being a teacher, first day, first week, Reading, Reading Identity

Questions to Assess our Classroom Library Before Back-to-School

I have been spending some time in my classroom these last few weeks. Getting ready,  getting excited.  At the end of last school year, I moved all of our bookshelves, rearranged the furniture, and tried to update this little space that hopefully becomes our space as it is filled with students.  Tried to create some sort of new space that would shape the experiences we are bound to have; places to gather, places to pull away.  Slowly, but surely, it is starting to come together.

The tables stand ready, the ideas are too, but the books? They are not ready.  Not yet. They beckon to be looked at, sorted, re-displayed, and yes, even gotten rid of.  New readers mean new book adventures ahead, new needs arising for the kids I am entrusted with, new relationships waiting to happen.  Weeding through my classroom library is always a must before the beginning of the year.

Books are an extension of our beliefs and so when students enter into our school or classroom libraries, they become the very first indicator of who we are and what we believe in.  They are a direct reflection of which type of reading experience we want o create with our students.  Which type of teacher we are.  What we hold dear, what we value.  This is why book displays cannot and should not be haphazardly put together.  This is why we must look at the books we bring in, the books we offer up for students to experience, and see which experience they are actually creating.

So to go through our classroom library, I ask myself the following questions starting with the fairly simple to the more in-depth.

How do the books look?  Which books are falling apart and need to either be thrown out or replaced?  Which books have really outdated covers that are preventing them from being read?  How about text size and font?  For books that I know would be read but might not be because of “outside” factors, I create a replacement wishlist.

How do the bins look?  Just like the books, some of our bins get fairly beat up, do they need to be replaced?  Relabeled?  Moved around?

How is our overall organization?  Because our library is one based on genres and sub-genres, these are changeable, meaning if I feel like we have a large collection of some books perhaps they need their own sub-genre?  Perhaps a genre is not being read and needs to be reorganized?  That also includes which bookshelves the bins are on, are they being read where they are or do they need to be moved somewhere else?

How is our checkout system?  Ours is a simple one – paperbacks you just grab, hardcovers you give me the dust cover with a post-it with your name on it and I file it away until the book is brought back.  Will this still work for the students I have?

How will I introduce our library?  Students will bookshop on the very first day of school with piles of books awaiting them on the tables but how will they be introduced to our library?  This year, as in past years, it will be an actual lesson on book-shopping, yes, even in 7th grade, and an exploration of different genres as we start our to-be-read list.

Will this book be read more somewhere else?  Sometimes when we have a book abundance problem, books are simply not being discovered.  So looking through and pulling books you wish students were reading but they aren’t and then handing them to another teacher may just get that book back in circulation.  This is also a great way to create space for incoming books in your library because chances are you will be adding more books this year.

Whose stories are being represented in our library?  And whose stories are not?  Where are my book gaps, which genres of books or authors do we not have a lot of?  Can all children find windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors to quote Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop.

Not just whose,  but how are people’s stories represented?  Are we only representing the Native experience as a thing of the past?  Is the African American experience only represented through slavery, Civil Rights, or police brutality?  Are all the books featuring everyday things featuring white characters?  This is an ongoing assessment that needs to be attended to with every book purchase we make.

Do we have harmful representation?  Back to school is also a good time to be on the lookout for problematic text.  Knowing what is being questioned in the wider literary world is really important and provides us with a chance to learn.  I think about books like Little House on the Prairie or even newer books that come out that may not be healthy to have in our libraries.  I turn to people like Debbie Reese and Edi Campbell to guide me in this work.

Which books are you blessing?  Critically evaluate which books are on display whether it is first in a bin or on an actual shelf.  Whose experiences are you highlighting?  Whose voices are you urging others to read?  I take a lot of time pulling books and displaying to offer our students a varied reading experience from day one.  I want them to see the possibilities in our classroom library of what types of reading experiences they can have and that starts with all of the books enticing them.

As summer winds down and the school year beckons, I am excited to meet the kids that will soon become part of our family.  I am excited to help them have meaningful experiences with text that will help them in their reading lives.  I am excited to see who they are and how they will grow this year.  This work starts in our library, in what is the heart of our classroom, so it needs to be ready for all of the readers that are coming our way.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.

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