The Evolution of My Reading Workshop Practices: Classroom Library and Seating

This is the third and final post in a series on the evolution of my reading practices. The last two posts focused on the mini-lesson and reading logs. Today's post will focus on the classroom library and book access for students. If you missed the other two, head on over and check them out by clicking the links.

This series is all about taking a trip down memory lane and at times grimacing at some of the choices I made. However, I am a firm believer that when you know better, you do better. So I know that I will probably look back in another 5-6 years and be a better educator than I am today as I write this. Through this reflection, I hope to show other options that you may have to help push yourself into different practices that might change your students' experiences in your classroom, as I've witnessed in my room. 

But first. Take a look at how my classroom library physically has changed over the last 6 years.
I was so proud of this first one.

The book selection grew a decent amount.

Not a whole lot changed this year...

My love for books began to get a bit out of control.

This is the year when a huge shift in WHAT goes into my library occurred

More books than I have room for and more diverse selection than ever
Because it's hard to see what' on the shelves from then to now, here's a more detailed description:

I'm embarrassed to say when I first started, it was very hard for me to let students take books home. In my mind, I spent a lot of money on them and I didn't want them to get ruined or lost. I thought that if I preserved them, more students would get to use them. Now, I know that losing a book is a much better outcome than losing a reader (not sure who said that originally but it really spoke to me). So now, students have a gallon sized zip loc back and can take books home. I used to put a limit, but I don't care as much anymore. And because I've purchased high interest books, students have kept tabs on who is reading the book they want and the pressure to return it for the next reader is on. They love trading off and saying, "You're going to love this book." That wouldn't happen if I didn't let students take books home. 

Another big shift is how I organized my books. Reading levels. Yes. I did that. It was expected and encouraged by not only our school, but by the curriculum we used (and still use- see earlier posts to know what we use). 

It was so restrictive. I think it was in year 3 or 4 where I no longer organized by levels. Books that were in my library had a reading level on them. I didn't take them off mainly because it would take forever. But new books I add to my library don't get a reading level. I'm considering it my student's job to know if a book is within their reach and my job to secretly know and help guide them. 
Each chapter book gets at least 1 label. The label has the genre and who it belongs to (I removed my school name and my name from the labels, but if the book belongs to me I highlight my name. If it belongs to my school, I highlight the school name. That way, if I should ever leave the school, I know which books I'm taking with and which ones I need to leave behind. Some chapter books get another label. These are color coded labels that have a letter on them. These are not reading levels, but rather author last name labels. 

They are from the amazing Molly at Lessons with Laughter.

Now I organized books in a variety of ways. I have bins of picture books. Some chapter books are in genre bins. Especially if it's a series. I put the first book of a series in a genre bin so if a student reads the first book and wants more, they can then look for the author and maybe even find other series or books by that author. I have some super popular series in bins. I have nonfiction separated in categories that reflect the Dewey Decimal system. 

Speaking of nonfiction, that is the area that needs the most work. It should represent 50% of my classroom library and it's more like 25-30%. I changed how I stored and organized them this year so I could see what topics I can expand on.

I put my books into categories based off of the Dewey Decimal system. Some I don't have any, so I don't have bins or spines yet for those categories (space is already limited and I need to find a way to continue to expand, but for now, I needed to organize what I had). I used bins from The Container Store because they are deep and long so many of those big books will actually fit in them. The problem was that I bought the small ones and they don't hold a ton of books. For future purchases, I'll get at least the medium size so that I can fit more books in a specific category. To help them stay organized, each bin has a number on it. I used Molly's labels to put a matching number on the corresponding color (you can see it on the floating shelves how two of the books have a number 9 to suggest they go in the #9 bin if they aren't on the shelf being displayed). This way, my student librarians know which bin to place the books if they are unsure on the category.

