The Role of the Library
At a school using a balanced, comprehensive literacy program the library is the heart of everything. I would like to argue that the library should always be the heart of a school regardless of curriculum.
These are some truths I believe about school libraries. I would like to say that I am not a trained librarian but a classroom teacher. If you are a school librarian, please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below. Learning from one another is extremely important.
Readers Should Have Free Choice
The only time in my classroom that students don’t have choice is when I choose guided reading books and a few rare other times when I select texts for students. I often recommend texts to readers but they can always turn down my choices. Not all classrooms offer students choice and power over the books they read. Libraries need to be the safe haven that always allows choice.
Students should be allowed to explore their own interests. They should be allowed to check out books that are far too difficult and far too easy for them. They need a space where they are allowed to be a reader. No one prevents me from checking out certain books at the library. Students should have the same privilege.
Just Say No to Levels
I don’t believe that levels are for students and I do not believe levels have a place in libraries. If kids are allowed free choice, their reading abilities shouldn’t limit them.
When I was in elementary school there was a picture book and chapter book section of our library. We had to check out from the picture book section in grades K, 1, 2 and then were no longer allowed to check books out from there in grades 3, 4, 5. In second grade the top three readers were allowed to check out books from the chapter book section. I was so excited to hear the names announced Allison, Grace, and Daniel. It wasn’t me. My teacher later told me that I was reader number four. I was so upset and I spent the entire year checking out books (because we had to) and returning them without reading them. That year I also spent a lot of time at the public library checking out Boxcar Children and Amber Brown. Don’t limit kids because of their reading level. Let them love books!
Checkout Limits Need To Go
If the goal of school libraries is to create book lovers and readers then why do we limit how many stories a child can take out? Don’t we want more books in the hands of readers? Checkout limits are counterintuitive. Of course, some students will need guidance but I’ve found that even without checkout limits kids figure out how many books is right for them. Teaching kids how to self-regulate is an important skill and book check outs are the perfect place for it.
EveryDay Is Library Day
My class visits the library once a week for class. During that class our library media specialist reads a story and reinforces a concept we’re teaching in reading or writing. Then students are allowed to browse the library and check out books. But everyday is library day. So if students go home and read all of their books they can always check out books during the first and last half-hour of the day. I have students who visit the library daily and check out what I’m sure is a ridiculously large number of books a year. Every child has the opportunity to visit the library every day. That is what matters when creating readers.
The library also shouldn’t shut down for large periods of time where it is inaccessible to students. Libraries that close the last month of school aren’t helping create more readers. I know that inventory is an important process but kids having access to books is even more important. Think about the policies of your school library. Do they support growing readers or do the polices stand in their way?
Students Should Be Allowed A Clean Slate
My favorite librarian Barb always had a clean slate club. Each and every school year she welcomed students back into the library and declared that they each had a clean slate. That meant that all of their past library activity was wiped clean. If you had late fees- gone! If you lost a book and never returned it- don’t worry! Every child was guaranteed a clean slate. Clean slate announcements happened throughout the school year as well.
When books were lost and fines weren’t paid Barb didn’t shame children and she didn’t restrict their access to books. She said they were simply building their home libraries. Books are consumable resources. We know that they become well loved and pages fall out or they become lost at home and get added to a home library collection. Not returning books and not being able to pay late fines shouldn’t hinder children. If we don’t allow those kids to check out books we are often limiting our most vulnerable readers. That is against our goal of creating more readers!
The Library Should Be Filled With Book Lovers
You can tell a successful library and a successful literacy program by the whispers and sometimes shouts you hear at the library. Kids should be talking about their interests. They should share recommendations with other students. They should jump up and down when they see the new texts being added to the library. The feeling in the library should be one of loving books. Do these kids love books? Are they given opportunities to share their reading life with other readers?
Books Should Mirror the Diversity of the World
Kids need windows and mirrors. This isn’t a new concept but it still doesn’t happen in all classrooms. Students need mirrors to see themselves and their own cultures reflected back at them. They also need windows to look out and learn about lives that are different than their own. We grow stronger by reading books that are both mirrors and windows.
When I taught grade 3 my class wanted to do a classroom library audit. We dumped all of our books out onto the floor and started sorting by type of characters- animals, white people, Black people, First Americans, etc. One of my First American students was so upset to only find one book that represented First Americans in our library and even more upset when she realized it didn’t represent the Ojibwe tribe. Representation matters. She couldn’t read stories about her own culture in our classroom library and no other students could read about her culture. That isn’t ok. Kids need to see representation across the genres as well. I should see myself represented in historical fiction, poetry, realistic fiction, narrative nonfiction, biographies, fantasies, thrillers, mysteries. You name it and I should be able to find a mirror book and several window books. As a white woman I don’t have too hard of a time finding mirrors but finding windows can be tricky.
