A truly motivational and engaging classroom library will extend well beyond your standard books, says teacher Giselle Pulford.
Giselle is a Year 6/7 teacher in the Adelaide Hills with decades of experience helping older children stay motivated in reading and literacy.
On Episode 22 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy, Giselle described the types of texts and materials she’s added to her classroom library to engage her students.
“I’ve really built a classroom library that I’d be very strategic about and very intentional, but I guess in some ways it doesn’t necessarily fit what maybe people imagine a classroom library should look like,” she told literacy experts Phil and Sharon Callen.
“In Linda Gambrell’s article [on the seven rules of engagement], she mentioned about including books from an array of genres and text types, magazines, the internet resource materials, real life documents, all of that.
“So my class library shelves have some novels, or they’re done by a series or particular author say like Roald Dahl or by a theme such as animals. But then I also have all these other things in there. I have a big selection of picture books, even for an upper primary classroom.”
Giselle explained that her classroom library is so much more than just a range of books.
“I don’t really have a name for it, but I have a folder of plastic pockets and in each of the pockets are different things students can be reading. So, some of them have kids’ national geographic magazines. One of them is a themed pack from Disneyland and it has my map, my tickets and information brochures, and so it’s an immersive kind of thing that they can read all about Disneyland. And I have another one of those from Legoland in California,” she said.
“I have one that’s all about Indigenous plants, and so it has little tiny samples in it of dried plant matter matching information texts. I have another one that’s about the zoo, and so it’s got the ticket copies of the tickets, and so there’s reading part of a ticket, part of a timetable or a map or information pages about animals.
“I have one that’s a giant map of Australia, and so a group of students will usually take that packet and move into one of the shared workspaces and lay it out on the floor. And it’s just got so much information on it, because it has little fact boxes around the outside of the actual geographic map. And so I’ve just made it a challenge card of, ;can you find this place name? Can you find this fact?’
“It’s just reading differently than feeling like you have to sit down and read a novel necessarily. And so, I have a lot of students accessing that … and it’s about having a place for every student to find something to read.”
Giselle said strategically bringing more diversity to your classroom library can provide entry points and comfort to children of all reading levels, especially in older years where the difference in literacy levels may be more distinct.
“It’s very deliberately about reading, not necessarily about books, although (I) absolutely love books, it’s not the only thing. And that’s because I am very aware that so many students are coming from a different starting point, a different background of reading skill, a different engagement in reading at school, and different approach to that,” she said.
“If you [the student] are, for whatever reason, intimidated or unsure about how to find something in another space, it’s right here in the room and you can get up and go and find something and feel okay that you have picked up a picture book, or you have picked up one of these information packs … And it’s really okay that you are sitting down and learning to tie knots because you’ve had to read the information in how to do that.
“Researchers and educators caution having many books in the classroom library is essential, but it’s not sufficient for improving motivation … the reading program in my class is not just building a great class library as best as I can, but what I do with that library and how I get the students to be engaged and involved in that library.”
A classroom library structured like this can encourage many different immersive experiences and shared reading activities or discussions.
“Because my classroom library does have such a variety of non traditional book types, they’re encouraged to choose. So it could be picture books. It could be these interactive ones that have probable code to solve or slaps and things to lift, or It could be the big map,” Giselle said.
“They need to find a partner and they need to find a space in the room or the next room that just comes off of our main classroom … And at the end of it, there’s an emphasis on them to share to the whole class of what they spent their time on. So if they’ve picked up Guinness Book of Records, I expect you to tell me fairly horrifying facts. That’s going to make the feel queasy … And if you’re reading the map, tell me what you found about this place.”