These are some other practices I've changed over the years as well.
 *I'm considering a change in book shopping and thinking about allowing students to get books throughout the day. I've included "social transition times" into our day that allow about 5 minutes for us to wrap up one of our content areas and move to the next. They get to talk, hang out, and relax before we jump into the next. I'm also thinking of doing a soft start and letting students decide their morning work that will best get them ready to learn for the day. For some, that may include browsing books in the morning. Although it's always been an option, when I've had morning work, many students didn't get to book shop. I didn't really follow book shopping days either. If a kid came up to me during reading and needed a book, I would let them. So I think it's time to abandon that and try something else. 

Lastly, I started to let students recommend books and displaying them on the floating shelves. I hope to continue that this year and find more space for them to showcase their good reads. 

This got to be really long. So sorry! You realize when you start to put a post together like this all the things you could and want to share. Thanks for checking in to how my reading practices have evolved over the last 5-6 years. Feel free to share your evolution as well and not be ashamed of it. As I said earlier, when we know better, we do better. I still have a lot to learn and will continue on the journey. You are more than welcome to join in with me and share.  


My Growing Readers Binder

With each new year comes new hope for better organization.  Next year, one of my big charges is growing passionate, life long readers. I'm taking some things that has worked the past year and combining it with hopefully a better, more flexible system to keep track of the growth of my students this year. So although I love the beautiful spiral binding that I used last year, it's back to the binder for me.

I got a 1 1/2 inch binder, as I figured that as I gather more info throughout the year, I'll need space.

My binder will have 6 sections this year. I had then in one order, but then changed it after I already taped the tabs down so it looks a little out of whack but it'll do. To make the tabs and dividers, I just used the beautiful artwork of Kate Hadfield. I designed the dividers, printed them (8.5 x 11 borderless), laminated and trimmed off the extra and then 3-hole punched it. Lastly, I made matching tabs, laminated them too, and used double sided tape to attach the tab to the back of the divider. And boom- custom lil' dividers are made! My 6 sections to test drive include: standards, rubrics and progressions, resource index, past plans, exit slips, and student conferences. I'll show a few things that are included in each section, although some are empty because... well... I don't have my new crew yet!

Standards and Rubrics & Progressions

I was going to put these two together, but it got a little big so I split them into two. First, I've got the standards. I just printed them off so I could see the progression from 3rd to 4th to 5th grade and tucked them into this first section. At times, my teammates and I will have discussions about what truly should be expected of our students so having them in a spot that I can pick up and bring to planning is helpful, as I'm still learning how to navigate 4th grade standards.

But what do these standards actually look like? How do I actually team them? Well, that's where the rubrics and progressions come in. We use Teachers College Reading Workshop and they have these great (but very wordy) progressions for narrative and informational text. I printed them out as again, they are great, but I can't really show them to students as they are loaded. So I took the standards and broke them down into mini rubric progressions. I started this work last year and found great success with them. I planned them out ahead of time, but then created them with students either during mini-lesson or in small groups to reference. Here's a peek at what my planning page looks like:

The first row is an "I can" statement. If you've been around the blog for a bit, you'll know I love rubrics and love to use the whole "seed" to "tree" scale. I used the standards to determine what was a seed, (3rd grade expectations what was as seedling (part of 4th grade expectations), what was a tree (4th grade expectations), and what was an apple tree (5th grade expectations). So if I have a particular standard that is causing trouble for my kiddos, I can reference this and plan out a progression chart with them. The 2nd row is more for me. It gives me suggestions on prompts, sentence frames, or graphic organizers to try with students to communicate that level of proficiency. 

Resource Index

In the next section, I have a resource index. It's blank right now, as next steps include going through all my task cards and supports and put them in this index by standard. I do a lot of strategy groups and sometimes, our common text (aka read aloud) isn't the best for the skill we are working on. So I've found task cards to be great mini common texts to practice with before students try in their own books. I'll fill in these tables with all my resources I've acquired so that when I know I need something for a particular focus, I can easily look at my options and find them quickly.

