A Classroom Library: If You Build It, They Will Read by Jim Bailey
I had just finished sharing the latest research about classroom libraries with my teachers at a staff meeting. The research didn’t surprise anyone. Students who are able to utilize a well-stocked, diverse classroom library spend 60% more time reading compared to those that don’t. These same students are also more likely to talk about the books they are reading and make recommendations to other students. Classroom libraries are essential in order to provide students with access to books and motivation to read. There is a direct link between classroom libraries and reading motivation, reading achievement, and reading engagement.
None of this research was a huge shock to the teachers in the room. What happened next, however, was a huge shock. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a stack of $100 gift cards to Barnes and Noble. “We are spending the rest of the PD day at Barnes and Noble, and I have $100 for each of you to spend on your classroom library.” They didn’t react at first, but just looked around the room at one another. I could tell they were excited but were waiting for the catch. I heard one teacher whisper to another, “Is he serious?” Another teacher replied, “No, he’s kidding.” I assured them I wasn’t kidding. In fact, it wasn’t optional, we were leaving now. I wanted to show them that I valued classroom libraries and was going to support them as they built their own. We put money and time behind the things we value. As the building principal, I greatly value classroom libraries and what better way to show it than by taking a field trip to the bookstore. I handed the teachers their $100 gift cards (and another $5 gift card because you need a coffee while you browse) and we all headed to the bookstore.
I can already hear principals saying to themselves, “That’s great Jim, but I don’t have an extra $2000 in my budget to just give to teachers to buy books.” As if books are an afterthought and something you only buy when you have money to throw away. Believe me, I understand how underfunded schools in America are. This is a systemic problem that needs a solution and we should be advocating to address that. However, we can’t use it as an excuse. We put money and time behind the things we value. Principals, we need to scrutinize our budget and take a good, long look at where our money is spent. We need to stop throwing money at every single shiny object a vendor pitches us. Do we really need to spend money on another standardized assessment that is actually just a ridiculous “teacher evaluation” tool in disguise? 🙄 No one involved benefits from these types of purchases. I went through every line of my budget, asking myself, “Is this program or resource better at raising student achievement than putting a book in a student’s hand?” If the answer was no, then I had just found money to support classroom libraries. It turned out I was able to find thousands of dollars in my budget.
We started by kicking Accelerated Reader to the curb. This program was costing our school over $2000 EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. Goodbye low level comprehension tests. Goodbye trinkets and prize incentives to read. Goodbye reading books “only on AR.” Goodbye punishing kids for not reaching their stupid goal. Hello classroom libraries. The funds I saved from AR covered the price of the gift cards to Barnes and Noble. It also ensured that I was able to do it EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. Actually, it turns out that I was able to do it several times a year because I found I could save a whole lot more when I looked at my budget through a classroom library lens.
One of the biggest budget saving decisions I made as principal was to stop buying workbooks to a basal series our district had purchased. They were absolute garbage! 500 pages of nothing but mind-numbing, busy work junk! Junk that was costing my building $5000 a year! This decision completely changed the reading culture in our building. Not only does this decision allow us to spend additional money on classroom libraries, it also allows us to purchase books to support #classroombookaday, March Book Madness, and Global Read Aloud. Furthermore, it frees up funds to give additional money to new teachers for their classroom libraries. It has been a long-standing tradition of mine to give every new teacher in my building a copy of The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. I am now able to include an additional $300 gift card to get them started on their classroom library. New teachers need this additional support. We shouldn’t expect teachers to use their own money to purchase books for their classroom library. As Donalyn Miller says, “We don’t expect the basketball coach to buy their own basketballs, we shouldn’t expect teachers to have to buy their own classroom books.” I couldn’t agree more but also realize that many educators do it anyway because they love sharing books with students. No one has been more generous with this than Donalyn who gives away books every single day. Unfortunately, our newest teachers can’t afford to do this. They have student loans, more debt, and smaller salaries. I challenge every principal to follow my lead and pledge to give each new teacher hired a copy of The Book Whisperer and $300 to start their classroom library. This is how we welcome new teachers. This is how we build a culture of reading in our school. This is how we raise an army of students that will grow up to be lifelong readers.
