In the month or so since its unveiling, the library has grown into a central part—if not the center—of my English classroom.
To refresh your memory, here is the library before the project began.
In this library update, I will recount the wonderful ways in which this terrific text tower has changed my students’ lives just as much as my own. I will also give a preview of the thank you letters that my students are beginning to write to thank the many individuals that have underwritten this project.
The library has done the following for my students:
- Ignited a true passion for reading. Here, I could provide a book of anecdotes if I wanted to. Some students’ passions are still kindling like a small flame: EC just checked out his first book, Hatchet, and is eager to experience the adventure of being a plane-crash survivor, albeit vicariously. Other students’ have burst into firestorms: KN, first period bookworm, arrived 15 minutes early to class Monday morning and exclaimed, “Mr. K, I was so bored Sunday night because I finished Our America!” While dropping her book into the return bin, she quickly moved to the library and pronounced, “I want a new book!”
- Provided a diverse array of readable material that has broadened horizons. The breadth of the library has opened my students to new ideas and new ways of looking at the world. The library has provided windows into other cultures as well as mirrors reflecting their own life experiences. EM—the only student to ace the unit 1 assessment—thought out loud about the way we treat people from other cultures as he read Savages. DM—a mentally retarded student who has yet to turn in a single assignment this semester—willingly read aloud a chapter on W.E.B. Du Bois that I gave to him from Black Stars of the Harlem Renaissance. Having had no knowledge of what “segregation” was, DM was able to use the book as a mirror that enabled him to better understand his own status as a black man (DM is over 18 years old) in America. He so enjoyed this session that he expressed his desire to work with me after school this week to continue reading from the book.
- Given them valuable opportunities to practice skills learned in class. My students have learned skills that good readers use (e.g. summarizing, inferring, connecting, and questioning) while reading. However, they have often practiced them in unnatural contexts (i.e. within the confines of a single class period using a text that I have unilaterally chosen for them). The library has made independent reading a valuable part of class time and it has also shown my students that our reading strategies can be applied to any text. MM recently reflected that “jot dots [little margin notes that summarize the paragraph’s main idea] have helped me understand what I’m reading better!”
My students are loving the library. But I would be ignoring a key aspect of how the library is helping out in my classroom if I only talked about the benefits that my students accrue from the library.
The library has done the following for me:
- Improved my classroom management. I can use the library as a carrot (“if we finish this activity early, we can independent read!”) or a stick (“if you choose to keep making disrespectful comments, you choose to give up your library privileges”). Also, if there is that rare moment when I get through a lesson too quickly, I have been able to say, “for the rest of class, take out your independent reading book and write a reading response journal entry.” This has saved my neck enough times for it to be a serious classroom management tool.
- Allowed me to connect more closely with my students. My students often have difficulty choosing a book to read from our library (the process is not easy when you have 350 new books!). As a result, I generally ask my students to tell me about their interests so that I can recommend a book to them. This process has helped me better understand my students’ passions and motivations. I know that CJ is only motivated by sports stories; I know that ER loves anime and Japanese culture; I know that DR will only read books that are “real.” Also, if they do happen to choose books on their own, I am able to generate a more holistic picture of each student by monitoring the choices they make. Finally, by reading a book that a student has chosen in advance, I am able to have meaningful conversations about the book that both push my students to read more critically as well as build a better rapport.
- Enabled me to show the value of books and literacy to my students. The very act of maintaining an efficient and effective library in the classroom has taught my students the value of books and literacy. I can hold a mistreated book up in the air, put on a a doleful facial expression and complain about how the book has been abused. When I say “books are like babies!” I mostly see rolling eyes, but I also see faces that recognize that I am serious about the role that books play in our lives. Students are beginning to enforce the rules amongst themselves. When one student folds a page corner, another scolds her. The library has grown into an intrinsically valuable part of the classroom. It almost functions as an inanimate member of our classroom—the gatekeeper of learning that watches over our classroom while students and teacher are out for the evening.
As with my first library update, I need to keep thanking all those that have helped me build this library. Believe it or not, my students are writing letters to thank you. Although I have quite a few already, I suspect it will take some time before I actually send them out. However, know that if I was able to track down your address (either on the box or on the shipping receipt) you should expect a(t least one) thank you letter by the New Year. I’ve pasted in a few examples below.
From JP, after reading Twilight:
From MM, after reading Life as it Comes:
From MD, after reading Honky:
From TR, after reading the Guinness Book of World Records: