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Classroom Libraries

Classroom Libraries

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I recently invested in classroom libraries (leveled with great fiction/non-fiction/ units of study) for all of my district's k-8 special education classrooms. Please share your experiences/recommendations on the best way to utilize a classroom library. Thanks, Ray

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Melissa Beykirch's picture
Melissa Beykirch
Kindergarten Teacher in Little Egg Harbor Township, NJ

My classroom Library is the comfy area of the room. Filled with bean bags and pillows my students use it as a center of choice. All the books have been leveled and are marked with colored electrical tape on the binders then they are sorted into labeled baskets by genre. I work with my students so they are aware of what color level they can read independently. However, I do not discourage them from taking a higher level book - even if they are only looking at pictures - because that is reading too.
I incorporate the Daily Five into my class routine so the first several weeks are spent demonstrating and practicing "how to read a book." I allow my students to take these books from the classroom library to other parts of the room to read as well as borrow them to go home. The classroom library is one center I do not work with the students in. I want them to feel comfortable reading/looking at books without worrying about me looking over their shoulder. I do however, eavesdrop - it's a great assessment tool.
In addition I have a basket of books in each center on related topics. For example in my block center the books are about construction and building. These books are also leveled. The children use them to get ideas but mostly I use the basket for those students who have difficulty finding books of interest. They choose their favorite center and they can always find a book. My art center has books of artists as well as how to draw books. All of my centers have a book basket. This is my 29th year of teaching and I have been collecting books and developing this system for almost as many years.

Ms Michelle's picture
Ms Michelle
Third grade teacher living in the UAE

My library is a focal point in my ESL classroom. It is decorated with a hanging net and colorful bean bags for the students to sit on. During Guided reading, when I take it in turns to listen to a group read, the rest of the students are allowed to either sit in the reading corner or at their desks. They have the options of reading books, magazines, the local newspaper or take part in a center type activity to improve their decoding and reading skills.
I also encourage my students to buy one book each so that it can be added to our classroom library.

Becky Fisher's picture
Becky Fisher
Education Consultant

I definitely think you can incorporate a classroom library into a middle school environment. As long as it serves a purpose and becomes a part of the curriculum. It's also a great way to teach students responsibility at this stage by allowing them to borrow books for a set amount of time. Middle school students could use a classroom library for research, studying, and extra help. What class do you teach? How do you think you would incorporate a library into your classroom?

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

When I taught middle school special ed, the library was an essential element to my classroom. I tried to set it apart by putting a comfy rug near the bookshelves to set it apart from the rest of the room and to encourage students to hang out here and read.

Special Ed students often need a lot of encouragement to read independently, so offering them time to read and explore is powerful. One great way to get students invested in the book collection is to have them organize it. Start the year by talking fiction and nonfiction, and have the students sort the library. Over the course of the year you can increase complexity with genres and topics and return to the library to increasingly organize it over the course of the year.

Kathy Evenson's picture
Kathy Evenson
8th Grade Language Arts Teacher, Colorado

[quote]This sounds marvelous! I wonder if this can be created in the middle school environment?[/quote]

I currently have about 1,000 titles in my 8th grade ELA classroom. It encourages extra-curricular reading, discussion, and debate. I use Book Sources Classroom Organizer to catalog and checkout books (easy and free!). My students read more and see that reading is the heart of my curriculum, my teaching, and my life. I have collected books through Scholastic book clubs, donations (students often donate books that they are finished with), garage sales, used book stores, and thrift stores. Honestly, I can't imagine teaching English without my classroom library!

Nicole Bond's picture
Nicole Bond
8th Grade English Language Arts teacher from Pennsylvania

Currently, I have two large shelves full of books for students. I mark the binding with the AR Book Level for easy reference (a task I had students volunteer to help with when we began using Accelerated Reader this year). My students always organize my library for me. I keep my books organized by genre and title (since my students tend to recognize titles before authors at this level) and I let them sign out the book on a clipboard next to the shelves to keep track. There is no limit to how long they can have the book signed out in my room (though I check in with some periodically). I also have a set of newspapers which come to my room daily, and I'm exploring possible subscriptions to periodicals as I have students who have expressed an interest in magazines (like Time, for instance).

I love what it adds to my classroom dynamic even though I have little room for a dedicated reading area with chairs and the like. My students often chase books - one student signs it out, and the rest wait desperately for that student to finish the book. They create their own wait-lists on a novel and recommend titles for me to get through Scholastic (and I can't not mention that nearly all of my books have been purchased with the points I've gotten from book orders).

Whenever I get new books, I set them up on the chalkboard and introduce them to my classes, explaining the topic, reading the back, or reading a review I've found online. I let the students review the books too while I let them call out anything they find exciting in the latest Scholastic book order.

I know my grade level learning support teacher also has some of her books on audio (which can also be accomplished through library loans, yard sales, and online via Amazon's Audible if you have the tech available (Audible lets you subscribe for a monthly fee - you get credits, download what you want). I've found that struggling readers - learning support or otherwise, sometimes benefit from the audiobook when starting independent reading. They follow along in the novel with a set of headphones on... and then as they actually get into the story, you start to take the audiobook scaffolding away. If they've found the novel engaging enough, they will be interested enough to continue with reading without the audiobook.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Ray, we asked our Facebook community about the best way to utilize a classroom library, and they offered some very thoughtful examples. You can find them here:

Two examples are below.

From Veronica H.:
Have a system for students to check out books for classroom independent reading and for borrowing a book daily for at home reading ... students keep their selected books for a week and then exchange and shop for new books ... a library monitor can help make sure the books are returned where they belong. Books should be sorted and categorized in general, author, or genre labeled baskets. There should be half fiction and half informational text and a supply of leveled books to match the levels of the students.

From Rosemarie S.:
I use mine quite "informally". I have about 3,000 novels on shelves across the back of my room. I purchase some new but most used via Amazon or from used book sales. I try to keep classics on one side of the room and "miscellaneous contemporary" on the other side. I further try to have shelves labelled as "non-fiction and memoir", "Sports and adventure", "fantasy and supernatural", "love and relationships", "War and Historical", "Reference and Anthologies", "Fun-stuff", etc. But with 150 of my own students browsing regularly, as well as many additional students, I will admit that I have a very "loosely" organized system. I allow the students to sign out books from my room. I simply place their names and selections on a hand-written list that I have divided up by class on my podium. When they return a book, I cross it off. Yes, I have had books lost with this system but do not have time for anything more organized, and I have found that if I keep it simple, more students are inclined to come ask to borrow a book. Students may have the book as long as they need it but need to return all books by the end of the school year. (Unless they going to be in my AP Literature class the following year in which case, they are required to do a summer reading / research project, and most of them take a stack home over the summer.) My system is not fool-proof but works for me. In a high school of less than 400 students, I usually have around 150 to 200 books signed out at any given time.

Tina Monteleone's picture

Ray, Florham Park and your school district have a shared PD source that can help with question. That is Meredith Alvero and the TC Reading and Writing Project. Here is a great bundle of videos that help to support many of their ideas including utilizing libraries to scaffold/increase text complexity, create text sets, and to utilize certain excerpts as mentor text.

Ray Dorso's picture
Ray Dorso
Director of Special Services, New Milford School District

Hello Tina,
I know her well, she is an excellent resource!
Thanks for sharing.

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