Tagged: classroom library

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On teachers and classroom libraries

favicon Today I visited with Nancy Jo Turner, a good friend and former colleague, at Realm Charter School in Berkeley.

We chatted and talked about life and about teaching, and I was reminded of her beautiful classroom library and her commitment to independent reading.

Beautiful: Clean design, covers facing outward!
Beautiful: Clean design, covers facing outward!

Hanging out with Nancy Jo also reminded me how hard it is for teachers to maintain robust classroom libraries. (She’s doing it, though, very well.)

It’s (at least) a part-time job:

– Encouraging students to read,
– Checking books out to students,
– Conferencing with students,
– Finding money to purchase new books,
– Checking in returned books,
– Re-shelving returned books,
– Keeping track of completed books,
– And more, of course.

I honor the work that Nancy Jo and other teachers are doing across the San Francisco Bay Area to ensure that students have immediate and ongoing access to high-interest books.

It is also praiseworthy that teachers celebrate the reading of their students. Here’s just one of the ways that Nancy Jo does this:


When I visit teachers in their classrooms, it gets me inspired to continue thinking about the best ways to build reading cultures in schools. It’s not easy work, but it’s worthwhile work.

After all, when students make reading a habit, and when they start liking it again, and when they’ve completed several books, there’s something big that happens. Conversations improve. There are more hopes and what-ifs. And students start building a bigger life that is their own. favicon

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New Kindle classroom! Kathleen Large’s students in San Francisco join the KCP!

Kathleen Largefavicon I am very happy to announce that there will be a new classroom joining the Kindle Classroom Project in just over a week.

Kathleen Large — whose beautiful classroom library I featured in September — is an outstanding English teacher at Leadership High School in San Francisco, where I taught for 12 years.

Kathleen runs a robust independent reading program in her classroom. She begins each class with silent reading, knows what each student is reading, makes recommendations, and conferences with students about their books. Kathleen’s students have read many books, given book talks to younger students, and written poignant essays about how reading has affected them. (Her students also read the New York Times!)

Here’s a sneak peek of her classroom library:

Kathleen's Classroom Library 2
Part of Kathleen Large’s classroom library.

It is an honor to partner with Kathleen in this work. She has already pushed me about the best role of Kindles in a reading classroom. The KCP is a reading program, Kathleen reminds me, not a technology program, and the Kindle is best introduced not necessarily at the very beginning of the year, but rather after a reading culture has grown.

That’s why Kathleen launched a “soft start” with 10 of her students before Winter Break. She met with them individually, asked them if they wanted to opt in, explained the requirements of the program, and answered students’ questions. So far, the news is wonderful: Students are texting Kathleen over Break to let her know they love their Kindle and are finishing books.

It will be exciting to learn how the rest of her students react on Jan. 5 when they find out that there are plenty more Kindles to check out!

It’s very clear to me that the quality of the teacher is the most important ingredient to a successful Kindle classroom. When a teacher understands reading instruction and how the KCP can fit into his or her classroom, things flourish, and the power of the KCP comes out.

I can’t wait to tell the story of Miss Large’s Classroom and its participation in the Kindle Classroom Project! favicon

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Check out this beautiful classroom library

favicon Here is part of Kathleen Large’s beautiful classroom library in San Francisco. Take a look!

KathleenDCbooks13 Kathleen understands best practices of classroom library design: outward-facing books, high-quality books, and multiple copies of titles.

A close friend and long-time colleague, Kathleen teaches English 11 at Leadership High School.

She believes strongly in the power of independent reading and is building her classroom library. You can follow Kathleen’s classroom page, Miss Large’s classroom, on Facebook or make a contribution to her DonorsChoose page.

Way to go, Kathleen! favicon

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Best practice for classroom libraries: Multiple copies of fewer titles

favicon Here’s one that used to escape me.

Let’s say you’re a teacher, and you care about reading, and you want to start building a classroom library. Let’s say you raise $1,000. How do you spend your money?

