Recently, I was shocked to read an article written by a middle school teacher listing reasons why she was getting rid of her classroom library. I can’t imagine my fourth grade classroom without our library! This space is sacred. It’s the heart and soul of our classroom, and I will defend its presence until the end of my days.
It’s Better to Lose a Book Than Lose a Reader*
Do I end the school year with all of my classroom library books intact? Absolutely not. Inevitably, some will get lost or forgotten at home. But others–and this is important–will be read so many times that the pages will fall out, the covers will disintegrate, and the book has to be retired. In my view, that’s the sign of a successful school year. I will never complain about replacing some of my more popular books and series each school year, because I know the reason I’m replacing them is that my students literally read them to pieces.
Also, if you establish a procedure for your students to check out and return your library books, you will have a general sense of where you books are. And at the end of the day, it’s better for a book to be in a kid’s backpack, locker, or bedroom than sitting on a dusty shelf, never allowed to be read or loved.
Classroom Libraries Give Kids Options
I don’t expect my students to enter my classroom knowing how to choose a book that’s right for them. I know that I will have to model this explicitly, provide my students with strategies, allow them to practice choosing their own books, and follow up with students who are struggling to master this vital reading skill. But having a large classroom library with a wide variety of books makes this easier, not harder.
Because I have hundreds of books across genres and reading levels in my classroom, it’s easy for me to help students learn how to choose their own book. My students don’t have to rely on leveled bins or colored stickers on a once-weekly trip to the school library in order to find a book that works for them. Using the 5-Finger Rule, they learn how to select a book that interests them and monitor their own comprehension to determine if it’s a good fit for them. And because they will have practiced choosing books in an authentic way, students are better equipped to pick their own books at public libraries and bookstores.
Classroom Libraries are the Best Way to Encourage Real Reading
Every single day, my students walk in the classroom and immediately start reading. Some of them curl up with a pillow on the rug. Others create a little reading cave under the small group table. Still others keep it simple and stay at their desks. But they have one thing in common. They are all reading, and completely engaged in, a book from our robust classroom library.
We don’t start off like this on day one. I have to explicitly teach and model “fake” reading versus “real” reading. We practice building our independent reading stamina every day until we reach our goal of 20 minutes daily. But there is no question that our independent reading time would not be nearly as successful or as effective if we didn’t have a large classroom library. Having a well-stocked library means that when a student finishes the second Amulet book halfway through our reading time, he can grab the third one and keep reading without losing any momentum. I’ve also discovered that many reluctant readers just haven’t found the right book, or series, or author that makes them see reading differently. Having options to choose from, time to explore those options, and opportunities to read the book they chose makes a huge impact on a student’s reading life.
In conclusion, I’ll never, ever, ever get rid of my classroom library. I’ve seen it improve my students’ academic performance, increase how much my students read, and most importantly, turn my students into real readers.
*Original phrase from Donalyn Miller