Is Your Classroom Literacy Rich? Part 3: Classroom Libraries

I believe that a classroom library is the heartbeat of a teacher’s environment. It is the window into an educator’s own personality, and it reflects the importance of literacy in the classroom. I believe that every teacher — no matter what subject he or she teaches — should have one.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron on Edutopia

Growing up, my favorite place in the world was a library, and it still is! As an adult, I have continued to frequent public libraries, first with my daughters while they were growing up and now on my own.  I love that the majority of tutoring I do takes place in public libraries! I remember clearly being in the library of Hartman Elementary School in Omaha Nebraska, around 1968 and discovering Little House on the Prairie, the book that for me, changed my life.  I had been a voracious reader before that, but this was a book I connected to in a powerful way.

Teachers need to ensure that our students have opportunities to connect with books, right in their classrooms. Classroom libraries are one of the most important elements of a Literacy-Rich Environment.  In my previous post on this topic, I provided an overview of all the important literacy elements for a classroom. Now it’s time to delve more into how to make your classroom library the best it can be!

All students must be able to access, use, and evaluate information in order to meet the needs and challenges of the twenty-first century. – NCTE Statement, May 2017

Note the use of the words “all students”. Classroom libraries are most often associated with primary classrooms, but they need to be in intermediate, middle and high school classrooms. One of my former school colleagues, who now teaches middle school writing, sent me photos of her classroom library in response to a request for photos. She said that her students always ask why she has a classroom library if she teaches writing! I applaud her for having the library, pictured below, because as Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Middle School Classroom Library
Carol’s Middle School Writing Classroom Library

But classroom libraries are not just for reading and writing teachers in middle and high school! Content area teachers should not only have books on and about their content in their classrooms but all kinds of reading material…fiction, informational books, resource, magazines, etc. There will always be those early finishers…of assignments or tests. Why not have reading material handy? Perhaps one of those students in your math class might come across one of your favorite books and ask to borrow it? Every teacher can make a difference in the reading life of a student! Check out the classroom libraries in these classrooms: (l–r, top to bottom – science, art, art again and music). By the way, I put out several requests to teachers for photos of classroom libraries in math, science, social studies, industrial arts, etc. and received NO response.  Do you know of any teachers who have one? Let me know!

Now, down to the nuts and bolts of putting together a classroom library. In a presentation at CCIRA many years ago, Linda Cornwell, formerly of Scholastic books, stated that students in classrooms with well-designed and well-stocked library collections:

  • exhibit more positive attitudes toward reading
  • read more widely for a variety of purposes
  • demonstrate higher levels of reading achievement

In addition, she suggested the classroom library should:

  • look inviting to all students
  • be organized for easy access and materials
  • include a comfortable area for reading
  • offer an array of materials from many genres

Some things to consider when organizing your library:

    • How will you store your books to make sure they can be easily accessible to students?
      • My personal preference is colorful, plastic tubs, or even just clear ones. But years ago, while in observing in a classroom, I found this unique storage system…one of those rotating racks they have in stores for browsing!
    • Do you have guidelines for the use of the library?
      • I’m sure you don’t want students getting up in the middle of an important lesson to browse for books, so you need to let them know then the library is “open” and when it is “closed”. You could create some signs for your library letting them know when it’s okay to browse. In addition, there need to be guidelines for when students are using the library…here are some ideas:
        • how to respect books
        • how to shelve books back in the correct place
        • the use of quiet voices in the library and the importance of respecting others’ reading time
        • And for even more ideas on guidelines, you can find so many ready-made posters on Teachers Pay Teachers!

  • Have you shown students how to find materials?  Are there signs to help them?
    • Just as modeling when teaching something new to your students, you will need to model and/or explain how to use and check out and return materials from the library. The younger the student, the more modeling is needed. For secondary classrooms, the procedures can be more relaxed, but I’m sure you still don’t want to lose everything in your library! Check out this teacher’s blog post on how she introduces her classroom library to her students!
  • How have you categorized and arranged the materials?  Does the organization promote the reading of different types of materials?

