Getting our students to read can be one of the toughest challenges that language arts teachers face. We’ve all heard every reason out there for why our kids don’t want to pick up a book, or why they simply cannot do it. “I have no time because of homework”, “I can’t find a book I like”, or the one that just hits me right in my book nerd soul, “But I HATE reading.” So at the end of the school day, when we’re all exhausted from the heart and soul we poured into our performances…er, lessons, why do we go home and spend our own limited funds on more books for our class libraries?
This has been a big question in my household as of late. I’m a third year teacher new to teaching the subject of language arts. Previously I taught a STEM class, which resulted in me having a very limited classroom library selection. I had spent most of my time and money acquiring materials to support teaching math, science, and engineering. The majority of my books were seriously outdated titles that had been well-loved by students of many years past. I had picked up a few newer ones at our book fair and garage sales, but most were given to me by those generous, wise beings known to others as veteran and retiring teachers. My husband, the wonderful and supportive man that he is, has helped me move these books from classroom to classroom over the past three years because I have moved classrooms every year since I began teaching. He was often the one who carried those heavy boxes. When I began buying new books for my class and Amazon boxes were showing up on our doorstep every day he began to notice, and his resounding question was, “Why buy more, when you already have so many?”
Many of you have probably guessed that my husband is not a teacher. If he was, as you all know so well, that would not have even crossed his mind as a question. This is one of the times when I am so very thankful that he is not, because his question really made me consider the purpose behind my desire to build a classroom library full of fantastic titles. It also made me pause and review how little time I had spent reading the books on my shelves and recommending them to my students. Did I truly need to buy more books? We had a library in our school, so did I need to update my own? Would this honestly help my students become more engaged in reading?
After taking time to think about the answers to those questions, as well as my motivation for taking on this project, I realized that it absolutely is worth the time and money it takes to build a quality classroom library. And here’s why: It’s for my kids. When I seek out new titles for my library, whether that be at my favorite secondhand bookstore, through a book order, at garage sales, or even on my Target run for Windex, I do it with my specific kids in mind. I read over the cover, the first few pages, and more often than not, my train of thought will land on a certain student in my class.
Oh, Anthony would absolutely love this one! And he’s been looking for a new book since he finished the last one…
Sami has been on a graphic novel kick lately, this would be perfect for her!
Occasionally, I’ll be talking to myself as I wander through the aisles of the store. I can’t help it. Once I find a book that I know will interest one of my students, especially the ones that have a hard time finding books they enjoy, I’m thrilled to buy it and put it on my shelf. I can’t wait for them to see the stacks of books on my desk and come to ask me if they’re ready for check out. I’ve also set a goal for myself this year that each time I add a new title to my shelf, I read it first so that I am able to recommend it to students as I talk to them about what they want to read. This has added an authenticity to my conversations with students about books that has really paid off. When I’m excited about a new book I’ve just read, my kids get excited about the book too. It makes it so rewarding to be able to tell them to grab it off my shelf because I have it available right away for them. It allows me to capitalize on their initial feeling toward the book, and helps to foster that love of reading that I’m aiming for.
Nothing can replace those conversations with my students. Nothing is more effective at helping students develop a love for reading than providing them with high-interest titles to devour. This is truly the most effective way to not only foster a desire to read, but it has also been shown to raise standardized test scores. Students are having conversations about novels they’ve read and recommending them to one another. They are demonstrating the ability to think deeply and critically through these stories and the organic conversations that develop when two 12 year olds read the same book, but feel differently about it. In addition to providing a wide selection of awesome books for my students, I’m also showing them how enjoyable reading can be, and creating a culture of reading appreciation in my classroom.
On top of spending the time and money to build a classroom library, my incredible ELA teammate and myself have done Free Read Friday as often as we possibly can this year. There have, sadly, been a few Fridays that we just could not do it, but more often than not we spend half of our language arts block allowing our students to get comfortable and read a book of their choosing. This time is so valuable, as it has really begun to create that cohesive reading culture in my classroom. My students look forward to the reading time they are given in class, and they cannot wait to tell me about their most recent find on my shelves. I’ve even begun to have students write me notes of new titles I should add because they so enjoyed the book they found on their own and want me to have it available for future students!
Creating and cultivating this passion for reading in my classroom is something I find incredibly important. I have always enjoyed it, ever since I was a little girl. It was a joke among my family members that I could nearly always be found with my nose in a book, and that I was always looking for something new to read. I vividly remember the days that each book of the Harry Potter series came out, and how my uncle would take me to get them right way at midnight. I remember starting a book club with my friends so we could all read the same series at the same time and talk about it at recess. In addition to the pure enjoyment, this love for reading helped me become a confident writer, it helped me develop strong spelling skills, and it helped me cope with much of the social emotional trouble I had growing up. When my parents went through a divorce, I found solace by rereading some of my favorite stories, and identifying with the characters. I was able to process my emotions by learning from characters who went through similar situations.
My work in progress library from 2016-17.
On top of student growth goals and SIP goals to increase our academic rigor, it is my personal goal in my classroom to inspire my students to find this same passion and love of reading that has brought me so much joy and excitement over the years. This means that I will continue buying new titles, including the ones my students recommend, so they have a wide range of titles to choose from. It is my hope that I am able to find a book that will ignite a spark in every student I meet. One that will show them how enjoyable reading can be, and encourage them to seek out another and another and another. One that will offer them comfort, escape, or the room to dream of what their futures hold. There are countless journeys waiting to be discovered in fictional lands or through memoirs outside of the experiences they have had. As an educator and book nerd, it is my job to provide the material for those dreams. It is my job to light those fires of curiosity within them. So why do I spend so much money on my classroom library? Well, to create dreams, of course.