Reflections on a Classroom Library

About 3 years ago now I spent a winter-spring weeding and reorganizing the library in my classroom.  Lots of people have lots of ways to do this — and lots of reasons for what they do.

The first thing I did was to throw/recycle or donate books – relentlessly and without much sentiment. I teach in a school where many children do not have access to their own books so, whenever I could, I gave away books. What I was left with was a collection of material that I would enjoy choosing from, and that is key. If you personally wouldn’t touch the book, your students probably won’t want to touch them either.

Responding to what I felt was a need to level books so that children read within a range of levels and a need to expose students to varieties of genres, I did lots of research and found the system Beth Newingham employed in her own third grade classroom was the best fit for what I intended. I color code baskets so that, even on the most basic levels, students can select and return books without any intervention from me (well, most of the time).  I have red bins designated for any fiction genres and green bins for any non-fiction genres.  I keep a larger browsing crate of poetry.  Within each of the two major categories, fiction and non-fiction, there are sub-genres: for example realistic fiction, historical fiction, informational text.  Sometimes I’ve subdivided those categories further: Science and Nature, Lands and People for example.

Again, the reason for this is to be sure children are exposed to many different genres. Also, it helps me ensure that I have a balance of book genres; my natural tendency is to load up on realistic fiction. It’s been enlightening to see what gaps there are in our library.

The labels for each book are afixed to the book front as is the colored dot designating the book level range.  I tape the label onto the cover with clear mailing tape and have not have any problem with a student picking off the label.

Because the levels in each color range are somewhat broad, I haven’t found any problem with students trying to read books at their frustration level, known by my colleagues as “fake reading”. We “color conference” frequently using Modified Miscues or Fountas Pinnell Benchmarks and students are coached in conferences.  I have found that when the children know there’s an opportunity and an expectation for movement from one color to the next, competition is less of a problem. When I had baskets of books in just one level, that was not always the case.

Children are fairly accurate in replacing the books in the bin. This is a task and responsibility that I expect from each child. Not every book in the room is leveled or labeled; there are opportunities for children to self-select and decide for themselves whether or not a book is a good fit.

Additionally I created a spreadsheet/database for tracking which books are in the library. I keep an alphabetized list (by title) in an index notebook that the children can access in case they are looking for books with more than one copy for a buddy reading or in case they are looking for a particular book title.  My children consult this book often when they are swapping books in and out of book boxes. The list also is useful as every so often we get asked to provide an inventory of the books in classrooms. I can sort the list in several ways: color code, Guided Reading Level, author, genre. This is helpful when replacing or adding to a library.

For more on how my personal journey in organizing a classroom library progressed, check this link. As Beth Newingham states “Every teacher organizes a library in her own way”. This is one that works for me.

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