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March 29, 2018

Building a Community of Readers

Picture the first week of school. You walk in and tell your students it is time for some independent reading. They instantly run to your classroom library and grab a book they have been eyeing up.

And then you wake up.

It was a beautiful dream. Sadly, that is not how most of my students in my 2nd grade classroom are were. Goodness it wasn't even how my 5th graders were. Why is that? Why do some students struggle to find a book that speaks to them? I fully believe that it is because they never had someone guide them to find a book.

Finding THE Book

Last year I was teaching 5th grade. I was teaching Math, but it was so important to me to have my students be readers. At this school we used the AR program*. Which in my opinion, kills a desire/love for reading for some students. (I however, would have been the student who loved AR because I just loved reading.) We tell kids that they can only read books on their level and then force them to take a test on it. THEN, if they don't pass it hurts their reading grade. That year was like a knife in my heart. You see, I'm a reader. I always have been. I loved getting lost in books and wanted my students to know that feeling.

* I recognize that different schools run their AR program differently, this was mt experience at this particular school.

I specifically remember one student who did not like to read. She was not reading on grade level and was concerned people would make fun of her. Then we found THE BOOK. You know the one I am talking about. The one where a connection is made. The one where she reads it because she wants to and not because she has to. The one where she goes, do you have any other books like this? You may ask, what was this amazing book that changed her outlook? It was The Crossover. If you do not have this book in your upper elementary library, please get it. And then consider Rebound.

Sadly, this book had gone missing from my library. Am I sad by this? Absolutely. However, it is somewhere where it is needed.

My Classroom Library

Now - I let my students take my books home. Some will argue that they wont come back. Sure, that happened with maybe a handful of my books, but not with the majority. Why not? Well my students knew how much these books meant to me. How much I valued them. That I purchased them with my own money specifically for them.

My classroom library is my pride and joy. However, when I was hired to teach 5th grade I was coming from Kindergarten. Yep -  needed a whole new library. I started the year with the books that were in the there as well as the books my brother and I read growing up.

My classroom library started out a little sad looking. (Just one bookcase of 3).
Slowly through Scholastic and my own purchases these bookshelves were bursting by the end of the year. Don't be intimidated. Just let time takes its course.

Books Change Everything

As I have said before, I truly believe that the right book can change a reader. In the younger grades we spend the time to help students find a book, sometimes we forget in the older grades. This year we took our whole school to go see Ferdinand. Before we watched the movie I wanted to read the book with my students. It was perfect timing as Scholastic Book Clubs released the book as one of their dollar deals. I was so excited, I was able to buy ALL of my students this book. We read it together. Completed STEM activities. And then were able to experience the movie. It was a great connection. 

As we were walking into the movie theater a mom of one of my boys told me a story. They were out shopping and he saw the book Ferdinand. He asked her to buy it. She bought it for him because he NEVER asked her to buy a book before. You guys, I cried. This right here is why I do what I do. This kid just asked for his first book because he felt connected to a character.  Even the smallest moments can make the biggest impacts.
He gave me this card for Christmas. Yes, I cried again. 

Dollar Deals

Dollar deals seriously make me so happy. They help me to get books into the hands of my students. I am a sucker, I buy my students their own book about 3-4 times a year. Why? Because it gets them excited. It gets them reading. It gets them loving books.

This year I purchased the Gruffalo from Scholastic. We read the book together and then watched the video on Netflix. What had my teacher heart so happy was having these scholars follow along with me while we were reading. Then I watched as they followed along in the book with the video. 

We watched The Gruffalo after reading it as a class.

They Read What I Read

A HUGE part of developing a reading culture in my classroom is by sharing books with them. One thing I have noticed is that they are drawn to the books I share with them. We read The Wild Robot as a read aloud this school year. When I shared with them that there was a sequel, I asked if we should read it. It was a unanimous vote. (No Joke). What happened was my students connected with a character and wanted to continue the journey.

Story Time! One day I saw The Wild Robot Escapes on one of my students desks. Now, they all had been trying to sneak the book to read ahead. So, jokingly I picked the book up and said we aren't reading ahead. Well joke was on me! I go to put the book where I keep it and wouldn't you know, my copy was there. Here this student had purchased the book over the weekend so he could follow along with me.

Ask yourself, what kind of books are you sharing with your students? Are you sharing books with your students? Could you share more?

Building Your Classroom Library

I shared a post on my Instagram about how it took time to build my library in my 5th grade classroom. One tip I used was making sure my Scholastic Book order was $300 in September. This gave me a ton of points that I used throughout the year. Plus, in order to make it to $300 I had to spend some of my own money.

I very much recognize that new teachers and teachers in private schools or Catholic schools can't always afford to do this. Believe me I know, my salary was under $20,000 for 5 years. In that case - ask! Make a wish list on Amazon or send a wish list home to parents. I know it can be awkward to ask but someone spending $5-10 is better than you spending $200. And trust me when I say, people like to help teachers. Also, do not forget about Donor's Choose. 

According to an article from Scholastic, they feel classroom libraries should have approximately 20 books per student. Other articles argue at least 500 titles per classroom. Ultimately your goal is at least 300-600 titles. Again, do NOT panic. This will not happen in your first year of teaching. It takes time. Use your local library and be purposeful about your purchases. In time you will have a classroom library that you love!

Let Them Take Your Books

My classroom library. Messy and well read.
This is obviously a personal decision for individual teachers. I have had a pretty high return rate of my personal books. Have some gone missing? Absolutely. I shared with you how The Crossover went missing from my library. When this happens I have two choices, to be completely upset and never want to let them check out my books again OR I can believe that those books are in the hands of some child somewhere. I suggest an effective checkout of your books. I tried this. But since I did not have all my books scanned it didn't work to well. Y'all, I have a lot of books to scan. It is my goal to get better at this though. 

How do I make sure my books are returned? I am honest with my scholars. I tell them that these books are special to me. I tell them that I buy them with my own money. I tell them that I buy them so they can read them. I make a connection. 

Before my Spring recess I told my students to make sure they had a book in their book bag to read over the break. Several asked me if they could borrow my books (one was The Wild Robot which we already read). Of course I let them. One boy took 3 of my Junie B. Jones books because he reads them quickly.  One boy took the Book With No Pictures because he wanted his mom to read it to him. Do I worry they won't come back? Sure. But my joy in their desire to read them outweighs that greatly. Set your expectations high, they will reach them. 

Literacy changes everything for our students. Building a community of readers should be a goal of yours. I hope some of my experience will help you in creating that culture. #readersareleaders

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