When it comes to building a classroom library, Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward share some great advice in their book, From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers. I especially love the following quote from the book, “Build a library for the readers you expect; customize it for the readers you meet.” They suggest at least 1,500 thoughtfully selected books with a variety of genres, formats, topics, and levels. Principals, our commitment to classroom libraries needs to be robust and on-going. Every school year brings new readers which means we need to be ready to support new titles in classroom libraries. When we scrutinize our budgets, we can find money. We can also be smart about how we build classroom libraries.
One of the places we started at Hemmeter was Scholastic. Scholastic offers teachers huge bonus point incentives at the beginning of the year. This is a chance to get thousands of dollars in books for a couple hundred dollars. With bonus points, you can continually add the hottest titles throughout the year. Penny Kittle’s Book Love Foundation is another great resource for building classroom libraries. Penny’s Foundation gives away money to be used for classroom libraries. Books4School, Scholastic Warehouse sales, and discount stores are some other great ways to find high quality children’s literature at a discounted price. All of these ideas stretch our book buying budget just a bit further.
The main focus of this blog post has been about the need for principals to step up and support teachers with building classroom libraries. However, I want to be clear this is not at the expense of your building library. Principals should not be taking funds away from the school library for classroom libraries. We are not choosing between funding school libraries and classroom libraries. You need to do BOTH! In fact, your school librarian is your best resource when it comes to building classroom libraries. We need to build time into our librarian’s schedule to collaborate with teachers to help pick books for the classroom libraries. Librarians are our experts in matching students with books. The research is clear that both types of libraries play a vital role in growing lifelong readers.
The staff meeting where I first gave the teachers their $100 gift cards to purchase books is one of my favorite memories as principal of Hemmeter. I remember my heart racing as I was getting ready to tell them because I was so excited. Several teachers cried; they were so excited. They sent me text messages with pictures of all the books they were buying. They were so grateful for the time and money. Even more than that though, they were excited that we were finally committed to a culture of reading. Real reading! Not comprehension quizzes. Not endless worksheets. Not scripted basal lessons. We were showing what we truly valued with our time and money: Our students!
Jim Bailey is the principal at Hemmeter Elementary in Saginaw, Michigan. He has a passion for helping all students become lifelong readers. Jim spends his time reading, cheering on the Detroit Tigers, and enjoying time with his family (wife, Laura, and two sons, Evan and Griffin). He is an all-around nerd who probably spends too much time obsessing over Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Clash of Clans, and comic books. You can follow him on Twitter @jcbailey3. He writes for the Classroom Communities blog (www.classroomcommunities.com) as well as the Nerdy Book Club.
Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G.S. (1996). Guided Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
Harvey, S., & Ward, A. (2017). From Striving to Thriving. New York, NY: Scholastic
Neuman, S.B. (1999). “Books make a difference: A study of access to literacy.” Reading Research Quarterly
Wonderful article! Want to cultivate a classroom of eager readers!
WOW. Just wow. I cannot say, “Amen!” Loudly enough! This is one blog post that is definitely going to be shared! Thank you!
I enjoy living in FL but your blog post was so spot on I had to imagine myself living in cold Michigan as I really want to teach in your school. What you did for your faculty and school should be replicated everywhere! Way to go, Jim Bailey!
Just left a private school because of the amount of workbook pages required to pass out and grade each day. What an inspirational message! All Administration should read this. Superintendents too! Get rid of all the passages that kids are required to read and get them reading real books.
Thank you for addressing this point, as I think school libraries are often overlooked when classroom libraries are discussed: The main focus of this blog post has been about the need for principals to step up and support teachers with building classroom libraries. However, I want to be clear this is not at the expense of your building library. Principals should not be taking funds away from the school library for classroom libraries. We are not choosing between funding school libraries and classroom libraries. You need to do BOTH! In fact, your school librarian is your best resource when it comes to building classroom libraries. We need to build time into our librarian’s schedule to collaborate with teachers to help pick books for the classroom libraries. Librarians are our experts in matching students with books. The research is clear that both types of libraries play a vital role in growing lifelong readers.
