May 9, 2017
I recently had a conversation with a kindergarten teacher who explained that her young learners were struggling to apply the reading strategies she had taught them. Her students had made less progress by that time in the year than she had hoped. I inquired about what independent reading time looked like in her classroom. Our conversation ultimately led to the fact that her classroom had no leveled library and independent reading lasted only 10 minutes during breakfast at the start of the day. Before I tell you why leveled classroom libraries support independent reading for young readers, let me explain what a leveled classroom library is.
A leveled classroom library contains a variety of children’s books organized and grouped according to the reading difficulty of the books. Plastic bins or tubs are usually labeled with a letter, number, or color to help young readers find books at their independent reading level. These are books that a child should be able to read alone. Not too hard and not too easy, but “just right” books. Each book is usually identifiable by a colored sticker, letter, or number on the front cover to help ensure books make it back to the correct bin. What’s the big deal with leveled classroom libraries? Well, if they were available in every elementary classroom in conjunction with a high-quality balanced literacy program, more American children would be reading proficiently.
Classroom libraries support independent reading in school and at home.
Independent reading refers to the time set aside by teachers during the school day for young children to read by themselves. Independent reading usually follows a reading lesson because it provides young readers an opportunity to immediately practice the reading skills and strategies a teacher just taught. Without leveled libraries, independent reading is difficult to execute because many teachers do not have time to select and rotate books for an entire class of students on a weekly basis. Even if teachers find the time to choose books at every students’ reading level, there’s no guarantee that the book(s) teachers choose will match students’ reading preferences in terms of subject matter, characters, genre, etc.
Requiring students to rotate their independent reading books weekly provides children an opportunity to practice important reading skills and strategies on a variety of words and within the context of different stories. It also allows children to take ownership of and customize their reading experience by choosing books they like most. Leveled classroom libraries in the early grades generally have 30+ titles at each reading level, so that each student in a class can choose 3-5 books to read in school as well as 3-5 additional books for students to read at home. Ideally, students would choose new books from the classroom library each week.
Next week’s blog post will discuss the nuts and bolts of creating a classroom library from scratch. I’ll share practical information a teacher might need to get started. This info is also valuable for parents to you better advocate for your child.