How Do We Decide What Goes In Our Classroom Libraries?
My classroom library is a vital part of the classroom culture. I spend as much time and thought curating my library as I do setting up my room and planning units. I know that a classroom library can inspire imagination and ignite reading lives but it can also deter readers and dampen enthusiasm. Making sure that our classroom library is a place kids want to spend time is crucial. Here are some of the ways I inform the selection of books on hand for my fourth graders:
- I focus heavily on series and authors. Experience has taught me that if a reader, especially a reluctant reader, can get into one book in one series, they’ll continue reading and actually benefit from the support of the structure and familiarity of the series. Automatic scaffolding. Win-Win!
- I consider genre, making sure I have a balance of fiction and nonfiction and a good variety of each.
- I keep track of what’s hot. Right now fantasy and sci-fi are in with both boys and girls. Fairies used to be a female favorite but now they are so three years ago. I hadn’t seen much interest in straight-up adventure (no magic or post-apocalyptic civilizations) in the past few years but see that it is starting to make a comeback.
- I consider hot topics for nonfiction. Cars, soccer (European), jewelry-making and ancient civilizations are big right now. The usual animals also have a strong showing.
- I consider my curriculum and am always on the
lookout for titles that support my units AND are appropriate for my readers. That last bit can be tricky.
- I troll teacher blogs and book lists more than I troll facebook. Donalynn Miller is one of my biggest influences when it comes to how I organize my reader’s workshop and of course, my library. (I highly recommend that teachers who are interested in selecting books and organizing for engaging and effective reading instruction check out what Donnalynn has to say.)
- I find out what other teacher’s kids are into.
- I ask my students. This is likely the most powerful method I have for selecting engaging, relevant books that my readers will want to actually read. Being in touch with what the kids will actually read is the most important thing. No matter how many awards a book has received, no matter what the education field or curriculum documents say is quality reading for my fourth graders, a book that sits on a shelf doesn’t help any reader. A book that a child is dragged through can do more harm than good.
- At the start of the year, I ask them what books they think their classmates must read. I use google forms and compile lists of recommendations. This autumn, kids asked for: Warrior Cats, Dork Diaries, Land of Stories, Pegasus, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Norm, Tom Gates, Horrible Histories and books by David Walliams, to name a few.
- When we have book fairs, I ask kids to make a list of recommendations from the displays for our classroom library. When I worked in schools that didn’t have book fairs, I gave kids scholastic catalogs and asked them to make wish lists. Even in inner city NY, money could be found to purchase a selection of those lists and honor the student’s selections.
- At the end of the year, I ask again, this time for them to tell me what I must have on hand for the incoming class that August. The graduating fourth graders are more than happy to keep me hip to the trends.
- I pay attention during reader’s workshop, noticing which titles are being fought over and which topics are being discussed.
- I watch how my students organize the library. They are welcome to change the organization and their choices often let me know what’s important and interesting to them.
- I’ve found the local bookstore that also has an impressive English language kids’ section. It’s not Barnes and Nobles but it’s a close second.
- I wander into other classrooms and see what they have that we don’t.
One thing I don’t have to worry about too much is funding. We have a very generous budget that allows not only for updating our libraries regularly but also for doing so in a timely manner. In other words, when three of my reluctant readers got into the Alfie the Werewolf series last year and they were fighting over the few copies in the lower school library, I could go to Amazon and stock them in our class library while the demand was still hot. Three boys who spent two-thirds of the year bored by books were engrossed for the final three months of school in all things Alfie.
How Do You Decide?
I’d love to know how other teachers find books and make decisions on what to put in their libraries. What series, genre and topics are hot with your kids? What websites are great for finding lists and updates?