If you think of a classroom library as a cozy, welcoming space where students can read quietly or browse through a rich collection of texts, you are only partially correct. The fact that classroom libraries are places for storage and quiet is only one small part of their purpose. They are, in the broadest sense, the backbone of classroom activity. Much of what goes on each day draws from or occurs in or around the resources and space within the classroom library. As we see it, there are at least five important functions of an effectively designed classroom library.
1. Supporting Literacy Instruction
The first function of a classroom library is to support reading and writing instruction — in school and out. To this end, outfit your classroom library with books and other media materials to support student learning in all of the daily curriculum subjects. Include materials related to science, health, mathematics, history, economics, geography, music, art, drama, dance, languages, grammar, spelling, literature, computers, and other topics. Build an adequate collection of fiction and nonfiction materials at enough different levels to accommodate the many interests and abilities of students designing to check out books for take-home reading.
2. Helping Students Learn About Books
Next, an effective classroom library provides a place for teachers to teach and children to learn about books and book selection. Here children can experience a variety of book genres and other reading materials in a smaller and more controlled environment than in the school or public library. You can also use the classroom library to teach students how to take care of books. You can set up a book repair area for instruction on repair, and display a poster with clear directions on how to mend torn pages, remove marks in the books, cover frayed edges, or fix broken bindings. The classroom library is also a great place to teach students effective strategies for selecting relevant, interesting, and appropriate reading materials. A good classroom library helps students locate books easily and gives them room to get comfortable.
3. Providing a Central Location for Classroom Resources
You can also use your classroom library as an organized central storage location for classroom instructional resources. Here is additional space for organizing science equipment, audio players, DVDs, computers, games, magazines, and other materials that support learning. In this respect, the classroom library mirrors the organization of media centers at the individual and district levels.
4. Providing Opportunities for Independent Reading and Curricular Extensions
The fourth important function of a classroom library is as a resource and location for independent reading, personal exploration, project research, and individual assessment. Every good comprehensive reading program provides students daily time to read independently. The classroom library is typically the resource that supports children's daily independent reading of self-selected books that meet their personal, recreational reading interests. The classroom library also provides students with readily accessible print materials, expository books, computer technology, and media for conducting research or completing curricular extension projects. Further, an in-class library offers a setting for students to quietly read aloud and discuss a book with a peer or the teacher. This provides an ideal opportunity for you to conduct an informal assessment of each student's reading, which will help you to plan individualized instruction.
5. Serving as a Place for Students to Talk About and Interact With Books
The effective classroom library also functions as a gathering spot where students and teachers can express their lives as readers. Think of it as a place that makes books exciting, that sells reading. It should be a place students can't wait to get to. Here they can talk about their reactions to books, write a critical review and share it with peers, or draw a poster to advertise a favorite book. A few other ideas follow:
- The library can be a place where students can contribute to a list of "The Top Ten Books This Week in [__] Grade."
- It may also be a place where students can advertise a "book swap" with other students.
- It can be a place where students plan a dramatization of a book with a small group of peers.
The Skill-Building Library
Research shows that classroom libraries help students attain reading achievement. These key points from Scholastic's Classroom Libraries Work: Research and Results provide concrete examples that will help you build an effective skill-building library for your students.
- Children learning to read need access to meaningful and personally interesting books.
- Effective teachers of reading incorporate diverse trade books into their reading curriculum, introducing their students to the wide range of genres, authors, and topics.
- While the best predictor of reading success is the amount of time spent reading, reading achievement is also influenced by the frequency, amount, and diversity of reading activities.
- By providing access to a rich classroom library, teachers promote greater amounts of reading, increased reading frequency, and more diverse reading experiences among their students, thus helping them to attain greater levels of reading achievement.
- Effective teachers of reading know that comprehension is enhanced by reflection and social interaction. Therefore, they provide their students with multiple opportunities to respond to their reading and interact with their peers through a variety of activities such as book clubs and discussions.
- Increased vocabulary knowledge helps students understand what they read, and reading comprehension is enhanced when students understand the meaning of words. Thus there is a reciprocal benefit to independent reading of trade books — vocabulary growth and reading comprehension.
- Effective teachers know the reading levels of their students and reading levels of the trade books in their classroom, so that they can match their students to texts that can be read with success, thus assisting their students to grow as readers.
You can read additional research support for the importance of classroom libraries.
Adapted from Your Classroom Library: New Ways to Give It More Teaching Power by D. Ray Reutzel and Parker C. Fawson.