Finally getting in to school to set up my classroom. First things first, the library. Done.
You might notice that this picture shows empty shelves and books in boxes (not the leveled book kits – those belong to the reading tutors). This is part of the plan for class this year that I am most excited about, and most stressed out over. I have decided to set up the library WITH my students rather than for my students.
No, this is not a strategy to keep me from working in my classroom too much. Trust me when I tell you that it would be way more simple to drag my girls in for a few hours and sort books into bins. All the biographies would be together, Kate DiCamillo would be given her own bin, science books on predator and prey animals would be safely separated and every box would have a label. I would always know where to find the latest in the Amulet series.
At the start of her book Teaching with Intention, Debbie Miller asks us to picture our perfect classroom. When I do this, I see a space that belongs to kids, that they worked together to create in a way that serves our collective needs and learning goals. I see students moving about on their own to get what they need, independently solving problems because they know what resources are in the room and how to use them. So I have to ask myself, what if Kate DiCamillo is not deemed important enough to rate her own bin? (I know, right? but it could happen.) What if what they need is a bin dedicated to books on the Underground Railroad because we read Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, sparking a full on obsession with resistance to slavery?
In order for kids to create resource collections throughout the year to satisfy the demands of a project, they have to start with both a familiarity with the collection as a whole and a sense of ownership that allows them to manipulate and pull together texts that serve their needs. As Miller advises, I need to start with this goal in mind and work back to see how I can support children in reaching it. In order to give the students mastery over the library, I need to start handing it over to them on day one.
Thus, the empty shelves.
My plan is to start our first Readers Workshop by looking at the books. Each group will have a box of texts from all different genres. After first oohing and ahhing over cool titles, and maybe even squirreling away a few for their own boxes, I’ll ask them to start sorting them into categories. No guidance – I will try very hard to keep my opinion out of it and let them talk through ideas and come up with their own categories with only clarifying questions from me. After comparing how different groups sorted, we’ll launch into a review of genres and make some genre posters as reference tools for the library. Then, looking at these larger categories, and using their sorts and some of the “get to know you” data we collected in other activities, we can begin to subdivide books in a way that’s helpful to this particular class (which may, or may not, include a fan of Kate DiCamillo). Once we put the library together with labeled bins and sorted shelves I need to somehow instill in them that this is not a one and done sort of activity. As our learning needs grow and change, so must our library bins. The Writers Workshop section might contain some great narratives at the start of the year, but we’ll soon need some examples of persuasive writing there. Our Science bins might focus on animals and habitat to match the Fall lessons but by Christmas we’ll need to know about landforms and how they change over time. And our engineering challenges throughout the year will always need its own set of resources.
The initial organizing I described is a several day activity. Our first two weeks of school are only 3 days each (due to some weird primary election day interruptions, plus the Labor Day holiday weekend) so I imagine taking most of that time for the library work. It feels like a good way to spend those days.
I’m still pretty anxious about leaving so much “unfinished.” I took the cardboard book boxes I have home so I can cover up old writing and apply blank labels and I’ll certainly tidy things up around the shelves. I’ve even decided to designate areas of the room for Science, Social Studies, and Writing since I have non-book resources to put away. And I will probably set the tall shelves aside as the fiction library but with a flexible mindset, ready to adjust my plans based on what the kids come up with. The shelves in all of the areas will remain empty. I will have as many unlabeled bins as I can find.
Tune in next month to see how it turns out.