Our school consciously purchased more books about Black Americans for our biography unit but then we realized they bought stories about slavery or stories about civil rights. Want to know which biography was the most popular? Gabby Douglas. Kids wanted more biographies of Black Americans of today. By only showing times of struggle the window and mirror view of the Black experience was warped.
Support Reading in All Forms
Magazines, eBooks, audiobooks, printed books, whatever kind. All books are created equal. Earlier this year I was told I shouldn’t put the book I was reading on my door for literacy week because I was “only listening to it.” Sometimes the only way I get to read is by listening to stories as I walk around the city. Each morning on my way to the taxi I listen to an audiobook. I also read book on my iPad and I have paper books as well. Libraries should celebrate all readers and all types of readers!
There Should Be No Censorship
We shouldn’t exclude books from our collections just because it might be controversial. In fact we need to include controversial books. We can’t exclude texts about LGBTQ people. Their lives aren’t inappropriate. We can’t exclude texts on police violence. We need an inclusive library without censorship.
When I was in middle school I went through a phase where I only read really depression books about drug addicts, violence, and teen pregnancy. I read Smack and Go Ask Alice, Speak and Cut. These books were deemed inappropriate for me and I didn’t care. I loved reading those book so much. They were the windows I must have needed at that time in my life. My sister had a teacher call home to tell my mom the Gossip Girl books she was reading weren’t appropriate. Thankfully, my mom does not mess around when it comes to reading. She didn’t care what we were reading as long as we were reading. After going through my dark books phase I started reading the Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging series. Readers go through phases- its ok. Let kids explore and figure out their identity and place in the world through books.
There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing allowing productive struggle.
What is Productive Struggle?
I’m going to tell the simplified story of how I learned to ride a bike. First I had a tricycle when I was young. I learned how to pedal and move it with the handles. I started to grow out of that tricycle and my younger brother could have used it so my parents got me a two-wheel bike with training wheels. Once I got the hang of riding it around with training wheels they made the training wheels uneven so I would tip a little back and forth as I rode. This helped me start to learn balance. One summer both of my cousins who were my age were not using training wheels and I decided that I no longer needed them. My dad took them off and I put on my helmet, determined to master riding a two-wheeler. My dad gave me directions and started running while holding on to the seat of the bike. I begged him not to let go but he did anyway. I moved forward a little and then fell to the ground. My dad came over and calmed me down and told me I needed to do something. I needed to steer or pedal it wouldn’t work if I didn’t do anything. So we tried again. My dad ran and let go of the bike and a steered a little and then fell to the ground. My dad again came over and helped me up. This time he wanted me to pedal. I wasn’t so sure about pedaling. That meant I would keep going and I might even go faster than I wanted to go. We tried again. This time I pedaled and steered and managed to go farther than before when I hit a rut in the ground and fell over. Again and again, my dad patiently helped me up and we tried again. Soon he wasn’t running over to me every time I fell. He was having me bring my bike back to him. Slowly I started to gain more and more independence. Finally, I could steer and pedal and not fall over for long periods of time. I was riding a two-wheeler. My dad allowed me to struggle forward. At no point did he take my bike away from me and do it for me. That wouldn’t have worked out and seems silly to actually think about.
Productive struggle is allowing students time to fail forward just like I had on my bike. Productive struggle is so important and too often as teachers we swoop and save instead of letting students fail forward.
Why Is Swooping A Problem?
Imagine a classroom where kids are learning about place value. A student builds the number 23 with five tens instead of two tens and five ones. The teacher looks at the child and says, “no remember twenty-three two tens and three ones.” The child then fixes their number and now they understand place value… uh… no. Now they got this one problem right but because they were basically told the answer.
A child is reading a book and they get stuck on the word like. The teacher says remember this is a silent e so the i says its name. L-i-k, like. The child mumbles along with the teacher and the teacher says, “good you got it!”
A writer is writing a story with no punctuation and the teacher comes over and adds punctuation with a pen to the child’s’ writing.
The examples can go on and on. So often when children make mistakes teachers fix the mistakes. The problem with doing that is that we are robbing children of learning moments. When I swoop in to solve all the problems a student could encounter how do they become stronger? What did they learn this time that will help them solve the next problem?
What to do Instead
For a long time, the role of the teacher was to help students fix mistakes. I’m not saying this isn’t the role anymore but the role is more of a facilitator of learning. If all of my students don’t understand a certain skill or strategy it isn’t my job to correct them so they no longer have mistakes. It is my job to help them recognize their mistakes and continue to fail forward unit they understand.
