It took me 3 seconds to decide that I was going to move my entire classroom library into my 7th grade classroom. Coming from 5th grade I wasn’t quite sure what the use of a classroom library would be on my new adventure, after all, we would only have 45 minutes together, but I couldn’t leave my books behind. I couldn’t leave them in boxes. Even if we didn’t need the books as a class, I needed them. My books were home to me and when you change schools, when you change districts, when you change grade levels, you need all of the pieces of home you can find.
My husband carried every single box of books into my classroom. There were more than 100 and they took up an entire wall as I waited for my bookshelves to arrive. He didn’t mind too much, he has realized a long time ago that I my obsession with books is part of who I am. As I opened each box and shelved the books in their new home, I couldn’t help but wonder if any child would ever read them? If dust would soon become their second skin rather than the hands of children. Was there any point in my meticulous placement of books?
On the first day as a 7th grade teacher, I was not sure how the students would react to the books. After all, in elementary school, most kids expected a classroom library. Most kids were used to the access. So I waited and soon enough the comments came.
“Are these all of your books?”
“Have you read them all?”
“How many books do you have?”
“Can we read them?”
Slowly, students began to ask more pointed questions.
“How do I check this one out?”
“Can I read this one?”
“Did you read this book, I have wanted to read it…”
It turns out my worry was unfounded. It turns out that middle schoolers in all of their bravado love classroom libraries as much as younger kids. That middle schoolers get as much use out of a classroom library if we let them. That they needs books now just as much as they needed them then.
In the past 2 years as a 7th grade teacher our classroom library has only grown. Teaching more than 100 students quickly made me realize just how many books I need to keep all readers invested and engaged with their reading. In fact, I started with the research on classroom library sizes and knew that while these were great starting points, that was exactly it, a start. When you teach that many students with reading abilities ranging from 2nd to 12th grade, interests spanning all topics, you need way more than you think, because middle schoolers can be fickle, so the message that my classroom library sends is; there is always another book waiting, there is always another chance at falling in love or remaining in love with reading.
And it is not because we do not have a school library, we have a beautiful one, one that is filled with incredible books and staffed with incredible people. But when the students are with me, during our 45 minutes of instruction every day, they also need books right at their fingertips. As Donalyn Miller and Teri Lesesne have said even a school library right across the hall from you is too far away for many students. And it is true, even a beautiful, well-stocked school library is too far away when a child needs a book right then. Because our students need to be enticed by another book the moment they finish or abandon their current one. They need books as a way to create community as they share their love (or dislike) of them with others. They need books to hand to their friends, to their teachers. They need books that will inspire them to read more. To discover who they are as a readers and who they want to become. They need to be able to go into our library and come out with something that speaks to them. Not just because the teacher tells them they have to read or the assignment requires them to.
I asked a child last year if our classroom library made a difference and his answer was simple yet powerful. “It made the biggest difference because the books were right there, so I read them.” And that is what I see every single day in our classroom, books being read because they are right there and there is no option to not read them.
As we increase the demand on students to read for knowledge rather than pleasure, we see their love of reading decline. Students have less time and less choice as they go through their years of schooling. So is it any wonder that by the time students graduate high school, 33% of them will never read another book? Having a classroom library in our middle and high school classrooms is therefore not a frivolous thrill, it is a vital necessity to create passionate reading environments. Having a classroom library should not be an investment we only make for our younger students, but should be one we make for all students, no matter their age. And it is not too late to start right now. We start by buying one book, then another, and we build our collection day by day. We book talk and we hand books to students. We create displays that entice, we create time to read, but first we have to have the books and access to them for all the kids we teach.
Our collection now probably holds more than 1,000 books and I know that I still do not have enough. After all, there are still students that search our shelves and come up empty-handed, but at least they had books to browse, at least they had books to try. I continue to add whenever I can, knowing that one day I will run out of walls pace and bookshelf space, but that when that day comes it will be a day of celebration because perhaps we now have a book for every interest, for every reader, for every child we teach.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.