Past Plans

This next section is blank right now. Last year, I finally found a small group planning page that really worked for me. The problem: I couldn't put it in my spiral bound book because I discovered it after the fact. So I kept my current and past planning sheets in a clipboard. This year, I'll be able to add them to this section so that I can go back and see what strategies I've covered with which students. Ideally, I will copy individual student notes on post-its and place them on their conferring tab (you'll see them later), but I'm fully aware that might not happen, so as long as I have a spot to collect my plans to reference later, that'll be an improvement from last year. I'll still keep my current, daily plans in my clipboard, which gives me a good excuse to go buy a cute clipboard. :)

Exit Slips

I need to do better about gathering information on my students over time. So this year, I'm adding a space in my binder just for reading exit slips. I have one page per trimester and can record the skill at the top and use my icons from my progression rubrics to track progress on a skill throughout the trimesters. The lovely Kristin from Ladybug Teacher Files has this amazing resource full of checklists. I just printed off blank ones and will fill them in as the year goes. I've found I'm a bit old school when it comes to keeping track of grades and I like to do it by hand.

Student Conferences

One area I vowed myself I would improve in is having reading conferences with my students. I still remember year one, when my then principal encouraged small groups only as they gave you "more bang for your buck." To be honest, it was hard to argue with her when we were expected to meet with students at least every other day. But this last year, I started doing more conferring and man- do you get a lot of information about your students as readers and it is so much DEEPER than what you could get out of a small group. Don't get me wrong, I'm still doing small group work too next year, but I need to weave in time to do conferences too.
I use student numbers to save time and resources year to year so each of my students has a classroom number. As of now, I have 29 4th graders coming for me next year. But that number will likely rise so I'm prepared. I used these awesome paper clip tab things from Staples and card stock that never gets used due to its colors and made more dividers where I can put student conference sheets behind. I can also add post-it notes about the student from small group on their divider page. I'm envisioning printing off some post-its with some basic information from initial reading conferences and assessments too.
I used a conferring sheet last year that was inspired from Donalyn Miller (author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild) and will use it again this year.

So, there it is. I'm hopeful that this will be a tool I'm constantly utilizing to not only keep track of my students and their progress but also to give me inspiration and guidance to help them grow as readers. How do you keep track of student progress? I'd love to hear it!


After a few requests, I have made this available for you too! Click on the image below to check out what is included!


The Evolution of My Reading Workshop Practices: Reading Logs vs. Calendars

In part one of my reading evolution post, I shared about how my mini-lesson changed over the years and how I managed to embrace Lucy (from TCRWP). Before you read this one (or after because honestly, they aren't in chronological order in terms of content) you may want to click here to read up. Or don't. I ain't pushy. I also have the last post in the series all about the classroom library that can be found here.Today's topic is about the ever popular, totally debatable topic: reading logs.

3. Reading Logs... Oh Reading Logs

Oh reading logs. Let me go on record to say I have never really been a fan of giving them personally. I get the possible logic behind it: Kids track their reading each night to help hold them "accountable." We use their real "data" to draw conclusions on their reading patterns. Teachers get lots of "data" to determine if kids are reading at home. To be honest, I've found most of this to not be true. (In my previous post, I mentioned that I am NOT perfect reading teacher. So if you've found success in implementing reading logs and your students love 'em too- all the more power to you. I'll celebrate that success with you!!)

We've also heard the arguments against logs. They kill the love of reading for kids at home. It becomes a chore. It becomes homework, when really we are trying to form habits of life long readers. Kids make up information because, "Oh sh*t my teacher is going to expect it. So let's just add that I read 20 minutes exactly each night this week and that I read perfect amounts of 20 pages each time... she'll never know!" In our school, it's been expected to give out reading logs. I've changed them each year. They started out intense! Level of book, title, author, start time, end time, total minutes, start page, end page... whoa! I also made students get signatures- not worth it in my opinion- parents and students didn't really care and it just put strain on the two R's: reading and relationships- both super important if we are talking about building life long readers.

So this year- mid year mind you, I made yet another change. I moved to a calendar in January and used it for the remainder of the year.

My goal was for students to keep track of their books to see what they can accomplish in a month's time. Students had a lot of "whoa" moments!

Like "Whoa.. I noticed I only finished 1 book this month. I felt like I was reading constantly."