    • I love that Teachers Pay Teachers have sellers who offer book bin labels in all genres! And of course, you can always make your own!
    • I found several blogs and websites for ideas on how to organize your library. This blog discusses organizing the library by genre; Reading Rockets stresses that there is no right or wrong way to organize and they offer several suggestions, including the reminder to LABEL your books so they can find their way home if misplaced. Here’s a blog on Scholastic with more organization ideas.
  • Does your library invite browsing and using? Is there a comfortable area to read?
    • Check out these photos and decide for yourself! (Note that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to make it inviting and have comfortable seating…pillows, a rug, a lamp, beach chairs….just simple things will work!
  • Do many of the books have their covers facing out?
    • I had never even thought about having my books facing out (probably because I was an intermediate teacher coming from a high school teaching job) until I read the chapter in Jim Trelease’s book, The Read-Aloud Handbook, and learned about rain gutters in the classroom…wait, what? Rain gutters? YES! Trelease promoted the practice of hanging rain gutters on your classroom wall in order to house books with their covers facing out. Think about it…when you go to a book store next time, look around to see HOW many books are facing out so buyers will notice them.  So, the same thing in the classroom; books facing out will help the “buyers” in your classroom notice books easier. And while you are teaching a lesson, those students whose minds wander can study all the books and decide which one to check out sooner.
    • After I talked about this idea and showed photos at our district literacy training sessions, we suddenly had a rash of rain gutters popping up in classrooms! Eventually, when new schools were built, shelves specifically for this purpose were added. But even if you don’t have shelving like this, there are other ways to have your books facing out. Check out the photo gallery below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Oh, and last but not least…if you are a new teacher who does not have many books for your library, and you can’t necessarily afford a binge at Barnes and Noble…here are a few ideas for finding books:

  • Retiring teachers
  • Garage and estate sales
  • Library used book sales
  • Donors Choose
  • Ask parents for book donations
  • Use book club points
  • Craig’s List and eBay
  • Scholastic warehouse sales
  • Create an Amazon wish list and share with parents
  • Kids Need to Read donation application

A classroom library: If you build it, they will read.

– Jim Bailey, title of his Nerdy Book Club blog post

Copy of Copy of Copy of TpT Cover Page

Is Your Classroom Literacy Rich? Part 1: Overview

Getting students absorbed in meaningful, purposeful literacy activities requires a number of significant changes in the classroom – in the physical environment, in the events and activities, and in the nature and quality of the interactions. Noel Jones

By now, your classrooms are all set up, decorated and in full use by your students!  But I have a question to ask you: Is your classroom Literacy-Rich?  During my tenure as a district literacy trainer for Douglas County Schools in Colorado, I trained hundreds of elementary and secondary teachers in a program for best practices in teaching literacy that we called LIFT (Literacy Instructional Framework for Teaching). This program was based on the program, California Early Literacy Learning.

One of the most important components of LIFT was ensuring that teachers, especially those in elementary schools and teaching secondary Language Arts, had a “literacy-rich environment” in their classroom.  Dr. Kimberly Tyson defines this environment as: “a setting that encourages and supports speaking, listening, reading, and writing in a variety of authentic ways – through print & digital media”. During our LIFT training, we focused on the following components of the “LRE”: classroom materials, classroom design/layout and reading and writing through authentic activities.

Classroom Materials: The Classroom Library

Scan0004
This how NOT to do a classroom library! Sadly it was mine back in the 90’s, a rolling cart with books on both sides. Ugh!

The classroom materials necessary for an LRE include books, books, and more books, as well as other print materials: magazines, comic books, online reading material, as well as print on the walls, writing materials, and displays of student work. During our training sessions, I spent a great deal of time discussing classroom libraries and how best to make them inviting, organized and useful. As an elementary teacher back in 1994, I had never been taught how to set up an effective classroom library, and mine was appalling, as evidenced in this photo.  Yup, that’s it..both sides of the rolling cart filled with books! Inviting…NO! Organized…NO!