Let’s go back to the base-10 example. This happens quite frequently in the grade 1 classroom. This child doesn’t yet see 10s and ones. If they start counting by ones then they continue to count by ones. If they start counting by tens they continue to start counting by tens. They don’t yet see the longs and cubes as worth different values. What if, instead of correcting him I asked him a question that would push his thinking forward. What if I asked, “how much is this worth” holding up a long. He could count the individual squares and determine that it is 10. Then I could ask, “so how many do you have here?” He could count by ones or tens and determine that he had 50. After that I could ask, “now what can you do so that you have only 23?” I could then let him go back and try again. Maybe this time he grabs 5 cubes. Maybe he goes back and gets three tens and two ones. Even if he just groups his tens into a group of three and a group of three he has begun to fail forward or productively struggle. If he continues to productively struggle I allow it. Productive struggle is good and it is so important.
When a struggle becomes frustrating I would come in with some intentional teaching and modeling for the student. Then we could work together to solve a few problems then the student could try on their own. As long as a struggle is productive and the child is getting bit by bit more correct each time they’re wrong I should allow it. I’m allowing students to build understandings and develop a conceptual understanding on their own.
What I've Learned
It is really easy to swoop and save or to remove all obstacles from a child’s path but it just isn’t helpful to them. I work hard to allow productive struggle in all of my students. I still haven’t mastered it yet but I too continue to productively struggle forward as a teacher.
Let me know your thoughts and questions regarding productive struggle in the comments below! I would love to hear from you!
Time To Share Another Resource!
I’m all about sharing the resources that I use in my classroom. Today I am talking about one of my favorite apps and a serious life saver… Epic! You might have heard of this one as several teachers I know use it. Epic! is totally free to classroom teachers and is a great resource for all readers.
Epic! is a website & app that has so many books for every kind of reader. It has audiobooks and read to me books. It has fiction and nonfiction. It has popular series like Fluffy! and it has new series to love! Epic! engages my students in reading. I know that there are studies about the benefits of reading paper books and this by no means replaces my classroom library but compliments it so well.
Before we really dive in this post is in no way affiliated with Epic! I just love this resource and want to share!
The number 1 way I use Epic! in my classroom is as the listening center. Each week my students take time to listen to stories. Listening helps them hear a fluent model and lets them enjoy stories that are still a bit too challenging to read on their own. The kids LOVE listening center. They can’t wait to go to listening center. Partially because it is pretty fun to wear headphones but I also suspect it has something to do with the selection of Read to Me texts on Epic! There is a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction books. All the books are of a high quality and the reading on the audiobook is fluent! What more could you ask for?
We also listen to a story during snack each day. Partially because snack is sandwiched into our day when we can’t add any more time to it and partially to grow our love for books. When the story is on the kids are happily eating and not chit chatting. Chit chat during snack would be fun but we only have 10 minutes before we have to be somewhere else so we have a listening snack. I much prefer that to a silent snack.
The kids can listen to books but they can also select books to read on their own. Again the selection of texts is quite high and very interesting to the students. I’ve used Epic! for several years now and can honestly say that I have never had a student who couldn’t find anything to read on the app. They always find something they love. When kids first log into their account they click on a few things they like and that helps Epic! recommend interesting books to each and every child.
There are also lots of videos on Epic! There are videos of different learning concept and then, then there are lego videos! Lego videos are a sure hit in grade 1. Sometimes during snack we watch a Lego video. In case you’ve never watched one of these they break down how to build different Lego stuff… I am not really a Lego expert. It is a great model for a how-to and they are super engaging.
No Levels... No Quizzes... Just Reading
One thing I absolutely love about Epic! is that it is simply just books. There are no levels and a child is never told, no they can’t read that book. There are quizzes after some of the books but my kids just think they are fun perks. They don’t automatically assume that we read to take quizzes. When there is a quiz they don’t have to take it but often do- a fun little surprise. This app helps to grow the love for books within my classroom. Often I hear students sharing recommendations with one another and our little community of readers keeps growing and growing.
I remember the word wall was one of the most confusing pieces in my classroom my first year teaching. In fact, it was left empty until the 3rd quarter because I had no idea what to do with it but I knew that we were required to have them. I didn’t know what to do or when to put up words or what words to put up! Let’s try to clear these up.
This new series, What’s the Deal? works to demystify some of the most confusing and sometimes contradictory pieces of information in education. I’m not going to say I’ll always piece it together correctly here but I will try.
Should I Have a Word Wall?
Yes. Yes, you should.
A word wall is a designated area in the classroom set aside to help young writers with tricky words. Every grade level in elementary can have a word wall catered to their needs. Even older grades can use a word wall! A word wall is designed to help students make connections between words and provide a scaffold when spelling tricky words. Word walls need to be interactive and created with students not created for them. Students should not walk in to find new words suddenly up on the wall but it should be built together. If a word wall is already put up in a classroom then students are using it as a crutch when it should be a scaffold. A word wall should assist students in spelling words and they should begin to make connections to the words on their own.
How Do They Work?