Choice #1: Buy 100 different books.
This way, there is a lot of selection, and students will be impressed that you have tons of different books to choose from.

Choice #2: Buy 20 different books 5 times each.
This way, there is way less selection, but you encourage students to read books together and talk about them.

What do you think?

When I was a teacher, I thought that Choice #1 was the answer. In my mind, the more titles, the better. I never really considered buying multiple copies of the same book. After all, wasn’t that wasting money?

But then, over a few years, I began to change my mind. Erica Beaton’s beautiful classroom library was the first thing that got me thinking.

Classroom Library - Erica Beaton

Great library, right?

But that wasn’t enough. I was still stubborn and ignorant. Then came Tess Lantos, excellent ninth grade English teacher at Impact Academy in Hayward. (You will likely hear more about her in upcoming months!)

Tess helped me come to my senses. She has always built her classroom library through multiple copies of high-interest books. “Is there another way?” she asks kindly, so I can save face.

Because of Tess, now the trend is everywhere. Take a look!

It makes total sense. Single copies of tons of titles are overwhelming. The bookshelves look too much like the public library, which is scary for some students. You don’t know where to look, how to browse, which book to pick up and try. This is particularly true if you’re a struggling reader or your teacher expects you to read 18 books this year even though you haven’t finished a book since you were in the third grade.

Multiple copies of fewer titles, on the other hand, make a classroom library resemble a Barnes and Noble bookstore. Books pop, whether you stack them spine-out or cover-out. The bookshelves are beautiful, and if you’re a student, you’re lured to check out all that color and pick up a book.

The only concern with the multiple copies approach, of course, is that there is a greater risk if the teacher chooses poorly. Spending $10 on one book that no student reads isn’t a problem, but spending $50 is another story. I totally relate and understand the anxiety teachers feel when purchasing books.

That’s why I think it’s so crucial to ask your colleagues, public librarians, and students to determine which books will “sell.” It’s true that if you have 150 ninth graders, not all of them will like the same 20 books. On the other hand, I can assure you that 80-90% will like Tyrell. And away you go to your list of Top 20 Books.

What do you think of this approach? Would you modify anything? Please leave your thoughts. Also, if you have a book that you believe 80-90% of ninth graders will love, share it, please, and say why! favicon

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Kindle Classroom Project, news and updates: July 2014

This is a lot of what happens during the summer at the Kindle Classroom Project.
This is a lot of what happens during the summer at the Kindle Classroom Project.

favicon Hi there, loyal readers and supporters of the Kindle Classroom Project! It’s summer, which means that I’m resting and relaxing, but I wanted to share with you some quick updates about the Kindle Classroom Project.

After a donation slump that lasted several months, I’m happy to report that Kindles are again arriving. Even though there are more than 150 Kindles now in the collection, it’s still a wonderful feeling to receive an email (from the Donate Kindle page’s form) that someone wants to donate their Kindle to students in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m always very appreciative of people’s generosity, and it makes me especially happy when total and complete strangers find Iserotope on the Internet, decide that the KCP is a worthy cause, and ship their Kindle to me. It’s pretty great.

Also great is that the Kindle library is beginning to grow again. My goal has never been to accumulate tons of titles; after all, anyone can go on Project Gutenberg and download out-of-print classics that no students will read (even though we might want them to). Besides, you don’t want too many books: It’s confusing to students, plus you don’t want to go over the Kindle’s capacity (~1,000 books for some models). But Kindles themselves don’t do anything until there are good books on them. That’s why I’m grateful for all the donors who have purchased books, either via the Contribute page or by checking out my students’ Amazon wishlist.

The past few months, several people have contacted me to ask why I’m focusing more of my attention on physical books. “Isn’t that taking away your energy from Kindles?” I definitely don’t think so. My goal has always been to spread reading among students; I’m not really partial to any specific medium. That said, I do believe strongly in what I call “classroom library mirroring,” where students can see physical books in the classroom and then access them on their Kindle. Without library mirroring, there’s no good way for students to browse and to discover new titles they might want to try out. Therefore, I’ve been working with teachers (via DonorsChoose, mainly) to build physical classroom libraries. If you’re pro-physical book and would like to make a contribution, please let me know!

