The Rule, Not the Exception

My mind is racing today with too many thoughts to narrow down. I’m thinking about presidential debates, the summer essays I need to grade, unit calendars I need to finalize, books I want to read and write about, when I’m going to get our grocery shopping done, etc. Yep, racing.

But for some reason I can’t get my mind off the fact that so many of my students year after year don’t like reading and/or don’t consider themselves “readers.” I can’t get my mind off the fact that my classroom library is an oddity to them. I can’t stop thinking about the fact that many high school English teachers don’t offer regular independent sustained silent reading time (I say independent because I’m referring to student choice in the reading). I keep thinking about high school English classrooms WITHOUT classroom libraries. Schools without teachers willing to develop classroom libraries.

I know books are expensive and that we spend so much out of our pockets already, but isn’t literacy and creating life-long readers worth the money spent on books? If we value education and preach the importance of reading, shouldn’t we be making time in class to read? And if we’re making time for our students to read, shouldn’t we be modeling the behavior we wish to see by reading ourselves? I’ll be honest, one of the reasons I was looking forward to a new school year was because I knew I’d have time to read during the day! I’ve heard stories of administrators not understanding classroom time being used for independent reading. What can be done to help these administrators understand and see the importance of time dedicated to reading? If you’ve ever wondered what students think of classroom libraries, I wrote a post about this back in January.

With literacy advocates like Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Pernille Ripp and so many others, why are we still missing the mark? When I started teaching, I was fortunate to have a stellar college professor who advocated for classroom libraries, read alouds, SSR time, etc. I didn’t know about Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle, but when I discovered both of them, it reaffirmed what I was already doing as a teacher and what I knew was right. I know that literacy leaders across the country provide professional development throughout the year, but I’m beginning to wonder if those leaders are preaching to the choir and not reaching the teachers who don’t make time for independent reading or creating classroom libraries. If that’s the case, how do we reach teachers who aren’t doing this? How do we invite these teachers into our classrooms and start making positive changes? How do we make this an inviting experience and not one that puts others on the defensive?

I’m in my tenth year of teaching and I’ve long worried about making waves and coming across as “preachy.” I certainly don’t want to offend anyone. But it’s high time we start having some conversations about developing readers and creating reading communities in our middle school and high school classrooms. These conversations need to extend beyond the teachers who are already putting these practices into motion. It would be excellent and empowering if more teachers could learn from each other on a regular basis. If you’ve created a classroom library and advocate for SSR time in your classroom, you should be leading other teachers in your department and in your district. Attending a workshop or conference is a great place to start, but the conversation needs to continue once we’re back in our classrooms. My classroom and classrooms like mine should be the rule, not the exception. Students should walk into English classrooms EXPECTING to see classroom libraries and EXPECTING time to read during class. It shouldn’t be shocking to see classroom walls lined with books.

If you’ve found a way to reach more people about this matter, I’d love to hear from you. If you’ve been wanting to move forward with a classroom library and/or SSR time, I’d love to hear from you as well. Let’s start a conversation and see what positive changes we can make together!

Is “getting along fine” good enough?

On May 29th, 2012 I wrote a blog post about creating and managing my classroom library. I had previously received a number of requests to post something of the like so I finally took the time to do so. Since that day it has been one of my most popular blog posts; it’s been pinned over 7,000 times! I’m certainly not an expert on managing a class library and need to make some changes (Booksource, anyone?), but I offer a good starting point for those who wish to begin a class library or want to improve their system.

A few months ago a student teacher found that post and left a comment that still concerns me.

I’m currently in a teaching program and I would love to have a class library, but I’m a little intimidated by the prospect. At this point, I’m just not sure whether it’s worth the time it would take to keep and maintain. I think it could be very useful for building healthy relationships with students and I like your ideas around having students be responsible for some of the upkeep. What other benefits have you seen to your library? Part of me just wants to have a library to have an excuse to buy and read more books and maybe that’s a good enough reason. I think it will also revolve around my school’s expectations for student reading. If my school ends up having SSR, I can’t see going without a library, but my current mentor teacher doesn’t really have a class library and he gets along fine. Thank you for detailing some of the nuts and bolts of your library. That helps my thought process a lot.

When I first read this I had to stop and process it because I didn’t know where to start. First, I’m thankful that this pre-service teacher reached out to me and that I *hopefully* helped. These lines worried me the most:

I think it will also revolve around my school’s expectations for student reading. If my school ends up having SSR, I can’t see going without a library, but my current mentor teacher doesn’t really have a class library and he gets along fine.

Teachers should have classroom libraries regardless of a school’s stance on SSR and their expectations for student reading. I started teaching in a district that didn’t have any kind of stance on SSR or student reading, but I went in with a very fluid reading philosophy. I’ve posted before about how influential my classes with Dr. Steffel were; she’s the reason I began a classroom library and why I read aloud to my students every day. I began student teaching with the understanding that a teacher who reads what her students are reading is a teacher who will connect with her students. Students need to see their teachers, especially their English teachers, reading every day. If we expect them to become lifelong readers and find value in reading, then we need to show them that we are reading and valuing reading as well.

