Sunday, February 13, 2011

Personal Libraries=Independent Reading

This weekend on Twitter, teachers were discussing independent reading. It inspired me to share a strategy and a story about how we use personal libraries.  At the start of 4th grade my teammate and I encourage our students to decorate a shoe box at home.  This box becomes the personal library.  Some of the boxes have looked like a sports arenas and others are wrapped in book covers.  Anything goes as long as it matches their interests.
After the decorating is completed the 4th graders fill the personal library with various reading material.  I tell them if they read it, then it is reading material.  This includes Nintendo game directions, comic books, magazines, articles, world record books and so on. The personal library is kept at school so our 4th graders always have items to read. As the school year proceeds, library books, book club novels, TFKs and more are added to the personal library.  Their collection mimics how most adults read.  Don't adults read various text forms depending on what mood they're in or what their purpose for reading is?  Kids also like this variety. 
So the personal library not only contains an assortment for independent reading, it also is an expression of the reader.  This leads into my best personal library story.....
New clothes, new materials and a chance for a new attitude.  Yes, it is the start of the school year.  As most years go I quickly discover who my most reluctant readers are. This challenge is one of my favorites.  Can I facilitate a love for reading in them?  Do they need to see themselves as a reader?  What is that magic book that will hook them?  What baggage do they bring about reading?
Eli fit the traits of a reluctant reader. Eli not only disliked reading he also was not fond of school.  Eli listened closely to my mini lesson on personal libraries.  His attention was focused and I could see the thinking pouring out of his ears.  Eli was coming up with ways to challenge this activity.  You know the look.  A bit of foxy mixed with mischief.  How could a shoe box filled with books (he doesn't want to read)  inspire him to read? He thought I was crazy.  He was ready to prove me wrong.  Before Eli went home for the evening I made sure to remind him to fill the box with text items that looked interesting.  It did not have to be a "book". The item needed to have text.
The next day,  Eli was the first to bring in his personal library.  As I greeted him there was a twinkle in his eye.  He was anxious and (to my surprise) excited to show me his library.  Was that excitement a glimmer of trust?  I think so.  Eli's collection contained a potpourri of genre and types of text: 
1. One comic book       2. A cheat book for a popular video game      3. Two graphic novels      
4. A scary nonfiction book on the world's most dangerous animals      5. Dirt bike magazines
 6. Sports section from the newspaper

All were neatly arranged inside the box.  I asked Eli what he thought.  He replied that his items were not considered as "reading".  The collection to him was interesting but not "school reading".  My response to him was that he was an example of what my lesson was all about.  He got it!  The goal was to think about yourself as a reader.  His collection was evidence of that.  Eli's smile grew and he told me that he didn't like to read (he still wasn't totally convinced).  It was hard for him to imagine himself as an example for other students.  Eli was venturing into new territory.  I asked for his permission to use his box as a model for students who were still unsure of this project.  Eli agreed and his pride radiated.
Did Eli learn to love reading that year?  Well, for Eli it was a start of a great relationship.  He thrived in the respect given for his reading choices.  He enjoyed being a contributor to guided reading groups and most of all he loved coming to school.  At the end of the year Eli demonstrated high growth in reading.  To think a shoe box filled with reading material contributed to that seems crazy but it did.  Personal libraries are an essential part of the reading block.  You should give it a try.


  1. What a great idea. Did you share your personal library with them? How would they include online reading? Lots of my students are reading information on websites as they gather facts for projects they are doing.

    My laptop and iPhone would have to be in my shoebox because I have a Kindle on both and that is how I do the majority of my reading now. Funny thing is I always have at least one of them with me at all times so that I can read when I have some spare time. I wish adults had SSR time.

    We all have Eli's in our class that we need to reach and this lesson does that. Thanks for sharing.

  2. What a great idea! I am going to share this idea with the literacy teachers I coach. We a have few students we are having trouble reaching and I think this could help. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thank you Book Fan, literacyspark and PNaugle for the ideas and compliments. Being this is my first blog it is great to get feedback. Thank you!

  4. I think that personal libriaries show that anything can change your mind.