Coming Up: This Summer’s Projects

Summer is a great time to get ready for the next year and to work on big ways to make the Kindle Classroom Project better.

I’m happy to report that the KCP will be in five schools in August — two in San Francisco, one in Berkeley, one in Oakland, and one in Hayward.

One challenge I’ve had is to build a robust data-gathering system I can study (with some scientific accuracy) the effects of the Kindles on students. Last year, I tried, but it was not too successful for a number of reasons.

So this summer, I’m creating an easy way (via Google Forms) for students to track the books they’ve completed. That data, when compared to their online reading achievement scores, will help me answer more clearly whether students who use Kindles read more and whether they become better readers as a result.

I’ll need teacher collaboration and support, of course, to ensure that students are reporting their reading. No one, after all, likes to fill out a reading log. (The Form won’t be a reading log, promise.) The good news is that I’m working with teachers (and one school librarian!) who are wonderful and incredible and understand the importance of the project. I’ll be introducing them to you beginning in August.

What else? Oh, another big project is to — finally — publish the Kindle library online, categorized by genre. I have procrastinated on this project for too long (for some good and not-so-good reasons), and it’s time to move. It’s not going to be perfect — no cataloging system is — but I’m going to do my best (and maybe ask my librarian-y friends for help).

There are tons of benefits to this cataloging project. First, it’ll be easier for students (and parents) to browse books if the classroom library is not yet mirrored. One copy of the Kindle library will be on Goodreads, so students can check out the book’s summaries and reviews to determine whether to give a book a try.

Second, it’ll make it much easier to organize the books on the Kindles. Students have access to nearly 500 titles (as long as no more than six students are reading the book simultaneously, per Amazon’s policy), and my feeling is that students will more quickly find books they want to read if they’re organized by genre. (This is very similar to why school libraries over the past two decades have moved toward cataloging by genre vs. by author for fiction and by Dewey decimal number for nonfiction.

OK, wow, this is a long post, and I can go on for longer, but I’ll stop for now. Again, I appreciate the support and the enthusiasm that you all have for young people and their reading lives, and I’m hopeful that 2014-15 will be a strong one for the Kindle Classroom Project. Thank you! favicon

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Not easy: Getting books and Kindles back

kindlekeyboardfavicon The school year is almost over, which means it’s time for teachers to get their classroom library books (and Kindles!) back from their students.

Because everyone is so busy and tired, it’s easy to say something like this: “If I don’t get my books back, at least I know that they’re in good hands.”

This is the wrong approach! You have to get your books back! But that’s easier said than done.

Here are a few things to do:

1. Start early. May 1 is a good start date. Even though you want your students to read up until the end of the year, it’s a good idea to begin the book-returning process a month early.

2. Have a good circulation system. If you know which books are out, and if your students know which books they have, then getting books back is much easier. It doesn’t matter if you use a computerized system or a simpler paper system. The most important piece is that your system is accurate and dependable. Again, this isn’t easy to do. Some teachers employ student librarians to make sure everything is accurate. Other teachers have more elaborate systems. Whatever you do, it’s worth it to make sure that your check-in / check-out system is strong.

3. Don’t relent. Your students may say, “I returned that book.” Don’t believe them, but not because you don’t trust them. Often students don’t remember that the book is underneath their bed. The key message is that you’re following the records, and the account says that there is a book checked out to the student. It’s up to the student to take care of it.

4. Emphasize the concept of borrowing. Yes, you loaned all your books to your students, and you loved it when they became real readers. But they’re your books, not theirs, and it’s important that the books are ready for your students next year.

5. Take data, make deadlines, and remind often. Publicly display how many books are still out. Give students individualized reports about which books they need to return. Have deadlines throughout May, and after each one, remind students what they need to do. If necessary, call parents.

youngmanwithbooksHere are a few things NOT to do:

1. Don’t get angry. By mid- to late-May, you may become frustrated that you’ve reminded a student two or three times to return a book and nothing has happened. Instead of getting angry, have a plan. What are you going to do after the first reminder? the second? the third? Stick to this plan and communicate it to your students.