At our training sessions, I began by asking our teachers this question:  Is the classroom library inviting, providing a range of quality books at all appropriate levels?  However, it’s not enough to have an inviting classroom library, it needs to be organized! Teachers can use many methods to organize…using bins/baskets separated by popular authors, levels of books, topics, etc. There must also be a clear and easy check-out system.  Check out the photo gallery of some exemplary classroom libraries!  

(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)

After leaving the classroom and moving into offices as either a literacy, GT or RtI specialist, I managed to hang on to some sort of classroom libraries: (notice the Laura Ingalls Wilder shrine on the right!)

Classroom Materials: Words All Over the Place!

“A printrich environment is one in which “children interact with many forms of print, including signs, labeled centers, wall stories, word displays, labeled murals, bulletin boards, charts, poems, and other printed materials” (Kadlic and Lesiak, 2003).

What goes on your classroom walls is important as well!  I never learned about an LRE in my teacher prep training, but I attempted it in my 5th/6th-grade classroom…sometimes to excess! Some of my displays probably overwhelmed my students…evidence below:

All grade levels need to have a great deal of print on the walls that assist students with (depending on the grade level) the alphabet, sight words, phonics concepts, writing and content vocabulary.  Of course, you can buy commercial posters, make some online, or print on chart paper. But more ownership comes when these materials are created with the help of the students through Interactive Writing (sometimes also called Shared Writing). Check out the interactive writing that students can continue to refer to during the school year…(these were all taken in Douglas County School District classrooms during my literacy training years, 2006-2009). More on interactive writing, including how to use it with older students, and in content areas, in a future blog!

IMG_6045

I even tried to maintain a print-rich environment in and right outside of my offices once I left the classroom! This was a display in the hall outside my door for our upcoming all-school Star Wars Day my GT students were planning!

And don’t forget Word Walls!  There are so many ways to create word walls: on the wall (of course) personal word walls, or electronic word walls. Content area classrooms in secondary schools should have them too and so should art, music, and PE teachers!  More on Word Walls in a future blog!399

Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 1.22.35 PM
A Personal Word Wall that I had one of my tutoring students create on Padlet for her self-selected words in her book. We then use this wall for various activities to help her not only learn the words but retain them.

(Click on each picture in the photo tile above for explanation and credit!)

Classroom Design and Layout

“The room arrangement should encourage repeated opportunities to interact with literacy materials and activities to practice skills that students are learning.” (Gunn, Simmons, & Kameenui, 1995)

Another question teachers need to ask themselves is:  Does the room arrangement support all literacy activities of the instructional framework? How your room is set-up can affect how successful your literacy activities are!  What area will allow for a large enough classroom library, where students can both read and browse for books? Where will content print be hung so that students can use as a reference? And most importantly, where is your whole class meeting area?  This is something that I never had in my 90’s intermediate classroom; again, I had never been taught or told to have one! But in my classroom visits, I saw the power of this space, not only in primary classrooms but also in intermediate! These areas are used for read-aloud, shared reading, interactive writing, interactive editing (all topics coming soon to this blog!) and mini-lessons. And of course, they can be used for class meetings as well.  You also need an area for your small group instruction work. Check out some ways teachers have designed their whole-class meeting and small group instruction areas!

(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)

Authentic Literacy

Children who are successful at becoming literate view reading and writing as authentic activities from which they get information and pleasure, and by which they communicate with others. – Richard Allington, Classrooms That Work

Finally, a literacy-rich environment needs to include authentic literacy activities, not ones created by publishing companies (disclaimer: nothing wrong with using these occasionally, but authentic stuff creates better readers/writers!). NWEA states that: “Authentic learning occurs when activities or projects offer students an opportunity to directly apply their knowledge or skills to real-world situations.”  So what are examples of authentic literacy activities?  Here are a few ideas in the slideshow below: daily class or personal news, novel character texts (I used http://ios.foxsash.com/), real text from tutoring student to parent using a vocabulary word, thank you notes, a character “Fakebook” page using Classtools.net, or this Google Doc template, and an Instagram template! For more ideas, check out my Pinterest board on the Literacy-Rich Environment for even more!