I know it’s not always easy to accomplish, but making time for SSR is a must in every English classroom. Even if it’s once a week or every other day, it needs to be done. 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. It’s not easy or cheap managing a classroom library, but it’s too important not to do. It’s also the reason why I provided tips in that blog post for providing books for the classroom without breaking the bank. I don’t know anyone who started a class library with hundreds of books; it’s a slow and steady and exciting worthwhile process. 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. I read the books I add to my classroom library, often while my students are reading during SSR, so that I know which books to recommend to certain students.

I could go on about this for much longer, but I think it’s more powerful to read what my past and current students think about classroom libraries and teachers who read/recommend books. This post isn’t here to pat myself on the back, but to inspire/motivate/encourage teachers and pre-service teachers to provide independent reading time and classroom libraries for their students. I know teachers can and have been “getting along fine” without providing time to read and without providing a classroom library, but is that really enough? Are our students “getting along fine” without it? Can’t we do better than “fine”? Don’t our students deserve better than that?

Fifty eight of my current students responded to a poll I created about my classroom library.

  1. Do you borrow books from my classroom library? 
    52–Yes
    6–No
  2. Does my classroom library benefit students? Explain your answer.

    –Yes because there are a variety of books that every student can relate to. There are so many different genres and we can use your help to find a book.
    –Yes more options of books to choose from, we can’t always go to you if we wan’t to talk about a book or wan’t a recommendation also a lot of students read the same books from the class room so we can talk with each other about a book we’re reading.
    –Yes because it offers books that are new and may be unheard of or books hat people want to read.
    –Yes, it seems like there’s a better variety and a more comfortable atmosphere to check out books
    –Yes because it offers a variety of books with insight from the teacher on the book.

    –Definitely. I used to read a little bit here and there but your library has really gotten me back into reading. Usually I wouldn’t sit at home reading, but now I just get wrapped up in these great books.

    –Yes, it broadens our horizons and opens us up to new genres
    –I do think that the classroom library benefits students because it is easy access to books. I feel that I have no time to go to the library to actually check out a book in between class or in the morning. So have the library every other day is very helpful for me.
    –Yes. It’s gives you more opportunities to find books you would have never tried before.
    –Yes, it makes class time fun, and it makes reading not a chore.
    –Yes, it opens my eyes to different books.
    –Yes, of course it does! I personally think it’s because your classroom is a comfortable place to be that feels like home AND a library in one. It also saves students the trouble from having to go to the library every time they want a book to read.

    –Yes it does benefit me because it allows me to read and finish a book at my own pace without worrying about having to renew my book every 2 weeks.
    –Yes, I think it builds a relationship with you because we can relate. It makes it easier to get access to books, therefore if you didn’t have a classroom library I most likely wouldn’t read as much as I do.
    –The library very much benefits students because it gives them an opportunity to choose a book in the classroom without having to go down to the actual library, and they have something they can discuss with their teacher. It brings students closer on a common ground to make them feel comfortable.
  3. Did your English teacher last year have a classroom library? (I have seniors & freshmen and have never taught juniors)
    9–Yes
    48–No

I also reached out to my former students on Facebook who have graduated. I asked them about their experience with my classroom library and having time to read. Here are some of their responses:

Chloe–“Before your class I didn’t read much at all, especially not for leisure. Once I was in the class, that changed completely! You reading aloud to the class was a nice change from the usual English class I had been in, and it inspired me, and many students, to read in our free time. Having the extensive and up-to-date library in the classroom made it easy to find something I enjoyed. Having other students reading and giving their opinions helped make it an awesome environment for finding a great book as well. You took the time to get to know all of our tastes in books, and would make recommendations, which I personally loved because I always loved the books you suggested! I read more in your class than I had my whole life! When you left many of us talked about how awesome it was wanting to read and being encouraged to do so! I haven’t had a class like that since. I loved having book talks and discussing the topics we were reading, and I really believe having that environment has made a positive impact!”

Cortney–“Having you as a teacher is what started my love of reading. Before you being my teacher I had never read a book for fun before. What sparked my interest in reading is how you would read a book out loud to the entire class, I would look forward to your class so i could hear the next chapter. I then decided to take your young adult literature class and loved it! You introduced me to books I could relate too and that I enjoyed reading! Your classroom liberty was amazing because every book on your shelf was “pre-approved” to be a good story. If it weren’t for your class I definitely wouldn’t be the reader I am today!”

Alyssa–“I was never a reader until your class. I had you for English my freshman year and I also loved how you read to the class. This made me want to take your young adult lit. class. Honestly I haven’t stopped reading since your class.”

Zach–“I think the great part about your style of teaching and reading is you challenge the students to find books on their own that they may in turn love. While also attempting to have them read books they don’t normally read. You’ve also chosen to continue reading more and more books throughout all your teaching years, allowing you to keep up with current books and readings. It’s encouraging to see a teacher preaching what she teaches with her readings, and challenging students to do the same. I never would’ve started reading YAL novels without your classroom, and they’ve become some of my favorite books. (Beautiful Creatures, Wake, Fade, Gone, etc). Some, like Boy Toy and Hush Hush, have easily ranked my favorite of all time. Keep doing what you do, it works!”

