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The First Day of School


School ended yesterday, and today, I moved the contents of my classroom into the new room my students and I will inhabit next year. Six girls, former students from various years, donated their first day of summer vacation to help me move. The most demanding task, of course, is dusting 10 bookshelves and hauling over 80 tubs of books down the hall. After two hours of dusting and shelving, I noticed that a large percentage of my books were stacked on the floor, never making it to the shelves.

Dismayed about how little progress we were making, I cried out, “Girls, why are these books piled everywhere? Do you need help sorting them all?”

The girls clamored, “These are the books we are checking out over the summer. You don’t mind do you? We need books to read!”

Laughing, I agreed, “Well, the books will just sit here lonely over the break. They might as well go home with you. Make sure you leave a list and bring them back before school starts.”

Later, we sat on the floor, eating pizza and chatting about our summer plans—plans that included lots of reading. Each girl dug into her take-home book pile, sharing the treasures discovered during the move. It amazed me that these girls, several who met each other today, came together as a reading community sitting on my floor, swapping book recommendations as freely as they shared tips about middle school. They reminisce about the books already read, and anticipate the next title. School is over, but their reading lives continue—using their experiences and preferences to inform future choices.

Teachers do this, too, reflecting and thinking ahead. One school year ends, and the new school year begins the next day, it seems. We hang up our teaching hats for a few months, but we never turn off our teaching brains. Taking a break to refresh ourselves and recharge, we consider how to move forward in our own teaching and learning. What did our students teach us this year? How can we improve the reading instruction in our classrooms? What can we read and study now that we have time? And most importantly, how can we support each other as learners like my students support each other as readers?

Considering the triumphs and trials of the last year and my own unanswered questions, a few topics repeatedly surface. Perhaps you have answers or a new perspective.

How can I build a community of readers and writers earlier in the school year? Every mix of students differs and some years it takes until after Winter Break for my students to gel as a community. Following the success of several teachers at my campus who implemented Responsive Classroom techniques this year, I plan to investigate this model for instilling academic and social competency in my own students next year. Building a supportive, caring community is always my goal, and any tools that help me accomplish this only benefit my students and me.

How can I integrate nonfiction reading and writing into my language arts classroom? For years, I have taught both language arts and social studies, integrating social studies content and language arts skills. This upcoming year, I will teach just language arts. Revisiting many of my old standbys, like Janet Allen’s Yellow Brick Roads, and new works like Nonfiction Mentor Texts by Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappeli, I need to rethink methods for teaching nonfiction without a content area to frame it. Conversations with my content-area colleagues about how to integrate this instruction across the school day must take place this summer, too.

What role can new reading and writing modalities play in my instruction next year? Text messaging, blogging, social networking, graphic novels, and podcasts add layers of literacy to my students’ lives that we hardly touch on at school. How can I incorporate these materials and tools into my daily instruction and use them to support my students in their literacy development? I have a stack of graphic novels to read and a list of Websites to visit this summer. Hopefully, this digital immigrant will be better prepared for the digital natives arriving in my classroom this fall!

How can I redesign my classroom library so that it is more accessible and interesting to students? Reading the end-of-year surveys from my class and talking with my helpers today, many of them mentioned that our class library is difficult to use. Dividing our books by genre worked when we had fewer books, but these days my students find it hard to locate the books they want without help from me. Additionally, students stopped using our checkout system of index cards in a file box about half-way through the year, and I lost more books this year than I have in years past. I need to investigate other methods for keeping track of our books and making the class library more user-friendly for students.

As you lie by the pool, wait in airports, or work in your garden, what questions and ideas percolate in your teaching brains? How do you seek answers? What would you like to do differently next year? Which practices will you keep and which ones need an overhaul? Come sit on my floor and let’s talk about our plans and dreams. Today is the first day of school.