And that’s a wrap for this week! I would like to thank the following teachers for sharing photos of their classrooms!

  • Kelly Broecker, 5th grade, Gold Rush Elementary in Parker, CO
  • Sarah Rumsey, 3rd grade, Aspen Crossing Elementary in Aurora, CO
  • Renee Hartwig-Ott, 2nd grade, Westgate Elementary School in Lakewood, CO
  • Carol McRae, 6th-grade writing, Sagewood Middle School, Parker, CO
  • Abby Schmitz, 2nd grade, Ruth Hill, Lincoln NE
  • Leslie Schlag, Pre-School, Cherokee Trails Elementary, Parker, CO
  • Angela Davis, Kindergarten, Saddle Ranch Elementary, Highlands Ranch, CO
  • The many K-12 Douglas County School District teachers who attended my literacy training sessions (LIFT) from 2006-2009!

Click on the links below for more information and details about each of the aspects of a literacy-rich classroom!

Word Walls
Classroom Libraries
Print-Rich Walls
Classroom Design and Layout
Authentic Literacy

Growth Mindset Part 1: Math

We have all failed at something, and my personal list could take up this entire blog.  Here are just a few from the list: getting a job I wanted, receiving an “A” in a class, catching a plane on time (that only happened once in my life), weaning myself from Pepsi 0 (but still trying), driving a stick shift car, driving in the snow, etc.  How about you?  What have been your failures?  And…..what have you learned from these failures?  THAT’S THE IMPORTANT QUESTION!  When we fail, we need to learn the lesson that the failure taught us!

27268786714_8996e0d27a_o
Photo courtesy of Laura Gibbs on Flickr; check out her blog at http://growthmindsetmemes.blogspot.com/

“Raise your hand if you’ve failed at something.”  That was how I began my work with my 2nd through 6th-grade gifted students at the beginning of the school year.  I ended up getting a response from everyone, and also shared my own story.  I used this discussion to launch my theme for the school year, Growth Mindset, a term coined by Carol Dweck.  I had been introduced to this concept the previous year when my GT Facilitator job at an elementary school (we will call it School #1) was cut to two days (funding, funding, funding) and found a second part-time job, also as a GT Facilitator at another elementary school (School #2) in the same district.  This school had Growth Mindset as their theme for the year…with both students and staff.  At every staff meeting, we saw a video based on this theme or did an activity, and we all received cool staff shirts that said “Fail.Learn.Grow”.

I quickly realized how important this concept was in working with gifted students.  Some, not all, are perfectionists and tend to not try new things if they might fail.  Check out this excellent blog post by Gail Post with more about this fear of failure in gifted kids. I decided immediately that my job as their teacher was to invite them to failure…to ensure that they would fail!  My almost daily question to the students that year became, “What my job at this school?”  And the response:  “To frustrate us and make us fail!”.  In other words, told them they would be failing at several things this coming school year!  In order to prevent concerned emails from parents, I had already emailed all parents with information on this concept and links to resources.

Next, I had to come up with activities to ensure their failure, learning, and growth.  I decided to focus on math, as that has always been my “fear of failure” area. In addition, I had students who really needed some advanced math challenges! Below are some of the activities we did, along with photos taken during our learning and growth!

Noetic Math Contest
I was pulling my 2nd and 3rd GT/Highly Able students from their math block a few days a week, so I wanted something incredibly challenging for them…and this fit the bill.  This contest is THE BEST!  They offer practice questions, Problem of the Week (sent right to your email) and many other resources.  I already had some past contest problems from other teachers, so we used our sessions to work on these, and believe me, there were a few failures, lots of frustration, some tears, but a great deal of growth!  I varied between letting them work with a partner or alone.  I think the most important thing I did was never confirm or deny if they had the correct answer to a problem.  Instead, I had them check with other partner sets or individuals to see what answer they had.  If the answers were the same, they could be fairly confident they had the correct one (although a few times there were partners/individuals that both got the same wrong answer), and if they were different, both had to rework the problem.  For those students that were successful first, I sent them out to offer help and support to others.

