Saturday, November 1, 2014

Finding a Place for Little Books in Early Elementary Classrooms

A picture of a student I support leading
a book talk with friends in her classroom.
(Shared with my by her teacher.
Yep, that made my day.)
A Step Inside
As teachers we spend days, weeks, months, years, growing our libraries for the readers who live in our learning communities.  We find deals at bookstores, visit book sales, and max out our library cards.  We work to fill our libraries for young readers with picture books readers will want to read again and again.  This week I was reminded that we need to remember little books as we grow our shelves for young readers.

When I entered Marie Nixon's first grade classroom the room was abuzz with activity.  Students were just arriving for the day.  Friends greeted one another, read the morning message, and began to read books at their tables.  I walked to the small table where students were seated to read with a student I support.  I'd brought a Danny book for her to read during our time together, and the boy beside her smiled longingly at the book.  She's a big Danny fan so I've been peppering our reading with this character.  I wished I had another copy, but I had only brought one.  We started to read.

The boys sitting beside us began to talk excitedly about We Like Fish.  "I love this book," one boy said to the other.  The other nodded in agreement, pulled another little book out of the basket and began to sell a favorite to his friends.  This conversation excitedly continued as titles were passed back and forth between students.

Honoring Little Books
When I walk into Marie Nixon's room each day, I know her class loves books.  I'm greeted constantly by books I really must check out, reminders to visit family Shelfari shelves, and excited chatter about titles going home.  I've already noticed how their talk has evolved from loving books to knowing some authors and characters; the way they've started to talk about what is happening in the story without giving away an ending.  I've already noticed that her students love books - all books.  They love picture books and digital books.  They love big books and little books.  They love funny books and serious stories.  All books hold equal weight in her classroom.  What has stood out to me is the way little books, often a good match for these young readers, are loved and enjoyed by all readers in this room.  Little books are treated as equals in her classroom, no more or less important than the other books resting around her room.

As a classroom teacher, I spent years building a library that allowed my students to move beyond little books as I searched for picture books that they could read and enjoy.  Thankfully, there are many authors who have helped young readers to grow by writing books they can pick up and read.  Where would be without authors like Mo Willems, Jan Thomas, and Eric Carle?  These are a few of the authors who've helped children step into picture books.  These picture books have helped us to grow our libraries and introduce books to young readers that are easily found in the library and bookstores they visit.  Picture books with language patterns, strong picture support, and accessible vocabulary can help support young readers.  Marie's room is filled with picture books for her young readers.

What has caught my attention in her room is the way her students love little books equally.  They're not considered something they have to read or something not as interesting.  It's easy to move little readers to our closets. These texts, often leveled for the benefit of teachers to make it easier to match books to readers during instruction, are often overlooked for independent reading.  We know they help us with our small groups as we work to match text to our teaching points, but sometimes it is easy to forget how much they help all emergent and early readers get off to a good start.  Additionally we sometimes forget how much our readers working hard to catch up to peers need these books and need to feel they are just as important as the more challenging texts in our classrooms.

In my time in this classroom, I've admired the way this community honors little books.  Students aren't picking out leveled books from a numbered/lettered tub, they're finding the books around the room.  They're not being handed the books they need to read, they're selecting the books they want to read.  I can tell Marie has selected titles that most of her readers in her room can read with success.  I can tell she's thoughtfully sprinkled them around the room so they are always within reach.  Most of all, she's supported conversations about these books and helped students to see the deep thinking needed to really understand their messages.  Marie has reminded me of the importance of honoring little books in our classroom.

Ways to honor little books:
  • Include little books in library tub collections.  It's easy to add them to collections of books about friends, family, dogs, cats, being brave, and other topical collections.    
  • Find little books that match shared reading books available.  
  • Read little books aloud in focus lessons, in extra minutes discovered in the day, and for enjoyment.  
  • Place little books on tables or within easy reach of students.
  • Have book talks about little books.
  • Allow opportunities to create in response to little books.  
  • Remember there is big thinking in the little books. 

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