I'm sure many librarians reading your post will suggest some organizational plans... so here's an idea to kick around: Try bright colored duct tape cut in width of .5 to 1 inch -- if you're lucky, maybe duct tape is sold in that width :) Wrap a length of tape around the spine in the location that a spine label on a library book would occupy. Might be helpful if the tape is long enough to be visible on the front and back covers of the book. The colorful tape would help students to remember the book is from your library.
Color code the books by genre. You could even use a simple call number F for fiction and the first three letters of the author's last name. NF for nonfiction.

And on the question of increasing nonfiction reading... I have been weeding the nonfiction section of our library and got a few new ideas for displays. I plan to pick a popular fiction title and build a nonfiction display around that title:
"Fairy Tale Detectives" series display and original fairy tale books from around the world.
"Deep and Dark and Dangerous" and real ghost stories.
"Lightning Thief" and mythology books.
"Crossing the Wire" by Hobbs and books on immigration.
"Bloody Jack" and history books on pirates.
"House of the Scorpion" and books on ethics of cloning.
"Watsons go to Birmingham" and books on the Civil Rights movement.
If you are looking for good nonfiction, I find that true adventure stories such as "Into Thin Air" or "Tunnels"by Swanson are hot sells in our library.

This was a fun post. I was surprised to see the title first day of school, but once I read I could really relate. I definitely feel like I never truly have down time since I am always thinking ahead with school. On my blog I posted on my first day that it was hard to enjoy the first days of the break without thinking about school: http://snapshotsofmrsv.blogspot.com/2009/05/edublogs.html

I am going to do a post on my blog right now answering your questions on the bottom. Thanks for sparking the discussion (I will post a link to my responses once I finish up).

Next year I will be doing language arts and social studies. I would love if you have any tips on how you divided up your time.

Here is the link to my post considering the questions you brought up at the end of your post: http://snapshotsofmrsv.blogspot.com/2009/06/school-always-thinking-ahead.html

Thanks again for starting the conversation.

If the duct tape idea appeals to anyone, try buying electrical tape at Lowes. It comes in about 10 different colors and is about an inch wide. I have used it in my personal book library but not thought of it for school books. What a good idea.

Here is a link to an idea that I just found for displaying books in the classroom. I intend to try it next year.

Donalyn -- I have a few "technical" questions for you as a teacher who is planning on incorporating R/W workshop into my classrom next year.

I couldn't find a way to e-mail you on these sites!


Hi Carrie,

Readers may reach me at [email protected] This e-mail address appears at the top of my blog page. I will send you an e-mail response, shortly.


Donalyn, thank you for asking about classroom library organization systems. I am currently re-thinking my library system too. Reading others' comments, I'm thinking about organizing my library in alphabetical order by author, and combining that system with the different colored electrical tapes mentioned by Pam Nelson to indicate genre. That way, it's easy to find and reshelve books you already know about, but kids can still browse by genre by "switching off" their reading goggles and "turning on" color goggles.

Donalyn--I gave up using index cards after 5 years of teaching. It wasn't working for me either plus it was a pain to have to put the pockets in each book. I also used to use index cards for kids to write all of the titles down that they were reading--this didn't work either. I now have 3 clip boards with a sign out sheet--a table that has lines with: name/book title/check out date/check in date. I have a different clip board for each class and they are different colors. If a student is looking for a book that isn't on the shelf they can easily find them on the clip board sign out sheet to find out who has the book.

I also gave up alphabetizing books a long time ago because putting away books became an all day event. I have book shelves dedicated to genres. One entire book case is nonfiction--some shelves are broken down to themes. Books on science related themes. Another shelf about historical nonfiction topics, etc. Hope some of these ideas help. Smiles :)

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Recent Comments

  • deanna: Donalyn--I gave up using index cards after 5 years of read more
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  • Donalyn Miller: Hi Carrie, Readers may reach me at [email protected] This e-mail read more
  • Carrie Babbitt: Donalyn -- I have a few "technical" questions for you read more
  • Kristin Hallam: Here is a link to an idea that I just read more



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