To say that you are right is an understatement
Thank you for this response. In our district, classroom libraries are seemingly taking place of the library. Teachers have them and forget about bringing or sending kids to the library to look at the thousands of books we have in there. Why not use the library more? Maybe even have teachers check out library books for their classroom. This could be a budget stretcher for all. I am not saying no to classroom libraries as they are valuable, I am advocating for increased usage of the school library. Use the most valuable resource in the library, the Library Media Specialist.
Yes! Yes! Yes! Thanks for getting my blood flowing this morning. You speak my language. Let’s change the world with reading!!!
Reading this post made me smile. It made me say “YES!” and I started sharing it with others before I was even done reading it. Thank you Jim for valuing reading and classroom libraries. Thank you for showing that value in the decisions you make for your students and teachers, the way you spend campus funds, and the way you structure staff time together. Thank you for being a role model for other principals and for writing this post so that I can share it with others as I encourage them to do the same.
WOW! My twins now wish mightily they could go to your school! I’m passing this along to our principal…
Wow! What a wonderful philosophy, and so impressed that you live it, and make it work! I hope this idea spreads!
Yes!!! Finally a principal who gets it. I have an extensive classroom library and no principal support. We know that reading is the key but a lot of people just have not gotten it yet!
Thank you, Jim. I’m so encouraged. As as school librarian, I have never experienced a school administrator who rightly valued and balanced classroom AND library book collections. You are a singular gift to your school and district! Thanks for posting.
For years, I’ve feared for future generations, thinking their comprehension was stunted. Your blog gives me hope. It should be a shining model for other schools. And frankly, it’s something the entire nation should get behind. We should be out there, every day, protesting lack of funding
Your commitment to teachers to build their libraries is commendable. I wonder which research, specifically, you shared with them? Is it one of the sources cited at the end of the article? So many people ask about this and there are claims that independent reading and/or classroom libraries hasn’t been directly researched. I would love to see the citations.
Your teachers are thrilled with their rich libraries, I am sure. Scholastic, not AR sounds wonderful.
Thank you for your insight! I will be sharing with our whole district! Also thank you for mentioning school libraries, one of the loves of my life!!!
This is fantastic!! One of the challenges I’ve seen in visiting schools is the discrepancies between classroom libraries even within a single school. Where there’s little external funding, it often falls on teachers to fill their own classroom libraries. The challenge with this, of course, is that not all teachers are able to spend their own money this way (which of course they shouldn’t have to), meaning that inevitably there are some classrooms that are fully stocked with books and others that aren’t. It’s so, so great when administrations value literacy so strongly, and show their support in such a practical and meaningful way!
I felt excited. Scared. Surprised. Relieved. Like crying. What a fantastic article to read before the teachers come back. Now let’s to a close look at our budget.
Great article – sound practical, “do-able advice,” Thank you!
Many of our half price bookstores, offer new teachers a box of books free. We send our reading specialist allow with the teacher to help make selections. A store full of books can be overwhelming.
Love your position for students and teachers!
And this is at the expense of no longer requiring schools to have certified library staff trained in book selection and well versed in children’s literature, and a well stocked central library available to all students and teachers on the school campus.
As a leader diving into the k-5 world this heartfelt post was invaluable! #realbudgets #pplfirst
Yes, yes, yes! Principal Bailey you truly get it! I’ve been reading books from literacy researchers and leaders in recent years trying to discover how to improve literacy habits and reach my learners and this is it! I’m so impressed with the hard work you’ve done evaluating and looking at your budget from that classroom library lens. I feel certain another positive affect from this was a boost in teacher morale as well. Thank you for sharing your story. Congratulations on developing and creating such a wonderful culture of literacy and learning!
“Even more than that though, they were excited that we were finally committed to a culture of reading.”
We have forgotten the reason we purchase all these programs and supports. The purpose of actually reading has taken a back seat to talking or completing a worksheet about reading.
