Yesterday morning I took a group of fourth and fifth-grade teachers to visit the classroom library that received a makeover. Before taking the trip down the hall to visit the library, I showed a few “before” pictures and suggested that the visiting teachers take note of the library’s location in the room, the teacher’s footprint, and the teaching charts in addition to the library itself. With that, we were on our way.
Being mindful of how disruptive the arrival of 8 adults can be to class instruction, I had planned to quietly and discreetly show the teachers the library. I knocked on the door, and the hosting teacher waved us in. We began to make our way to the library, now situated in the corner across from the classroom door when the teacher and her students stopped what they were doing and eagerly told us about their new and improved library!
Organizational Shifts Lead to Shifts in Thinking
The first thing the teacher shared was that the students were involved in this library every step of the way! She explained, “My students were the ones who took the most active role. They had a say in how they wanted their library to be organized.” This was clear once the students started telling the fourth and fifth-grade teachers about their library. They beamed as they shared how we (the teacher, students and I) reorganized their book bins. They talked about how we took the nonfiction texts and made their bins labels more specific. For example, students decided that rather than have bins labeled “Animals”, they sorted the books into 2 piles labeled “Fierce predators” and “Pets”.
In the fiction section, the students requested that we move away from organizing books by reading level. “We took the books out of the leveled bins and put them in piles by topic and theme,” one student explained. Unlike bins organized by a reading level, labels such as “Girl Power” and “LOL” excite students and motivate them to pick up the books in the bin. One student shared: “I like the topics better than levels. They make it easier to find a book I want to read.” The new organization encourages students to read more of a type of book they enjoy.
The classroom teacher shared that the students’ strong desire to move away from leveled bins lead her to rethink the role levels play in her class. She shared, “This experience shifted my thinking about levels. I realized that the levels restrict students when selecting books to read.” Her responsiveness to her students and willingness to let them take the lead gave them true ownership of their new library.
A Library That is Both Inviting and Functional
The students discussed how much more colorful and appealing the library is now. They proudly showed off the bin labels they created explaining the reason for their design choices. They explained their new system for organizing books using colored and patterned masking tape. “See how the tape on the spine of the book matches the tape in the corner of the label. That’s how the librarian knows where to put the book” explained a student. They went on to explain their decision to add a “Book return” bin and have the class librarians be in charge of reshelving the books. They also drew our attention to the chart we created together last week entitled “How to Care for our Classroom Library.”
New Discoveries and Excitement for Reading Workshop
The process of reimagining their library introduced students to all the books it contained. As one student shared, “Wow! We have so many books that I never knew we had before!” Not only did the makeover process generate excitement about books, it reaffirmed the students’ passion for reader’s workshop. A student explained that because of the library makeover she feels “…excited and encouraged to read more!” The classroom teacher shared how the library project gave her reading workshop a boost. She added that the project was a great team and community building experience for her students.
The Best Professional Development on Classroom Libraries
The 4th and 5th-grade teachers grinned from ear to ear as the kids told them about their library. By the time we returned to my office, the teachers were truly excited and inspired to reimagine their own classroom libraries with their students.
Discussion of classroom libraries has been a large part of our professional learning around Reading Workshop. We have read about libraries, examined photographs and visited classrooms in other districts. But hearing students from our school community talk about their library made the power of a student-centered and run libraries come alive!