We are all striving to make our new students feel welcome and excited about reading when they first walk in. I think a big part of feeling welcome is having space for them. Their name is on a seat. They aren’t bumping into things and maneuvering around obstacles to get there. There is space in the room for easy flow of awkward teenagers with huge backpacks. I have my room cleared of any furniture or decorations that is not absolutely essential to the first few weeks.
The same theory goes for books. If there are hundreds of books crammed into every shelf without space to move them around and find what interests you, it’s not welcoming.
My first priority this year for my classroom library was weeding out. I took every book off the shelf, piled them up on a table, held each one in my hand, and thought about which kids read it last year. If no kid popped in my mind, it went into a box labeled “never read last year”. If faces popped into my mind, I used that face to help me decide how to label it and put it into a bin to display with other similar books. If it was fought over all year as a favorite for many faces, I put that book in the very front of the bin so they see all the favorites prominently displayed as they walk in.
So I’ve drastically weeded out, just for the first few weeks, all the books no one wanted to read last year. Guess how many copy paper boxes I filled? Not one, not two, not three, but four full boxes of unread books! Many of these books are really good, the kids would have loved them. But no one was ever interested last year, so they’re out of sight for now in our storage room.
When my new 6th graders walk in next Monday, my bookshelf will be at the back of the room facing them and welcoming them in. They will see descriptors and genres as labels for each bin, with the favorites in the front. There is empty space on each shelf and in each bin. Space for more books, space to move things around, space to add what this new group of kids is interested in.
I even went ahead and put out the very favorites that I have always hid behind my desk to save for the reluctant readers. This was hard for me to do, but I decided I really really want all the best stuff shouting out to all of them from the get-go this year. I think my secret stash will instead contain the great brand new books I’ve been hearing about this summer like Refugee. These newer books are the books I will set aside for my reluctant readers. It’s funny how motivated they suddenly become to read a book when the rest of the class is fighting them for it and begging them to hurry and finish it so they can have a turn!
My classroom library is definitely minimal, maybe even bordering on bare for now, allowing space for kids. I am allowing them to come in and mark the room with who they are and what interests them. When I find out who they are, I’ll revisit a box of weeded books. I’m sure when I look at it with fresh eyes, knowing my kids, I’ll know better ways to present some of those great books to them. And I could even make a big production of it like, “I found these books especially for this class. Tell me which ones are worthy of our library and what kind of bins we should make for them.”
Later, when my higher volume readers think they’ve read everything in my library, I can present those students with another box to peruse as well. It could be almost like a treasure chest.
Or I could do the opposite. You know that kid who in November decides he’s “done”? You can see it physically. He’s got his chair way back from the table, slouched down to the horizontal recline, book loosely in hand ready to fall on the floor any minute, blank stare like you’re pretty sure he’s asleep with his eyes open, his energy is just daring you to say something to him about it. I can ask that kid, “Will you do me a favor during reading time today? I just got this box of books. Would you be willing to go through it and find some books the class might like? Not all of them are good, so maybe you could pick the best 4 or 5 for us?”
I mean, the kid’s trying to make a statement about not reading anyway, so maybe he’ll accidentally find something that interests him in the process! It’s worth a try, right?
This is my classroom library strategy for this year. I’d love to read about how other teachers are organizing theirs! Happy 2018-19 reading!