Monday, May 11, 2015


            I love libraries.
Pop-White Library - Children's Section
            I started loving libraries when I was in elementary school. My elementary school librarian at Sea Isle, Ms. Jenkins, was wonderful. The Sea Isle library had an enormous collection of books, all very interesting to a 3rd-6th grader, like me. I checked out the limit of books every week, when we went to library. As I remember, we were allowed to check out up to 7 books a week.
            My mom promoted reading in our home, and we had an amazingly large library in our house, ourselves. It had over 500 books and those shelves lined the walls of a large room in the center of the house (aptly called, by us, "the library"). However, most of the books were old T.V. Guides carefully arranged and saved by my grandfather, my uncle's college textbooks, and Reader's Digests (this reading material does not generally appeal to a grade-schooler). My mom tried to take us to the public library often, but she worked a lot, and was too tired to take us anywhere most of the time.
My classroom library - close up view
            So having a well-stocked, beautiful, accessible school library is the reason I became a reader, and a lover of literature. It also exposed me to things I wouldn't have otherwise been exposed to: the idea of evolution, for instance. (I did live in a southern city...)
An activity: Sit in the library and read to a stuffed animal
            I went to visit Sea Isle last Friday, and couldn't pass up the chance to look at the library again. It was just as I remembered it (just a little smaller). The librarian they have now, Ms. Hefner, is just as great a librarian as Ms. Jenkins was. She is very passionate about reading, dresses up in costume to enhance her librarian activities and interest children, and was touched when I told her, "This library is what founded in me a love of reading."

An activity - read a Big Book
            It won't surprise you, then, to learn that, when I became a teacher, I spent an enormous amount of time (and, ahem, money) on my school library.
During independent reading time, kids were allowed to "read around the room"
            I was given a great start by my mother-in-law, a retiring teacher, who had at least 400 high-interest books in her second grade classroom library. I loved and am still grateful for this gift, but I did see holes in the inventory: there weren't a lot of books featuring or written by people of color, and I needed a lot more low-reading-level books for my lower grade level. So I went to Davis Kidd (now Laurelwood Booksellers) every week and spent... probably too much money, adding to my library.
You have no idea how happy this photo makes me
            This work on my classroom library was essential, because, and I hate to tell you this, the school library where I taught was not what it should have been. There were not enough books. When books were lost at home, parents in my neighborhood did not have the money to pay for them, and, to avoid losing more, the librarian did not often let children take books home. 
A popular activity in my classroom - read with a friend
            Now, I understand losing books. I lost a lot of those Sea Isle library books when I was a kid. My house was messy, and you never knew what would happen to something if you set it down. Often I didn't find a book until years later. But at the end of the year, when the librarian sent a note home telling my mom what was lost, and how much it would cost to pay for it, she did have the money to pay for it, and of course she did send a check to the school. In impoverished neighborhoods like the one where I taught, this just cannot happen, and we as a society must develop a better system to deal with this problem than just not sending books home.
To engage kids who are emergent readers - Puppet books!
            But enough of this soapbox. As a classroom teacher there in a school with (essentially) no school library, I made sure my classroom library was extra wonderful. Although I did not send books home (did I mention how much I had spent on this library?) I did let kids read whatever they wanted and gave them reading time every single day. I tried to make the library experience as appealing as possible. I modeled my library on Ms. Daniel's classroom library - this was my third grade teacher at Sea Isle. She was the first teacher I had (and maybe the only one?) who gave us privacy while we read her classroom library books, and made it look cozy for us with comfortable chairs, pillows, and lamps. It's not a coincidence that I first started reading on grade level (and above grade level) in third grade, in her classroom.
You were even allowed to read your Reading textbook - if you wanted!
 Steps for Independent Reading Time in My Classroom
  1. I would read the kids a story while they sat on the carpet
  2. We would discuss the story with my monkey puppet
  3. I would say, "Now you can go to your seats, take your book out of your seat pouch (they were allowed to keep two books from my library in their seat pouch) and read."
  4. "If you are reading quietly, I will pick you to go where you want to read" (they were allowed to read anywhere, and I told them how I love to read laying down, and they could lay down on the carpet if they wanted to)
  5. Or, "If you are reading quietly, I will give you the book I just read to the class to read if you want it"
  6. Or, (during puppet reading) "If you are reading quietly I will give you a puppet that you can read to"
  7. If you want to change books, raise your hand. (No more than two people in the library changing books at a time.)
  8. No more than 5 people laying or sitting in the library reading books at a time.
  9. I the teacher would read my own reading material during independent reading time, to show that adults like to read too
  10. People can read a book together
Some advanced readers really valued this time to read on their own, with no distractions

             It's true that at the beginning of the school year, independent reading is difficult to start. I started with telling the children they can't talk for five minutes - just read. We kept independent reading at 5 minutes for a while. At first I offered lots of rewards for on-task behavior (you get picked to read wherever you want first, you get the storybook I just read, etc). I then moved it up to 8, then 10, and finally 20. My kids got more and more interested in reading time and, more and more, they stayed on task. Sometimes we even did 25 minutes! And when we had to cut reading short for some reason (assembly or school photos, for instance), it made my heart swell with pride when my kids complained.
I love love LOVE seeing boys reading together

             I had my library organized into bins. My books had stickers on them to show them what bin they were supposed to go in when the kids put them back. But (honest talk here) first-graders and kindergartners are not capable of keeping a library straight. If my choice is reduce the number of books or have a messy classroom library, I will always choose the mess. My library was out of order, unless I stayed after school for an hour organizing it (I had a LOT of books in it to organize!). I did stay late every two or three weeks, but mostly kids asked other kids where the book they wanted was (because they had been seen reading it). And I think that's the best way, anyway -- I love the social aspect of it.
Or boys and girls - this was a story I had read to them at story time

             I tried to do a conference with kids regularly - this is when, during silent reading time, you sit with one student and ask them what they have been reading. What did they think of it? Why did they like or not like it? What do they want to read more of? And you help them find a book they would be interested in and would grow their reading level. I also tried having them keep a reading inventory of books they had read, and some of them loved to do this. I encouraged it in those who liked to do it, but didn't force it on those who wanted to spend all of their reading time reading, and not keeping an inventory.
Kids on a lower reading level are pulled up by spending library time with more advanced readers

            I have to tell you that, as simple as it sounds, my being a reader, bringing the novel I was reading to school and reading it in front of them while they were also supposed to be reading, probably did more to encourage them than a lot of these other strategies that required a lot more work!

It's the best when your kids who are most uninterested in reading finally get into it - the social aspect of a classroom library helps with them!
             I'll end with a painting I made of my class reading in my classroom library - this picture continues to fill me with joy.