Thursday, August 22, 2013

Our Classroom Library

The classroom library is definitely the heart of our learning environment. Over the years I've accumulated nearly 2,000 books and have tried countless ways to organize and mange everything. Over the last few weeks I've been slowly tackling the library as I set up my classroom for the school year. It's an overwhelming process, but I always feel that it's time and energy well-spent to start the year organized and tidy.  While I'm definitely not as particular as some other teachers out there, here's a rundown of my classroom library:

The Books
Nearly all of my books were purchased or acquired second-hand. Yard sales and thrift stores are a great place to purchase gently used items. My new books usually come from Scholastic points or Powell's in Portland (I try to buy independent as much as possible). RAFT, a place for teachers in my hometown, has also been an incredible resource for boxes of free books. I honestly must thank my mother for her incredible yard sale skills and ability to track down free book opportunities for teachers (and willingness to ship them to me!).

Here's how they are all laid out, from one corner of the room to the other:

Most of my books are sorted into categories. Each category gets its own bin (or two or three), and each book within that category gets a corresponding small label on the back.  Non-fiction books are sorted by subject and most of the fiction books are categorized by theme, author, series, or genre. There are two exceptions: first, I separate all fiction picture books from chapter books; second, I separate series books from general fiction chapter books. I find that this makes it easier for students to find what they are looking for, and saves me a lot of time in the process. My fiction chapter books are also loosely alphabetized by author's last name (A-C, D-G). No matter how many mini-lessons or special helpers I have, trying to keep the books strictly alphabetized is losing battle. I'm much happier having things mostly where they are supposed to be rather than agonizing over small things.

Labels help the books stay organized!

Book Bags
I use these nifty little travel bags my mom picked up at RAFT. Despite a little wear and tear, they are still holding up after four years. IKEA magazine boxes also work really well.

The green bags hanging from the chairs make the perfect little book bags!
(excuse the mess on the floor - I think we made snowflakes that day)

In the last eight years I've only required kids to check out books if they're taking them home. This worked perfectly up until last year, when I noticed that kids started hoarding books in their book bags. A lot of books ended up getting squished and damaged, so limits need to be set this year. I'm still not sure what this might look like, but it needs to be easy and low-maintenance.

Reading Logs
Confession time: I hate reading logs. Students hate updating them, and I hate nagging students to update them. My solution? Book chains! As students finish a book they fill out a link that gets added to a personal book chain that hangs proudly from the ceiling. This also secretly lets me see quickly what kids are reading and who may be having trouble finishing books.
Book chains decorate our ceiling and make the room festive

There you have it - my classroom library! Hope you enjoyed the tour. :) Feel free to leave tips/tricks and what works best for you in your classroom library in the comments. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Down to the Bare Bones

My house is almost 100 years old and full of character. There are many things I love about this space - the finished attic, our deck overlooking our backyard, the old built-in shelves throughout the dining room. However, there are some parts of this old place that just don't fit a modern lifestyle. One such space is our main bathroom. The 1900s clawfoot tub is a chore to use as our main shower, nor is it long enough for my husband or I to enjoy. In addition, the sink, lights, and electrical system all need upgrading. As children become a factor in the household, these safety issues have prompted some remodeling.

At the same time, I've also been trying to get back into school mode. I've been busy setting up my classroom and planning for the academic year. While I'm envisioning a new set of students working in the classroom space, I can't help but see some overlap with our bathroom remodel. Last week, our contractor demolished the entire bathroom down to its bare bones, stripping away cracked walls, three layers of flooring, and discovering water damage to a majority of the subfloor. Listening to the walls come down and the floor being ripped up reminded me of my students.

Kids come to school with lots of layers, and we often don't know how many there might be until we start stripping them away. There could also be damage unseen from the surface that could greatly affect performance and functionality of the student within the classroom. Getting to know a student down to his or her core takes time and careful attention to detail. It may also take special tools and require creative solutions. But doing so allows teachers to intentionally personalize lessons with that child's strengths and needs in mind. The end result is a functional, stress-free, and safe environment for everyone, which is exactly my hopes for my new bathroom.