library and any other library jobs that we decide are important. We decide together what jobs are needed and what routines and procedures should be created. I feel that any jobs or procedures that students can handle by themselves, without teacher involvement, should be given over to the students as soon as possible. The more students are involved, the more books will be handled, read and cared for. Eventually, everyone in the class is assigned a job. In this way, I hope to make each child feel like an important part of our community. 
Although there is a central library area for a majority of the books to be housed in the classroom, books are also displayed throughout the room. For example, books about weather are located near the windows along with selections of nature poems, while books about plants and insects are placed near our terrarium. Various titles, displayed in colorful book boxes, are arranged by author, topic and theme throughout the room for easy access and organization. Some boxes are filled with Dr. Seuss books, while others may be filled with books about rocks and minerals for our geology study. During the year we have long discussions about the organization of these books and the contents of the various book boxes. The discussions that occur around these organizational efforts are excellent opportunities to discuss the concept of “genre” and the distinctions between narrative and expository texts.
End of the aisle displays, along with other point of sale displays near the checkout aisle in many local supermarkets, are used to draw attention to various products. These same marketing techniques can be used to draw attention to particular titles, genres of books and authors in our classrooms. Books that are displayed with the covers facing the students tend to get selected more often than books where only the spine is showing. The graphics and artwork on the covers of new books are marketing tools in and of themselves. By creating aesthetically pleasing visual displays and providing easy access to a large variety of books, we are able to entice children into discovering new titles, authors and genres.
One idea I have used in our library, is to buy some metal rain gutters to hang along the wall to display picture books. These rain gutters can be purchased from one of the large retail home improvement stores quite cheaply. They hold a large number of books, are easily mounted on the walls, and provide a nice display of the covers of various picture books. They are also easy to store and re-hang each year.


Maggie said...

Thank you for this post! I think teachers often feel a great deal of pressure at the end of the summer to have their classrooms ready and perfectly put together before the first day (or before the first day - "Back to School Night" - *gulp*), but your idea of building a classroom library with your students one box at a time takes some of that pressure away. What an effective and practical strategy to get our students excited about books and to allow them to take ownership of the classroom at the same time! I definitely want to give this a try!
PS - I am a graduate student at Judson University in Elgin, IL and am currently taking a course on technology in literacy instruction. Your book, "Reading Workshop 2.0" sounds like the perfect resource for integrating what I have learned into my classroom this year!
Thanks for all of the work you do for teachers and children!

Dr. Frank Serafini said...

Maggie, that's a wonderful way to think about the beginning of the year - we ease into it WITH our students.
Thanks for the post