Adventures in a Classroom Library

During the last year, I had a class filled of readers. Any chance they got, they were delved into a novel, picture book, fact book, anything that they could get their hands on. As I watched them riffle through our class library, I became aware that it wasn’t as user-friendly as I had once anticipated. Shelves of books, shoved in tightly, with a basic organizational structure, did not appeal to their reading needs. As a class, we decided to find a new way to organize our books. It was a massive undertaking, days filled with chaos, but their organization process and reasoning of why a book should go in a specific category was fascinating to observe.

After the books were neatly organized into bins, where titles and cover pages could be observed, the access and ability to find such diverse books in our classroom made reading that much more enjoyable. However, after a few weeks, the books became organized again, bins filled with varieties of genres, and I became to feel like we were back at square one.

Upon returning to school this year, and spending much time online seeing how other teachers organized their libraries, labels and stickers seemed to be the best way. I created labels for every bin, with colour-coordinated stickers on each book according to genre. Green stickers for series, pink for fiction, and orange for non-fiction. On each label outside of the bin a sticker was placed with a code so students knew where each book was to be returned. This has eliminated books being placed in the wrong bins.

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I also ensured to have a “lost” bin so students had somewhere to put books if they couldn’t locate the correct place. Additionally, a “hospital” bin was also needed, so we could stay on top of keeping books in good condition.

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I think the biggest change that I made was giving up my personal “teacher” space. I had an L-shaped desk that took up the majority of a corner in my classroom. When I reflected on how much I was actually at my desk throughout a day, which is very limited, I realized I could make better use of the space. I want my classroom to encourage reading, and for students to have a place where they can feel at home and comfortable. I found bean bag chairs on kijiji, and had my handy boyfriend build me a wonderful reading bench.

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Although my classroom space isn’t perfect, seeing my students lounging and reading makes it pretty close!

*Making labels can be a tedious task, and I am more than willing to share mine with anyone. If you would like the file, please comment below or contact me on twitter*

Falling in Love With Close Reading: Chapters 1/2

close reading

After seeing tweet after tweet, comment after comment, and picture after picture about the book “Falling in Love With Close Reading,” I decided I should follow the trend and purchase my own copy as well. I wanted to be included with all this twitter talk about the book! It arrived from Amazon quickly, and as I began to read, I’ve been thrilled by the ideas in this book. However, I often find when I read things they easily escape from my mind. I’m not the type to highlight a book, so I thought that perhaps blogging about it would give me a reference point, something to refer back to, for others to learn from as well, and maybe even start a conversation. So here we go…a summary beginning with chapters one and two.

What is close reading? (pg. 4)
Close reading is an interaction between the person reading the text and the text itself, that happens when one makes observations about what he/she has read and then interprets and develops a deeper understanding. It involves reading a section of a text over again, thinking about what was written and looking at it through several lenses. This knowledge can then be used throughout the whole text. In other words, looking at the little details to develop an understanding of the bigger picture.

Students need to be taught these skills and how to read through a critical lens. It is important that teachers show students these steps, and teach close reading instruction in a meaningful way. Instruction based on close reading should (pg. 5):
– be engaging
– promote student independence
– fit within other aspects of reading instruction, it isn’t the be all end all
– allow for time for students to reread sections and practice the skills learned
– be designed in a way that integrates easily with students needs and abilities

When students read books or a piece of text and then respond (whether it be written, oral, or through questioning), they have an idea or question to answer and then look for information or evidence to support their belief. This limits their thinking and simplifies it. Close reading instead, encourages students to gather and organize all that information and then develop their idea from the evidence they have (pg. 12). Here is how that looks through a chart the others present in the appendix of their book.

Picture taken from pg. 126, Falling in Love With Close Reading

Picture taken from pg. 126, Falling in Love With Close Reading

In the book they provide a fantastic example of what this would look like, through the story Out of My Mind. Through this example it was demonstrated how a student’s initial, simple idea about a character has now become deeper, much more complex, and allows students to have a better understanding.

Step 2 in the chart is the key area, where students look for patterns and connect ideas together. This is where the understanding begins, and as students reread, look back, and develop new ideas via using patterning, it allows the student to develop a much clearer understanding of the story or text. Below is an example from the book as to what this could look like.

Figure 2.8: Ways to Revise Our Thinking, from Falling in Love With Close Reading, pg. 28

Figure 2.8: Ways to Revise Our Thinking, from Falling in Love With Close Reading, pg. 28

The ideas covered in these two chapters are a teachers dream. This appears to be an incredible way for students to develop a deep understanding of characters and things happening in a text they are reading. It causing them to think critically, go back and examine their initial thoughts, and develop new ideas. Although this seems like an easy task, I wonder how much modeling and “rehearsing” is needed in order to prepare students to take on such a task. At what point would the level of independence wanted, be gained? How does a teacher observe and encourage students without taking that independence away? How do you teach the skills for students to look for these connections and patterns on their own?