My friend, Sarah Andersen, posted a blog post titled “Is ‘Getting Along Fine’ Good Enough? after a reader questioned the need for classroom libraries. Sarah hit on so many important points in this post:
- If we expect [students] to become lifelong readers and find value in reading, then we need to show them that we are reading and valuing reading as well.
- Too many students only read when they’re in school. It is our job to provide them with time to read independently and to provide them with books to read.
- But having that classroom library, even a small classroom library, allowed me instant access to books to recommend to my students and provide for them during SSR. Those recommendations created an invaluable rapport with my students.
Then Sarah shared survey results and quotes from students about their experience with Ms. Andersen’s classroom library. These results show that a classroom library is an irreplaceable tool in building reading within our students.
Sarah’s post inspired me to share about my classroom library. I currently have over 3,000 titles. My library is filled with novels, illustrated novels, and graphic novels of all genres as well as informational nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, traditional literature, biographies, and poetry anthologies. I have books about all different topics, issues, and interests. This classroom library is how I get to know my students. I use it to help my students find a place for themselves in books and a home while reading. Through recommending and discussing books, I learn so much about my students that I otherwise wouldn’t know. I let my classes as well as three other teachers’ classes check out from me (though tw0 had students check out more from me than the other two). Last year 583 different titles were checked out from me equaling 1450 checkouts (I use Booksource to manage my classroom library and get this data).
Middle school is such an important time in students’ reading development; it is up to us teachers to help nurture the love for reading that many students have when they enter into middle school. This would also help our high school friends because by encouraging and nurturing readers, better readers would leave middle school.
As a reading teacher in the 21st century, so much pressure is being put on teachers to be rigorous, follow CCSS or other state standards, and follow mandated curriculum. However, in my opinion, the most powerful thing a teacher could have to promote analysis, inquiry, higher order thinking, etc. is a classroom library where students get to explore books and topics and genres. The best way to have students become better readers and thinkers is by reading.
But, like Sarah, why listen to me when you can listen to my students:
Did you borrow a book from my classroom library this year?
Did you read more, the same, or less than last year?
Did you have access to a classroom library last year?
53% YES BUT A SMALL ONE
Does my classroom library benefit students? How did it benefit you this year?
-“Yes, I got to read what I liked.”
-“IT WAS GOOD CAUSE I could read any book I wanted to read.”
-“I think it benefits students because some students do not have books at home to read. It benefits because I don’t have very many books at home to read.”
-“Yes, your classroom library benefits students. It benefited me this year by giving me a chance to read more books and find books that I like.”
-“It made me want to read more.”
-“I really like your library because I know that someone actually read them and liked them, which means they weren’t just put there.”
-“Yes it does benefit students by providing tons of books for them to read. It benefited me by showing me new and different books to read.”
-“Easy access to books.”
What would you say to someone that says a classroom library is a waste of money, not worth the time, or isn’t necessary?
-“It isn’t because so many books are amazing and helps you learn.”
-“It’s not a waste because a classroom library can help a lot of people read more.”
-“It is not true because books can enhance learning and engage students into learning.”
-“It isn’t as long as the owner is reading the books too.”
-“I would say that he should start reading and experience how having a library is like.”
-“That is a lie.”
-“It is not a waste. You are investing in someones brain.”
-“It isn’t because it allows many kids to have access to books and helps with education.”
-“I would say that it was their loss, because a classroom library is not only a learning experience, it’s a place to explore the pages and get in deeper to that world.”
-“Wow, you probably don’t read a lot.”
-“That he is wrong because it actually helps students read more.”
-“I would say it is not a waste of money because if a lot of people like to read then you are having something that many poeople love. If people know that you like reading they can give you books for others.”
-“I wouldn’t think so because sometimes people don’t read because they feel like other ‘logical’ activities are more important which deprives people from their sense of self and their sense to dream and learn life lessons.”
-“If someone said that a classroom library isn’t worth I can prove them wrong by saying, As kids lose places and time to read they can finally have a chance to read during the school by having a classroom library. And if the teachers do have a library, students will have more time to read and they can leave middle school strong.”
Why is it important to have a classroom library? Why is it important for teachers to read?
Bianca, 6th grade — “I think that it is important to have a classroom library because then kids get to choose what book they get to read. I don’t like when teachers give me a book I have to read by a certain time, and it’s usually a book I don’t like. It is important for a reading/language arts teacher to read because then they get to learn about things in books and teach it to their students so they can learn as well. Teachers can also learn things they never had known about in books. It is worth it because for the students that enjoy reading can keep enjoying reading and they can inspire others to enjoy reading.”
Ron, 8th grade — “A classroom library is very important for a language arts or a reading class because students might not have books at home to read so they will need a book to read or at least to read in class. And also, borrowing books from a library usually have due dates, and due to that, students that do not read fast will not have time to finish a very long book that they love in time. Instead, having a reading class, students can have a lot more time reading a book by borrowing a book in a teacher’s class than borrowing a book from a library. It is important for teachers to read so that they could suggest more books for students to read and start to read more and more books then they usually read.”