Or "Whoa...I actually finished 5 books- I don't remember the last time I got through books that fast!"

Or "Whoa...I actually read most nights this month... I hated reading at home last year."

For me, it was easier to see what kind of reading life my students were creating at home (and at school) or lack thereof. I honestly didn't care if you sat and read for 15 minutes, 20 minutes or 60 minutes. I preached the importance of reading at home to students and families, but I did not have control over if they did it or not. Influence, yes. Control, no.

Some never turned it in the calendars. These were the same students who weren't turning them in weekly or were missing signatures. The outcome was the same no matter what. Some never filled out the week-to-week one or the one I used where they tried to fill up two sheets worth before turning it in and now, they were eager beavers to show me what they've accomplished. Changing the focus from times and start pages increased my influence on their reading lives at home. It still isn't perfect. But as a whole, I was definitely seeing more kids interested and actually using the calendars for the reason that logs were to be implemented in the first place... we just were gathering different data- still meaningful, but different.

I changed them yet again for next year and am sharing them in case you want to give them a try. I myself started using one to keep track of the amazing books I read during the school year and noticed that I wasn't reading nearly enough. It's helped me to set goals and be motivated, because that is the kind of reader I am. There's no punishment or reward for filling out your calendar. I don't give a grade for it. I don't give stickers for completion. It's a tool and I'm trying to treat it that way. When I took the rewards and punishment away and we spent time at the end of the month analyzing our calendars, that was motivation enough for students to hold onto it, not loose it, and record. When students were hearing their classmates having amazing book recommendation talks and proud moments, they wanted them too. So as the months went on while I used them, the amount of students who willingly wanted to use them increased too. One other change I'm making with logs is to give options. I'll also offer a digital one in case some prefer that. I'll explain more about those in the next section. I started a digital one for me. Here's a screenshot of it. Can you tell when I was still in school?

Tips on how to use the calendars

If you are going to require students (or even encourage them) to use a log or calendar, use one yourself.

I did this to start the year but never maintained it. I'm sure my students felt the same way. This summer, I'm using the digital option in this resource to keep track of my books I've finished. I also plan on using it in the fall with my new students to show them that their teacher is also a reader, examine ways they could fill it out, and draw conclusions about me as a reader. I've found I like using the digital option because I can easily color code it, use emoji symbols and format the size so it fits neatly. 

Teach students how to use short hand notes and keys; it needs to be valuable to them!

One of the first reactions for students when we started the calendars in January was, "But the box is so small!" Yes, yes it is. I get that. However, we found some solutions to this problem. We only wrote the full title on the first day of starting that book. From there, we used some sort of abbreviation or just page numbers if it was the only book we were reading at that time. We used letters to shorten our information (home, school, finished, abandoned) and used a key to help us remember. Next year,  the key will be blank so students can record information that is important to them. If they want to keep track of how many minutes they read at once- have at it! Want to just record chapter books- perfect! I want the info to be valuable to them, so I will leave the key box blank and let them decide, but we'll definitely brain storm ideas together. However, if you want more control, you could easily give them a set of symbols for the key to use (which I included in this pack).

Build in time to set goals and reflect.

Do it at morning meeting at the beginning and end of the month, or in conferences with students, or small groups. You can fit it in 5 minutes, yet it is super valuable I found for motivation and true reflection. I was shocked at how many kids brought it back and forth in their book bags from home to school and never lost it- because it mattered to them. Again, when I took away rewards and punishments, it became a tool and not just a hoop. That reminds me- it helped that we had a common location for it; we always kept it in our ziploc book bag that housed our most current read that we take back and forth to school. We folded it in half and there it lived. Safe and sound.

Want to give the reading calendars a try this upcoming school year? I've added them to my store. You'll have calendars ready from this June until NEXT August (2018) and I'll update for the following school year over the summer. Click on the image below to take you there.

Where you do you fall in terms of using a reading log? What success have you had with them? Share below in the comments.

Also, my last post in this series will be on the evolution of my classroom library and independent reading time. It may not go live for a while, but I'll update my Facebook page when it's ready!

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