Creating an engaging classroom library is all about facilitating conditions that can help readers self-regulate, self-motivate and self-direct, according to literacy expert Sharon Callen.
Classroom libraries can be extremely impactful on a student’s literacy learning, especially when utilised to their full potential.
On episode five of The Teacher’s Toolkit for Literacy, Sharon talked about about the importance of constantly evolving your classroom library and using it in your teaching.
“It doesn’t work as a static piece. It’s not just a thing in your classroom. It’s a living entity, and it is something we are interacting with every day, most of the day,” she said.
“The books that we have in a classroom library, that we are bringing to our students, represents their literary and book experiences for that year. For some children, that is their entire experience with books and literary texts and informational texts,” Sharon said.
Sharon detailed six elements to using your classroom library which are ‘the core of a highly effective reading program’.
Firstly, listening to stories is crucial, with teachers being the key figure for reading aloud.
“Children love to go to those books that have been read aloud in preference to any other category, I think because it’s familiar,” she said.
“I would say the most important person to be reading those stories is the classroom teacher … there is nothing more powerful than a teacher, that fluent adult, to bring that book alive.
“And what is read aloud isn’t always the teacher’s choice. It should be, ‘okay class, what book should we read today?’ So that the class gets the opportunity to bring forth the favourites that they want to hear.
“We want to get them knowing that they can have these books again and again, because for every time they are hearing those stories, they are learning more about how that works … with each re-reading of a book, we get something new from it … so a great discussion piece after when we’ve re-read something is, ‘what did we discover today that we never knew before’?”
The next vital elements are shared book experiences, children dictating their own stories to someone, and children writing their own stories and making their own books.
“When children dictate their stories, it means that they can sometimes get quite a complex story written down for them,” Sharon said.
“The power of this is in two ways. One, they get to see that what they say can be anchored in writing. Number two, there is now a text that is familiar to them that they’ve got an entry point into. They’ve got another that belongs in their book box or book bag. That’s part of their reading collection.
“Now that’s something that they can get into. Of course they are the ones that illustrate it, but as soon as their text has turned into writing on the page, their oral has turned into that written form and they get to read it, then they’re really getting empowered with that reading writing connection.”
Frequent reading practice is also instrumental to students’ literacy learning.
“Those books aren’t sitting there for every now and then reading. When you’ve finished your work, you can get something from it. These are the books that form the daily independent reading practice … I need to carve out time to be doing that work of the reader every day with books from that classroom collection,” Sharon explained.
“We want every child, every day to have time with a collection of books. We want them holding on to a few books at a time, not just saying, ‘oh yeah, I’ve had that book, done, not doing that again’.
“But we also want them to know that within a classroom library, I’ve got books that I can access frequently and in various ways. I might sit with a buddy to read. I might sit with a partner. I might read with an adult who is working one-on-one with me.”
Finally, Sharon emphasised the significance of responding to stories, which sees students ask questions and evaluate the text in order to become greater thinkers and problem solvers.
“Stories that we’re reading that are in this classroom library, how do we get to respond to those? By talking about them, by having discussions about them. So, these books they’re not just these static things,” Sharon said.