Kiersten, 6th grade — “I think that a classroom library is extremely important because it allows students to have access to tons of books with different varieties at any given time. It is important for language arts and reading teachers to read because if they read they can interact with any students reading the same book. This helps the teachers connect with students and lets the students have a chance at sharing their opinions on the books. It is also important for language arts/reading teachers to read because it is sort of their jobs to read because they do classroom novels and literature circles which require them to read. Also a student would be able to ask the teachers opinion on whether a book they are interested in is good or not.”
Kenneth, 6th grade — “It lets students experience the love of reading if they do not like it. And also if they do they get a extra place to read or have quiet time. So in the end students will be engaged in reading and the percentage of readers when they leave middle school can stay the same of go up. If teachers read they can discuss the climax and how interesting it is to read. And so that encourages students to read books in which they might be so engaged that they cannot stop reading. And so it helps teachers teach students better while the students get better at reading.”
Is there anything I could have done differently to help you read more this year?
-“No, I actually like to read now.”
-“No, you helped me read a lot more.”
-“No, I think this was a great way to help us read more.”
-“I don’t think so! I have read wayyyyy more than ever!”
-“I don’t think there is anything more because I have improved so much.”
I also reached out to some of my past students who I still remain in touch with. This is what they had to share about the importance of a classroom library and choice independent reading:
Aaron, class of 2015 — “What I can say about your independent library? Well, for one thing, reading was a skill I never gained until my sixth grade year. For as long as I can remember the school system has inhibited students to read the books they wish to read. A classroom library allows students to build a foundation on their reading skills and allows them to grow as readers. From experience, I was never the best reader and was never really well spoken. I had trouble on my vocabulary and sentence structure. Luckily, a fantastic teacher named Ms. Moye introduced a book from her library called Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz. This was the book that launched my reading career. As soon as I read Stormbreaker, I immediately started to read the whole series and couldn’t stop. It was addicting and I felt proud to read a series that big. This shows that non readers can soon become readers. Having a classroom library, I believe can inspire the youth to read more books. It can open new doors just like it did for me.”
Andrew, class of 2016 — “For me it was so powerful to have a classroom library because it constantly reminded me of how important it was to read and how many more stories and lessons I still had to learn through the countless books on those shelves. The main school library was also an excellent resource but the accessibility of the classroom library allowed me to develop a deeper passion and appreciation for reading.”
Alan, class of 2014 — “I needed a lot of guidance my middle school years so it was really nice having a teacher recommend a book that they knew I would enjoy and understand.”
Carlos, class of 2016 — “The best thing about your class and the library was that you gave us choices. The choice to read, the choice to succeed, and the choice to fail. Since you were really the first teacher to give me those choices I decided to take them. It was when I had you that I actually started reading for fun. Thank God you had King Arthur. School in general was never presented to me as a choice but rather as an absolute and you completely shattered that and I thank you for that.”
G.B., class of 2016 — ” I was blessed and fortunate enough to attend public schools where the teachers worked hard day and night to ensure the success of their students, and even luckier to have had the ability to check out books in Mrs. Kellee Moye’s classroom collection. With access to more than 1,300 titles in a classroom library, my classmates and I had no choice but to examine, discuss and check out the books alphabetized and organized by author and genre on the shelves. Through this handy library at arm’s length, I noticed the students around me who were not as motivated and interested in reading began to find pleasure in certain genres and gained an openness towards discussing in class regarding their opinions on the novels they have read. This “breakthrough” for many students at this age tends to occur through a scenario of contagious diffusion, just as much of our pop culture is spread today, and with access to such a library, students are bound to find something that entices them.
With daily access to the works of Patrick Ness, Wendy Mass, Ally Carter and other juvenile and young adult authors, readers are able to submerge into the shoes of characters of all ages, homelands, races, passions, ethnicities, environments and genuinely understand the struggles, obstacles and emotional moments they endure. This leads to the creation of a generation of readers who can empathize with the world around them and take these lessons they have learned through the journeys of their respective fictional characters and integrate these newfound understandings into their everyday decisions and conscious actions towards themselves and others. For these young readers, these storybook characters slowly fade away from their fictional storylines and become real people in the real world with real challenges and motives to learn from their mistakes and change for the better.
We gain perspective from these characters, we gain understanding from these new pairs of lenses, we gain optimism and success, uncertainty and guidance, and whether we realize it or not, we gain a versatile companion along the way. One who appears to have all the words and questions, just like us, and if we’re lucky enough, we seem to discover the answers within them. ”
I hope that you find these students’ answers as inspiring as I do! Allowing students to read independent choice novels and having time to read is something that I strongly believe in (and research believes in, too), and a classroom library goes hand-in-hand with this practice!