Hannah–“Hi Mrs. Andersen! I’d be happy to help with your blog post in any way I can. You were the only teacher I ever had with any type of substantial classroom library (a few others had a few dozen books but nothing compared to yours), and you always knew exactly the type of books to recommend to each student based on their tastes and how to get us out of reading slumps (I’m still not sure how you always knew exactly what everyone would like).”

Caroline–“Not being much of a reader I wasn’t sure about taking this class [my YA Lit class] when I first walked in. Yet it quickly became one of my favorite classes. It really opened my eyes to how mesmerizing a story could be; how much emotion can be put into it. One of my favorite ways of finding a book to read was when we all had to read a book for a few minutes and then pass it along to read the beginning of another one. I think this helped each of us learn which genre of books we wanted to do our projects on. I loved having someone to recommend books to me whenever I didn’t know what to read next. Since taking this class I have collected my own small library worth of novels. I would recommend this class to anyone, even if they don’t believe reading is for them.”

Tristan–“I loved having access to so many different books at all times! I loved having suggestions from you and other students. I read a lot of books that I wouldn’t have found out about otherwise because it’s hard to go to the bookstore and know what books are actually worth the read. Also just being surrounded by so many books is inspiring and made me want to read that much more. I miss it all the time!”

It is my sincere hope that all teachers, especially English teachers, will create classroom libraries and provide SSR time. I’m working tirelessly to help spread this idea to teachers wherever I go. I’d love to hear from you if you’re also providing SSR time and/or a classroom library. Teachers and pre-service teachers read my blog and could benefit from your experiences as well.

Some images of my classroom library from within the last three years:

Building a Community of Readers in the High School Classroom

This past week my high school held a professional development summit with two other neighboring high schools. It was a fun way to kick off the school year since teachers had the opportunity to learn from and present to other teachers throughout the day. My friends, Lindsay Grady and Amanda Canterbury and I ran a two part session about the importance of a reading community in the high school classroom.

Lindsay, Amanda, and I are voracious YA readers and love fostering a love of reading in our students. It was my principal who suggested that I put something together for the summit; it was just the nudge I needed to make an inkling of an idea blossom into something more. I had been thinking about creating a PD session that was interactive and revolved around reading, but I wasn’t sure how or where to make that happen. Once my principal mentioned the summit, I knew I wanted Lindsay and Amanda working with me.

Lindsay's Read AloudSince each session ran for 50 minutes, we decided to run it in two parts. The first part would be the why we do what we do and the second part would be the how we do what we do. We focused on read alouds, book talks, a book pass, independent reading projects, and sustained silent reading (SSR). During the first part we explained what each of these are and tips/tricks/books to use. When we moved into the second session the teachers experienced a read aloud, book talks and a book pass. It was relaxed and really fun. Lindsay read aloud the first twelve pages of Stolen by Lucy Christopher, which will definitely hook readers. Amanda book talked Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby and shared why it made her cry. I book talked All the Rage by Courtney Summers and read the first five pages when Romy provides readers with a powerful flashback. We also shared pictures of our classroom libraries, book displays, and different projects students have created in response to reading. The three of us also made sure to express the importance of CHOICE; our students wouldn’t be nearly as excited about reading without choice.Amanda's Book Talk

As the three of us worked on creating this session, I couldn’t help but think about how powerful it would be if the attending teachers could leave with books to add to their classrooms. I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and reach out to a few publishers for help. I’ve requested books from publishers, but I have never requested enough books to hand out to a large group before. I didn’t know what to expect and I felt awkward sending the emails. My friends, YA publishers are awesome and generous. Thanks to their overwhelming kindness, the teachers who attended our session left with roughly 10 books each! At one point this summer, I think I had close to 400 books in my basement.

Bags of BooksGrocery bags of books lined the front of the room where we presented. We waited until the end of the second session to surprise the teachers with the books and I really wish I would have taken a picture of their faces. They were SO EXCITED when we told them what was in the bags! A few were excited that the books Amanda and I book talked were included. For the rest of the day teachers approached us to thank us or to say that they were disappointed that they missed our session. It’s priceless knowing that those books are going to reach students across three school districts. I’ve tweeted it a few times already, but I’m going to say it again: Thank you, HarperCollins, Little, Brown & Co, St. Martin’s Griffin, and Candlewick Press!!!

Summit Books

I uploaded the presentation we created onto Slideshare and am including the link here if you’d like access to it. Lindsay, Amanda, and I included a link to Penny Kittle’s Book Love Grant and to ALAN’s website. We also have links to class library book recommendations, graphic novel recommendations (after it was requested by an attending teacher), and read aloud recommendations. If part of the presentation doesn’t work or if images are missing, please let me know.

%d bloggers like this: