Project Book Giving by Katie Hartman
It was in January, around the middle of the school year. I had just shared a brief explanation of International Book Giving Day with my readers and posed the questions to my two classrooms of fourth graders: How can we get books into the hands of people in our community who might not have any? How can we get other people excited about reading?
The ideas I receive from the kids when I offer up these questions each school year are always inspiring, but this year my readers decided to dream big. After researching and discussing possibilities for all types of projects, my kids finally decided on their plan. They told me they wanted to hold a book drive, build and maintain two Little Free Libraries in our community, and then, not stop there, but continue on their efforts by donating books to people and organizations in need around our community.
:: Stunned Silence. ::
As a teacher, I always strive to help my learners see that anything is possible. I want them to discover that with the combined powers of passion and knowledge, their actions can have an impact on the community and world around them. This was the perfect opportunity to provide them with that experience. Yet helping them to reach their end goal while continuing to match their instruction to the curriculum seemed like a daunting and uncertain task. I took a deep breath, made peace with the uncertainty that lay ahead of me, and just decided to go for it. I decided to make a leap of faith and follow my students’ innovative ideas. Looking back, I am ever so grateful that I did.
Over the course of the next four months, my readers embarked on a learning experience that we later titled Project Book Giving. I have the luxury of being flexible with how I deliver the curriculum, which allowed me to guide my students through lessons and activities that helped them make progress toward their goals, while also learning the fourth grade English & Language Arts standards.
The journey of this project lay in the hands of my kids. All of the decisions made for the project were determined by my readers. They held full voice and choice over their goals and directed the entire plan from beginning to end.
In the spirit of daring greatly, I decided to reach out to the community for additional support. The response that our classroom received was incredible. Families and staff from our elementary building donated nearly 3,000 books for the cause. Local authors dropped off autographed copies of books after reading about our plans on social media. The Little Free Library organization corresponded with us through our classroom Instagram and Twitter accounts to share feedback and answer questions. Local library stewards volunteered to be interviewed by students to explain more about how to create and maintain a Little Free Library. Two high school teachers and their classes guided my kids through the design process and built one of the two Little Free Libraries, born completely from my students’ imaginations. Local parks directors welcomed the use of their land for a community library. The creative agency, SoulPancake, graciously connected with us through Skype to provide tips that would help my kids to create movies promoting the love of reading after I reached out to them on a whim. Multiple nonprofit organizations visited our classroom to speak to us about how our donations of books would be used to benefit children and adults in our community. It was amazing to see the ways people donated their time and talents for our cause.
The kids’ final accomplishments came at the end of the school year. During a school-wide assembly, my readers unveiled their North Hills Little Free Library to a drum roll and roar of applause. The smiles on their faces are a memory I will not soon forget. We held an official grand opening celebration for our Little Free Library in the community where readers enjoyed snacks and books with community members in the sunshine. And along with what already would have been an incredible experience by that point, we had enough books collected to be able to share them with six different student-chosen community organizations in our area. Local shelters, literacy centers, and a district-wide reading program were able to each visit our classroom, educate the students on their mission, and walk away with hundreds of books to support their efforts of bringing the joy of reading to others.
The more involved my students became in this process, the more I watched their identity as readers evolve. Their enthusiasm for books grew. Their awareness of needs in our community increased. Their empathy for others developed. Because this project was directly driven by their choices, they felt empowered and capable. They worked together as teams to creatively solve problems. We shared as much of our experience as we could with the world through a website and blog to make our learning transparent. My readers were motivated to learn because they had a real life task to accomplish and an authentic audience to share it with. They became champions for the love of books and reading. They became involved citizens in their community.
I saw a growth in their skills as readers and writers, but what I found most valuable was the growth I saw in the bigger life realizations that my readers took away from this project. In reflections they wrote about the experience, their words and lessons learned were far greater than anything I could have even anticipated. Through their big dreams for this project, their words and their actions, they taught me just as much as I could ever hope to teach them. Maybe even more.
To learn more about Project Book Giving, visit the students’ website: projectbookgiving.weebly.com, search #projectbookgiving, or follow their Little Free Library updates @JohnRudyLFL.
Katie Hartman is a fourth grade teacher at Central York School District in York, Pennsylvania. She is enamored by the magic words from children’s literature have over readers of any age. She can frequently be found enjoying a good book curled up inside a reading fort. You can follow Katie and her classroom of learners on Twitter and Instagram @HartmansRoomGr4.