2. Don’t forget the public library. Make sure your students have a library card. Go to the library with them. Many students fear the library because they think the librarian is going to detain them for outstanding fees. As a result, many don’t have current library cards. At the end of the year, it’s important for you to help students make a transition between your classroom library and the public library. It’s the same thing, really, only bigger. If you help convince students that the public library is a safe place, then they’re much more likely to grow their identity as readers.

3. Don’t wait too long to do book bills. Fill them out a week or two before the end of school. This will give time for students to find the book or come up with a different solution. Often, students don’t begin looking for books until there is a penalty fee attached.

There’s my list. Good luck getting your books back! Do you have other ideas about how to encourage students to return books? If so, please leave them in the comments. Thank you! favicon

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Popular books among Oakland youth

favicon When you’re starting to build a classroom library, one of the best ways to find high-interest books is to ask your students what they like.

It’s not always best practice just to ask them with no context, though. If they don’t see themselves as readers, they may request a book they read several years ago, like A Child Called It or The Giver. That’s no good.

What is better is to team up with your local public library and put on a Book Faire. I’ve written about the Book Faire at Envision Academy in Oakland. It’s great. Students browse about 150 books and then fill out a slip of their top three requests. Then, if you have the money, you buy some!

Take a look at a few of the most-requested books from last month’s Book Faire in Oakland!

Any surprises? For me, there’s nothing shocking about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Life in Prison, or Perfect Chemistry. But I didn’t expect Hunger Games to still be so popular.

On the other hand, I was pleased that Zom-BMonument 14, and Article 5 made the list. Students everywhere still like zombie-filled, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian tales. Why not? (I liked Zom-B.)

The only non-memoir nonfiction title in the group, Buzzed is an excellent resource for students who want “the real truth” about drugs. It makes me happy that it’ll be checked out. wtf, maybe not so much (though I haven’t tried it yet).

Please let me know what you think of the students’ requests! Did they choose well? Have you read (and enjoyed, or hated) any of these books? And feel free, as always, if you feel the urge, to buy a few for my students over at their Amazon Wishlistfavicon

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Port Townsend classroom library gets upgrade

favicon Remember the beautiful classroom library in Port Townsend that I wrote about a few months ago? Here it is, in case you forgot how great it was:


I’m happy to report that the library is even better now.

Ben and Julie, teachers extraordinaire, informed me today that they’ve added some furniture and a few magazines to warm up the space even more.

Take a look at their new and improved library:


This kind of stuff makes me very happy.

If you have 45 seconds, please leave a brilliant insight to Ben and Julie to celebrate and appreciate their hard work! favicon

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First starter classroom library complete!

favicon Let me make a plain statement. If you want your students to read, you need books. Lots of them. Good ones. (Bonus points = New books.)

Sure, you can tell your students to visit the public library. Or the bookstore. Or, if you’re lucky, the school library. But that works only if your students already identify as readers.

If they don’t, that’s where you need a classroom library.

Inspired by Penny Kittle, author of Book Love and the founder of the Book Love Foundation, which helps teachers build classroom libraries, I am excited to announce that the first-ever Iserotope Starter Classroom Library is now a reality!

Here’s a peek:

First Iserotope Starter Classroom Library.jpg

The library, from top left to bottom right, includes five copies each of 22 titles: Thirteen Reasons WhyDrama High: The FightThe Fault in Our StarsEleanor & Park, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Snitch, A Child Called It, Dope Sick, Monster, Tears of a Tiger, Lost and Found, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Lightning Thief, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The First Part Last, Life in Prison, The Rose that Grew from Concrete, Legend, We Were Here, Tyrell, Street Pharm, and Hip Hop High School.

The 110 books were purchased with the kind and generous donations of people across the country. A total of seven separate DonorsChoose.com projects were funded, with 53 donors in all. The total cost of the 110 books was $1,339.