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 5.38.56 PM
They provide an answer and explanation for confused teachers! Source: Noetic Learning Problem of the Week

Below are examples of the problem solving of these 2nd and 3rd-grade students!

One of the Noetic problems was SO difficult; the student and I were working on it for days…even though I had access to the answers, I could not understand WHY it was the answer (it wasn’t only the students who were frustrated!).  I finally emailed Noetic for an explanation!  Below are the problem and the students’ work (I’m sure many of you reading this can instantly come up with the answer…I was a victim of New Math in the 1960s, so be kind!)Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 7.54.04 PM

Before they took their first contest, I had to have a serious talk with them about possible results.  I told them that these contests were difficult and they should be very proud of even trying it out!  When the results came back, with the first contest results ranging from 1/20 to 10/20 correct, I did the pep talk thing again. I handed back the contest papers and challenged the students to try incorrect ones again, and then explain to us where they went wrong the first time around.  What an incredible growth experience this was!

Math Olympiad
While I had heard of this contest for students in grades 4-8, I finally had a chance to be involved during that year at the Growth Mindset-themed school.  As part of my job, I was one of the coordinators of the practice sessions and contests.  And wow…those practice and contest problems were challenging!  I tried working them before each practice session and was often flummoxed myself (fortunately the practice book provides strategies and answers, and so do the actual contest problems.  During practice sessions, we had students choose between working in pairs or individually, and I did the same thing as in Noetic when students came up for answers, I had them go verify and check with others. When the contests were returned, once again a motivation talk was needed as even the most gifted of students often ended up with on 1/5 or 0/5!  I highly recommend either participating in the contest or just using past/practice problems with your students as challenges.  You could even have your own classroom “unofficial” contests!  Here are some sample problems and information.  You can find other sample problems via Google searches.  I was proud that this math-phobic teacher (more on that in future blog posts) then began the contest for the first time ever back at School #1 and I encouraged my GT students to join.  I was especially pleased that two of my 4th-grade girls joined up.  It was extremely challenging for them, but their growth that year was incredible!

Continental Math League
I had used sample CML problems with my GT students at School #1 for a few years, but when I began working at School #2, I was able to be part of the official contest that was offered for primary students (although CML has contests for grades 2-9).  Just as in Math Olympiad, we held practice sessions, working on strategies and building up problem-solving stamina. Once again, these incredibly challenging problems caused, yes, frustration, but also an incredible amount of learning, growth, and pride when an answer was finally correct!  Here’s some work my 1st & 2nd graders were doing on CML problems; that chicken one was a tough one…two of my girls worked on it for weeks; we even had a folder to store all of their work!

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 8.07.11 PMCML

How classroom teachers can use Noetic/Math Olympiad/CML: Have your whole class, or just interested students do the official contest; use as enrichment for advanced math students; send the Problem of the Week home as an optional challenge assignment; post in Google Classroom or Edmodo and award badges for those students who try to solve and explain their thinking! 

Algebra Tiles
So my 6th-grade students at School #2 had an incredible math teacher; she was wonderful at giving those GT kids advanced math work and challenges.  One particular day in her classroom, I noticed the students using some colored tiles…and had them explain them to me.  They were algebra tiles, and the students were using them to solve equations.  I was blown away…I had only ever solved equations in the traditional way and this added an incredible visual dimension!  The students demonstrated solving several equations using the tiles; I was beginning to understand but my traditional methods kept interfering with understanding the visual, hands-on method.  Upon arriving home, I immediately ordered a set as I was already planning to use them with my 6th grade GT kids at School #1.  So at both schools, as I worked with these students, I would have 1/2 the group solve equations with the tiles, and half solve using the traditional method and then compare answers; they would then switch.  Wow!  Incredible growth mindset going on for myself AND for the students!  Take a look at our work below using some paper-made tiles before I bought the real tiles! There are lots of videos on YouTube to help you and your students learn how to use these, and IXL has a great practice activity on using the tiles!  Intermediate teachers can use these as enrichment for advanced math students and/or set up as a math center!

