Classroom Libraries Promote Student Success

By Dr. Steven Geis, Principal at North Trail Elementary School in Farmington, Minn.

In this digital age, some educators may question the necessity of maintaining and expanding a classroom library. Why stock books when children have access to Kindles, Nooks, iPads and the internet? Research shows, however, that the old-fashioned approach is still the best: Classroom libraries promote both literacy and lifelong learning.

Students at North Trail Elementary read every day in the classroom and have homework daily from me, their principal. If you ask students what their assignment is, they will resoundingly say, “READ!”

“Readers become the leaders” is an old but true adage as studies continue to confirm what we have known for years: The more contact students have with books, the better readers they become. Classroom libraries – filled with readily accessible right-fit books for students – are essential to student learning. Such libraries must represent a variety of genres, including nonfiction titles.

In a January 2010 article for Education Week, Gaby Chapman states that reading increases in proportion to selection, and practice enhances reading scores. A 2002 article by Ray Reutzel and Parker C. Fawson encourages teachers to “think of the library in your room as the heart of effective literacy instruction.” Environments rife with printed texts has been shown to increase literacy (B. T. Bowman, 2003).

One study, cited by Beth Miller in a 2007 article, showed that students who simply received seven books each school year – with no additional intervention – “scored significantly higher on a state reading assessment.”

In fact, those seven books per child represent the minimum launching point for any classroom library, according to the International Reading Association, which recommends adding two new books per child every year thereafter.

A study cited in a 2001 article by Susan Neuman involved putting quality books in 350 schools to enhance the language and literacy environment of 18,000 underprivileged children. The results were astounding: Time spent reading increased by 60 percent over the control group; literacy-related activities more than doubled; and literacy and communication skills continued to explode.

As educators it is our responsibility to motivate encourage and develop the love of reading in all students. I share the view of Donalyn Miller in The Book Whisperer: “If my classroom was not a motivational environment for readers, my instruction was doomed to fail. . . . Students need to be surrounded with books of all kinds and given the opportunity to read them every day.” I personally give students at least two books a year – up to four if they attend our literacy nights.

Maintaining a well-stocked classroom library can be a challenge in light of budget cuts, but Book Fairs represent an easy, fun, and cost-effective option. On average, a school receives an influx of 600 books per Fair, or $3,500 in books and educational resources per two-Fair year. In addition, each Fair generates 100,000 voluntary student reading minutes. Now, there’s a statistic to get excited about!

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