Classroom Library

img_4288As I was helping Harper locate a graphic novel to add to his book box, I kept fishing books out of boxes where they did not belong. Geronimo Stilton in a nonfiction box reserved for books on energy? What was the problem? Didn’t we spread the books all over the classroom and look at them and think about what genre they were and decide which books belonged where together?

No. We didn’t. Not really.

That was the plan, and the books were certainly in a mess everywhere. But I have several children with some pretty difficult to manage behaviors so our work dissolved into chaos and most children missed the point. The days started to get away from me and I made different decisions than intended. And so, with the help of only a few students, the library was put together. And I learned some tough lessons. Here’s my thinking for next year:

1.) Put some of the library together before the kids arrive. I realized I was feeling rushed since, without the library put together, we couldn’t work on choosing good books for ourselves. I hurried through the organization and the kids didn’t have time to think through their choices or try things out and then change their minds. So, I’ll pull out some basic categories and have those bins already set up. Animal books, graphic novels, poetry, biography – we can pretty much rely on these groups so it won’t stifle student thinking. And besides, they can always refine those categories – ocean animals, sport biographies. Before we tackle the library, we’ll think about how to choose a good book, what we need to work on as readers, and then what we want and need for the work.

2.) We’ll learn about different genres before we put books out. When they came up with the category “animal books” they lumped in books on the life cycle of frogs with books from the Humphrey series about a mischievous hamster. We had to back track and talk about the difference that I thought we had settled already. Quick reviews aren’t quite enough on the hot and humid first days back at school.

One half of the room is now settled as the nonfiction side, with Science, Math, and Social Studies books grouped together in their own areas. Next year, we can spend some time talking about each area of the room and what sorts of books would fit there, before we start putting books away.

3.) I’ll keep the boxes of unshelved books out of the classroom and bring in only one at a time. The mess of too many unorganized things in the room was a jarring beginning, and combined with troubling behaviors created an atmosphere of unsettledness that has been hard to overcome.

Monday will be our 12th day of school and we’ll go in with a library  sorted into categories the students created – for the most part. I’ve created a Library Scavenger Hunt to start off a conversation about how we find and return library books that I hope will be a useful review of the organization.

It’s a work in progress.



On NOT setting up the classroom library

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.

Why I hate Pinterest

Like many teachers on summer vacation, I’ve spent a bit of time browsing through Pins to get ideas for classroom design and learning centers and I have come to the conclusion that Pinterest sucks.

Do those teachers have children who need to be driven anywhere or who throw up in the driveway as you are pushing them out to the bus stop; do they ever make dinner for their family? You gotta wonder when they have the time to color coordinate their second grade classroom right down to the file folders and pushpins. I often don’t have the time to color coordinate my outfit (crazy color day during Spirit week was just a normal Wednesday for me).

And then I try to imagine the hands-folded, please-and-thank-you saying, independent, rule-following students that work in those rooms and never throw a crayon box across the room in frustration or tip over a chair because that would mess with the feng shui. I had a student like that once.

I’m not kidding when I tell you that I had a meeting with my principal last spring about how to organize my room to minimize the number of things my emotionally-disturbed student could knock over. Should I Pin some of the ideas we came up with? I could title the board “Ideas to minimize damage from violent outbursts.”

I don’t mean to complain about the students in my class. You can guess that the little Tasmanian Devil in my room was one of my favorite kids – it’s always the way. But I do have to admit that Pinterest was making me feel like a failure who can’t even keep the pencil jar full never mind plan for monthly bulletin boards, all with coordinating borders.

I’m still going to look at Pinterest for all the great garden pictures (no, my garden doesn’t look like those, either) and to save the ideas I want to build on. But before I browse, I think I’ll talk to my girls and kiss my husband and grab the top one from my stack of books and walk in my garden (dead-heading as I do) and call my sister and take a walk with my friend and make a meal and watch a movie and write in my journal and exercise and maybe even clean out my car (OK, that last one was sort of a joke) and just think of all the wonderful things that take up my time. And next month, I’ll use some of the Pins and all of the notes I made throughout the past year and attempt to design a classroom that will welcome my new group of second graders (and discourage throwing furniture).

A very un-Pinterest worthy view of my room last Spring, after a post-meltdown clean-up.

A very un-Pinterest worthy view of my room last Spring, after a post-meltdown clean-up.

Sorting through the stuff

There is a room in my basement that we had finished as a possible bedroom for one of the girls or an office for me. I’ve used it as an office but it’s too far away from the family action. I can’t concentrate when I’m wondering what’s going on in the rest of the house. I’d much rather work at the kitchen table or on the porch. For a while, the girls kept the sewing machine set up in this room and used the space to work on various crafts. This past winter, we cleaned it out to serve as a temporary bedroom while some work was being done in the house. Since my daughter moved back into her own room, the “office” has been mostly empty. We’ve all been wondering what to do with it. Here’s what it looks like now.


I started by filling the shelf with things I brought home from school. It’s not much: the first few Math units to look over, some Readers’ Workshop lessons, the book on the Daily 5 I never had a chance to finish, and the writing samples from my rising second graders. Also, my rarely used school laptop which I have vowed to utilize more thoughtfully this year. Then, I gathered up the things that my girls were cleaning out of their rooms that I thought might be fun or useful at school. Now, I’m starting to add the things I find on sale that fit my organization plan. Today, I’ll add the stack of books I found at my local library book sale.

At the other end of the room is a shelf with supplies for the family: pens, paper, folders, ink. Sure, I raid these shelves for school all the time. The rest of the shelves are filled with my books and binders. I’ve been ruthless about purging and got rid of a lot of things I don’t think I’ll need anymore. I hate the idea of books or supplies horded away and not being used. At the start of the summer, I sorted through my old College Writing resources. I figure I won’t be teaching that class for a while at least and, if I do teach it again, I’ll be using different, more up to date, texts. I kept only the timeless resources – the grammar and style handbooks that I still go to when I’m doing academic writing. The rest went to the library book sale or the recycle bin as appropriate.

I’m trying to be organized and streamlined this school year. I don’t want chaos. I don’t want to hold on to things without a plan. We have such limited space in Room 102 that I want to fill it thoughtfully and leave lots of space for the children to make it their own. So, I’m starting with the home office. If it’s useful, it is given a space. If not, it’s out.

Next month, I’ll sort through everything again before bringing it to school. My plan is to stick to my plan. I’m actually making sketches of my classroom with little descriptions of why things are going where they are going and how each part of the room can be utilized throughout the day. The Math corner will also be a place to read non-fiction and work with a partner. The library will be a comfortable, quiet, independent workspace. The Writing Center will have all the supplies for every genre of writing and be a place that encourages collaboration.

Having this space in the office to collect allows me to make thoughtful decisions about things before I bring them to school. It’s part of the plan which, simply stated is “Look to the end goal”. Writing about it is part of the plan to keep me focused.

Hope you are having an organized summer!