Here are all the donors: Anonymous (x 11), 100 Women in Hedge Funds (x 9), Alyssa (California), Miss Large (California), Marielle (San Francisco), Nyokabi, Ellen (Oakland), Carmen (Kansas), Emily (California), Wendy (California), Jacob (California), Sean (California), Gwyn (California), Laura (California) (x 2), Google, Larry (Texas), Sue (Texas), Macey (Texas), John (California), Roxy (California), Susann (Alameda, CA), Linda (Boulder Creek, CA), Sam (California), Marian (California), Elaine (Thousand Oaks, CA), Kristin (Alabama), David (Pennsylvania), Jennifer (California), Lori (Benicia, CA), Gregor (California), Lisa (California), George (Boston, MA), Roni (Pennsylvania), Melanie, Mr. Bahl (Elmhurst, NY), Candice (Oakland, CA), Donna (Oakland, CA), Valerie (California).

It took just two months to build this starter classroom library, thanks to these generous donors. Four of the donations came from friends. Thank you! The rest are from total strangers. Thank you!

It is astounding and heartwarming to know that there are so many people across the country who care about Bay Area students and their reading lives. It gets me excited about what can happen if we get the right books into the hands of our students.

Just a little more about the process, in case you’re wondering:

I chose the titles with the help of some of my colleagues, who have been keeping track of which titles have been most popular among ninth graders this year.

Instead of purchasing 110 different books, I decided to buy five copies of each title. This is best practice, I believe. Particularly for ninth graders, and especially to encourage reluctant readers to come back to reading (after sometimes a long time off), it’s best to focus on depth rather than breadth. It’s better for students to be reading the same titles, talking about how much they like those stories and characters, and building a classroom reading culture of shared texts. Once they have several of these books under their belt, they’re on their way. They’re free to explore.

I’m really excited to get this starter classroom library out to a deserving teacher and his or her students. But now comes the hard part. Who should get this library? Right now, I’m not ready to come up with a process, but I know one is necessary. After all, there are many excellent teachers ready to make a huge impact on their students through independent reading.

Please let me know, by leaving a brilliant insight, what you think of this starter classroom library and if you have any ideas about how to decide who should receive it. Thank you! favicon

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It’s simple: You have to have books

sorry-we-are-closedfavicon This morning I read this blog post by Laura Robb, a literacy coach in Virginia. Her argument is that the biggest problem we have with reading is the “persistent inequalities” between resource-rich and resource-poor schools. In other words, independent and suburban schools have libraries, librarians, classroom libraries, and tons of books, while their urban counterparts do not.

Yes. Ms. Robb is correct.

In order to read well, you need a text-rich environment. That means books. But most urban public high schools don’t have very many books.

If you’re lucky, you might find a school library, but it’ll be understaffed, plus students, long disaffected with reading, largely won’t visit. It’s not cool.

The answer, of course, is to build classroom libraries, but most of this work is not central to schools. It’s an afterthought. Even well-intentioned teachers don’t have the time or money to buy books for a classroom library. Sure, it’s possible, and there are some teachers who go out of their way, but real change happens only with school-wide efforts.

That’s why one of my side projects is to help teachers get books into their classrooms. It’s pretty easy. At all times, I have a project up on my DonorsChoose page. Right now, my goal is to get five copies of the 20-most-popular books for ninth graders. In just one month, generous contributors have donated 18 titles. That’s nearly $1,000 in donations, mostly from total strangers.

Here’s the list of the 20 books, in case you’re interested. (Note: I may modify this list after getting more survey data from current ninth graders.)

After the current project is funded (hint hint!), I’ll decide which teacher gets the 100-book mini-library. It’s not a lot of books, sure, but it’s a jump start, and it’ll look impressive. (By the way, I encourage you to donate. The DonorsChoose site is easy to navigate, and your $10 means 1 book.)

And then the process will start again — for another teacher, another classroom, and another group of students. Please let me know if you’re interested in helping! favicon