“What should we listen for?” “What is the question?” “What is our purpose?” This was not the response I was anticipating from my new third graders when I pulled out Miss. Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats. My purpose had been to share a book I loved as a means to connect with students who may feel shy and fearful at the beginning of the year.
While their questions are relevant, what I discovered was they were SO focused on coming up with a correct response they hardly listened to the story. As a result, they were unable to answer the very questions they thought most important.
Our new focus became enjoying books. Reading and discussing books, talking about how and why we read them, figuring out how to read tricky books because we want to decipher their message not because we want to answer a comprehension question. As a class, we spent as much time as possible actually reading instead of listening to someone talk about how to read. We read for many purposes. We read books about math and science, instruction manuals for how to troubleshoot our class robot. I found one student had taken my grad school article to her desk and was trying to read it because she wanted to know more about what I was reading. ‘
As a result, my class grew 224% district reading assessment. More importantly, they became readers.
Love this Jim. Thank you for the inspiration.
Wonderful article. I am a principal in Perth, Western Australia and I still have a fantastic library and every classroom has loads of great books too but I am inspired after reading this, to get them even more.
A thought about making “gently loved” or simply ragged books welcome rather than discarded and replaced: offer a great book talk, invite readers to read then create renovated cover/art for it, and add the creators name to the credits from original cover. Laminate and restore the book to circulation. Cover should reveal the heart of the book. Doing this once, for all of your old titles, keeps everyone interested, can spark entirely new circulation lives for well-worn books and provide ready conversations among future readers and the cover creators.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I remember one year when I taught in Orange County, FL, my principal did the same thing. WHAT A GIFT!
Great idea. Here is a tool you might find useful for running classroom libraries as well as for encouraging pupils to share books (https://boocshare.com). I developed Boocshare when I noticed that all my students seem to read the same books. The idea is to spend less on books while reading more, which is my interpretation of this quote by Donalyn Miller – “You are not done with a book until you pass it to another reader.”
Wow! Kuddos to you. I wish we could clone you! What a lucky school to have you as a principal!
Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
It would be great if Headmasters and Teachers in UK and Europe would also prioritise this way 😎
I love this. What a wonderful post.
Would you consider a cabinet position of Secretary of Education? And I don’t care what party you support!
Bravo! This is wonderful! And thank you for remembering your school library and librarian; when people quote the superb “Book Whisperer” I always remind them that regular visits to the library are an important part of the routines described in the book, and a crucial part of creating lifelong readers. Getting practice replenishing using a library, and ensuring that libraries continue in our society, is a cornerstone of a literate, kind and civilized society.
Reblogged this on Literacy Lessons.
I loved your Atwell quote and dedication to the delight of reading and children’s literature for your students and teachers! As a newly-retired school librarian, however, I am dismayed that the new emphasis on classroom libraries is one more excuse for many that we “Don’t need librarians or school libraries since we all have computers and books in classrooms.” Through the years I’ve seen so many of my colleagues fired and replaced (or not) by aides. (See Scranton, PA.) I finished my career split between two schools and lamented I had no time to collaborate with teachers, as I was trained to do. Thanks for the shout-out to school librarians. Our passion for the written word will never die.
You are an educational leader rock star!!
This is amazing!!!!!!!
Thank you for sharing your story!
I pray for that to happen in our district which has just moved from the basal approach to “reading workshop” , which was always my philosophy. I am truly looking forward to implementing my reading workshop this fall. Getting as many books into my students hands will be key to their success!
Reblogged this on Living Small in a Big World and commented:
When we establish school libraries that inspire students to aspire to be better readers, then and only then, will we have achieved one of our reading goals.
“I handed the teachers their $100 gift cards (and another $5 gift card because you need a coffee while you browse) and we all headed to the bookstore.”
What an amazing idea!
Next thing I am gonna do is buy kindle and read and read and read. Thanks a lot for describing beauty of reading so effectively!
Does anyone know which article has the statistic from the first paragraph? Thanks!