The teacher adds words with the students to assist in spelling. This is not a place where the teacher puts up all the words kids don’t know so they can just copy them. If you do that kids will either ignore the wall or be overwhelmed by it. Adding words together allows students to have ownership over the wall. It lets them know what words are on the wall and it becomes a tool.
I put up the word and recently. When adding the word and we said it and clapped it and spelled it out loud and traced it on the floor. Some teachers even sing a song. Then we added it. A few days later (actually I think later that day) we made connections using the word and. If you know and then you know sand. If you know and then you know hand! The kids got so excited and found many more examples. Now if a child were to wonder, “how do you spell hand?” They could look to the word wall and see if they could use a word to help them spell.
The word wall should help kids spell the words that are there but it should also help them spell words that aren’t there. If kids aren’t taught how to make connections between different words then they will only be able to spell the words that are already up on the wall.
What Words Do I Add?
High-frequency words should be added to the wall. I put up words that my students are using a lot like Poland, the name of our school, vacation, etc. During word study, we add exemplar words to the wall. We just added the word at and if you know at you know so many other words! I use the 500-word list in the Fountas and Pinnell Word Matters book as a guide but I adapt to meet my students’ needs. It’s all focused on what they need. Last year we added the word a to the word wall, this year we didn’t need to.
To determine which words to add next I generally walk around and read my students writing. I pick some words that are spelled wrong and jot them down. While looking at all the students I create a sort of a tally chart. I determine which ones are within the class’ zone of proximal development and then we add those words.
How Many Words Do I Add?
We should add between 4-5 words a week to the wall. We shouldn’t add any more because then our students will forget what words are on the wall and it just becomes wall decoration instead of a tool for learning. I generally have a running list of words to add next. Now, the point of adding words is so that students spell those words correctly but it is also so that they spell more words correctly. I choose the words I put up intentionally some words like because and about go on my word wall every year. These words are used a lot by my students and they don’t yet have the strategies to spell them. Other words don’t go up every year.
Once words are up on the word wall they might not need to stay up all year. Remember the word wall should meet the needs of your students. The wall should be interactive. Words should be going up and coming down as needed. This means the wall shouldn’t become overwhelming where students can’t find the words they need anymore.
When Do I Add Words?
I add words in a few different times. Sometimes I call my students to the word wall as a mid-workshop interruption during writer’s workshop and we’ll add a word right then and there. Sometimes we will add a word to the wall during share. At times we add a word to the wall during morning meeting. Once we added a word to the word wall during math. I try to plan which word will go up on the word wall and then see where it naturally slides into my day. Adding a word to the word wall shouldn’t take too long, no more than 5 minutes typically.
How Can I Differentiate It?
Word walls are meant to be for all students and I am sure that you also have a wide range of abilities in your classroom. One way to differentiate is to use those pockets that used to be in the back of library books. In the word wall pictured above, I used those for the letter card and more challenging words were placed in the cards. Words that I didn’t expect everyone to spell correctly but I did expect some kids to spell correctly. We added those words to the wall the same way as the other ones. This way anyone could use that card. In the past, I have lined those up on the bottom of the chalkboard for students who need them.
I also create a words we know board when we remove words from the wall but some students still need them. I don’t always call it words we know depending on how my class would react to that with some kids still needing them. I’ve called it a retired word wall before as well. Together we move words like I or the from the regular word wall to the other word wall. Then eventually it might be taken down from that space. It might also stay up all year depending on what the kids need.
What do I need to Start?
The word wall should be in a space where students can see it and reach it. We might not all have this space available in our classrooms. My word wall last year was in such a terrible place because it was the only wall space we had large enough. Do what you can.
Alphabet cards– Currently I use lowercase only on my word wall. I needed a way to display only the lowercase letters and remind them that we use lowercase more than uppercase. I do have uppercase letters displayed in the classroom in many other areas so I felt the word wall was a place I could use only lowercase. In the past, I have used upper and lowercase on the word wall. Do what’s best for your class. What do they need?
Magnet Tape– I use this if my board is on a magnetic surface. Last year I couldn’t use magnet tape. This way students can come and get the words and put them back. They aren’t permanently stuck on the wall.
White cards and a black marker– research has shown that it is best of the words are written in black ink on a white or light surface. We all like colors in the classroom but keep color away from the word wall. You can type your words or write them out. I usually just choose to handwrite them.
Highlighter Tape– Highlighter tape allows you to call attention to a particular part of a word. In the picture above I highlighted to vowels. Right now CVCe words are highlighted on the wall. Highlighter tape will go up and come down depending on what you are drawing their attention to.
Click HERE for a word wall freebie! Included are lowercase letter cards and a few high-frequency word cards to help get you started. Enjoy!
Using a word wall can be such a powerful tool for the writers within our classroom. Let me know what questions you have about creating a word wall in the comments below. Please share any tips or advice about the word wall as well!