Polynomials - Photo by Jan

The Fibonacci Sequence
Here is a perfect growth mindset opportunity to challenge your intermediate and middle school students, as well as younger gifted students. That same teacher who had her 6th graders using algebra tiles introduced them to the classic rabbit problem and then partnered the students up to try to solve it using any method they wanted to try.  It’s a tribute to her teacher, as well as their previous math teachers that I saw every kind of method being used to solve this, and there were a few students (yes, the amazing ones I was lucky enough to work with) who were able to come up with the answer.  The teacher had students come up and show their methods and work with the document camera.  Check it out!

Please stay tuned for future posts on how I embedded and used this theme of Growth Mindset all year long, down to and even including some fun at our holiday party!  In the meantime, keep on growing your mind!

18817439743_d523471089_o
Photo courtesy of Laura Gibbs on Flickr; check out her blog at http://growthmindsetmemes.blogspot.com/

 

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

When embarking on a new journey, it’s good to have traveling companions.  I am glad you are choosing to join me on this new journey!  As you can see, I have included photos of roads, as one of my favorite things to do is start a new road trip journey anywhere! Sometimes you will get lost or confused (as we have done many times while traveling), but I often end up enjoying the journey far more than the destination!  I know I will LOVE this journey of creating blogs to help teachers.  I am a bit nervous about starting this, but since I constantly push my students to take on challenges, I need to also take them on as well.  Now that I am retired and finally have time to reflect, I realize that the successes and celebrations during my career (and travels) were the results of taking on challenges.

pexels-photo-416956.jpegOne of the celebrations that stands out for me is the mentoring and coaching of new teachers! There is nothing, NOTHING, more rewarding than being the one designated to help teachers new to the profession. The district that I worked for, Douglas County School District in Colorado, had started this amazing program called “Building Resource Teachers” (BRT) in 1990. The sole purpose of these veteran teachers was to be the mentor for teachers in their first three years of teaching. We were also in charge of professional development for the entire school. Here’s the sign that was posted outside my office:

When taking on this position, I constantly kept in my mind what it was like for me to be a nervous new teacher, hired at the age of 23 to teach Language Arts in a very large suburban Denver high school with no support other than the teachers across the hall.  I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and was constantly stressed! I only lasted two years and left to work in the hotel business, then became a Mom. But…during those early years of being a mother, I felt the pull to go back into teaching, but this time in the elementary field. I worked on a Master’s degree, was hired to teach in a 5th/6th multiage classroom in Douglas County, and five years later I found myself mentoring new teachers and training and supporting the other veteran teachers!  I think I ended up learning more from the teachers I was mentoring and coaching, then they did from me!

california-road-highway-mountains-63324Even after I moved on to other positions and jobs in the district, my purpose was always to help teachers and try to make their job easier and to let them know someone would always be on their side. So…that will be the purpose of my blog…to try to make any teacher’s job, whether they are in their first year of teaching, or their 30th year, a bit easier.  I lived the life you did for years, and I know what’s like…teaching can be all-consuming.  I have always maintained that teaching is not a job, it’s a lifestyle!

Please follow me to check out these future posts:

  • Making learning fun!
  • Passion Projects in your classroom
  • Growth Mindset in the Classroom
  • Gamifying learning
  • Global Awareness project
  • Best practices in teaching reading: guided, shared and independent reading
  • Best practices in teaching writing: modeled, interactive, guided and independent writing
  • Motivating reluctant readers and helping struggling readers
  • Finding the writer in all kids by using sneaky methods!
  • Gifted and Talented identification and servicing
  • All kinds of ed tech ideas!
  • 21st-Century teaching and learning
  • Apps and websites for teaching and learning
  • Assessment best practices
  • The Classroom environment

Please feel free to leave any comments on this blog and/or check out my FacebookInstagramTwitter and Pinterest…as well as my website! (By the way, I have enough boards and pins on Pinterest to help plan the rest of your teaching career! Until next time….hang in there my teacher friends!