15 Lessons Learned for the 2020-21 School Year: #11 Get Books in Their Hands ASAP

Friday, March 13, 2020

7:30 – My grade level team and I met in one of our classrooms for our usual early morning chat. “Think today will be the day?” We knew it was only a matter of time before our school district would make the call to close schools. “I don’t know. I don’t know what to say or think anymore.”

8:00 – I open the door for my fifth graders. Two families had already chosen on their own to keep their kids home from school. I notice only 20 kids were in class that day instead of the expected 22. Two more families must have made the choice to keep their kids home as well. However, the day started as usual. Kids came in, put their backpacks away, then settled in to our morning independent choice reading routine.

8:25 – My class moved into our morning circle, where we gathered shoulder to shoulder in a circle every morning after independent choice reading. The topic of our conversation in morning circle was this new Coronavirus. We heard a handful of people in our community (not our school, but the greater community) had been diagnosed with it. Lots of discussion ensued. Our day then went on as usual until recess time.

10:00 – I excused kids out to recess and immediately headed to my teaching partner’s room to chat. Rumors were spreading that we were going to close. Our county health commissioner was going to make an announcement in the 11:00 hour. Recess ended and the day went on as normal until just before lunch.

11:40 – “Ms. Nosek can we chat for a moment?” My principal popped her head in the door, I stepped in the hall. She asked if we could use my classroom for a mandatory staff meeting at lunch (being a 5th grade classroom, my furniture fits adults better than most. Plus, my room is out of view of the lunch area, so we could safely have a somewhat private staff meeting in there). I knew what was coming.

11:55 – I excused my students out to lunch, my colleagues slowly started piling into my classroom, and it happened. My principal announced we would be closed for four weeks. Little did we know we were closing for the remainder of the school year. She said many things to us in that meeting. I don’t remember them all. But, I do remember her saying, Make sure they have books.

12:30-2:30 – is a hazy blur. I remember talking with my students about closing. I remember telling them that I am so excited that we were all reuniting again exactly one month from that day on April 13th, which also happens to be my birthday (again, at the time none of us knew we were saying our final in-person goodbyes on that day). I checked out Chromebooks and chargers to a few. I remember supporting them each in picking 5-10 of my own classroom library books to take home. We said goodbye with hugs at 2:30- yes, I know we shouldn’t have hugged, but I really didn’t care at that point. And, that was that.

We then all engaged in figuring out distance learning for the next two and a half months… you might be wondering what this little timeline has to do with book access. Well, on March 13th, one of the last things I did was check out 183 of my own classroom library books to my kids. Those books were with my students, away from the protection of the classroom library for quite some time!

Did I get my books back? I sure did.

On Thursday, May 28th, I drove around town for five hours to pick up the books I lent out. Every book, except five, came back to me. Some families even donated many other books that were already read, loved, and ready for new readers. So, instead of shrinking, lending out books actually helped me grow my classroom library.

Book access is a huge issue. It was an issue pre-Covid and it remains an issue today. However, it doesn’t have to be. There are some things we can do to ensure that our students have access to books. It will just take a little time, teamwork, and intentionality.

Many have written about book access before me. In fact, some educators have tirelessly made it their mission. I offer these two thoughts from four book access leaders in literacy education:

Children and adolescents need meaningful and consistent access to books at school and home. When they have access to books, they read more and they read better. Period. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s true.” Donalyn Miller & Colby Sharp, Game Changer! Book Access For All Kids, pg. 5 (Scholastic, 2018)

Additionally, “Research demonstrates again and again that access to an abundant supply of books in school and classroom libraries increases both motivation and reading achievement.” Clare Landrigan & Tammy Mulligan, It’s All About the Books: How to Create Bookrooms and Classroom Libraries That Inspire Readers, pg. 3, (Heinemann, 2018)

Kids need books. Not only do they need books, but they need continual access to books. They need continual access to a wide range of books by diverse authors in multiple genres over a long period of time.

So, what does this look like in our current, unrecognizable education landscape?

What I Plan to do in the Fall of 2020

Pre-Covid, scenes like these were common place in my classroom…

When thinking about book access, this is what I want to recreate in our new distanced reality. My hope for my students is that they will have consistent access to a large library, choice books for relaxed reading each day, a wide range of books to choose from for book clubs, and a book always at the ready to read anytime. When we were all in class together, I made this happen. Now that I’ll be teaching my students from my home through the internet, I’ll have to be a bit more creative and intentional in my quest to get books in their hands ASAP.

About a month ago, my thought was that I would be able to deliver books to all of my students to get them started for the first couple weeks of school. However, the first day of school for my students is coming up on August 17th. Today is August 7th and I still don’t know who my students will be. I’m guessing I probably won’t know until just a couple days before school starts. So, even if I wanted to deliver books to my students before school starts, I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to.

My goal is to keep a constant stream of physical books in my students hands in addition to the digital resources they will be able to access. Pre-covid, I was able to keep a physical stream of books in students’ hands without much outside help. Now, I am going to rely on others to support me in this work. The visual below shares a few ideas for getting a steady stream of physical books in kids’ hands.

Please note, these ideas are only realistically safe if everyone involved wears a mask covering their nose and mouth 100% of the time- all volunteers, kids, and adults. Additionally, all people involved should always remain at a minimum of 6 ft. apart. Kids can easily browse for books with gloved hands and a mask out of the back of a car with the adult or two present standing at a distance. No need to crowd the kids while they’re choosing books!

While having a steady stream of physical book access is important, this school year more than ever we are also going to have to heavily rely on both digital print books and digital audiobooks.

All of us in education are extremely fortunate to have access to the work of Clare Landrigan. Over the past few months, Clare has curated a comprehensive digital bookroom using Padlet. I will let her work speak for itself. Check out Clare’s incredible virtual bookroom below!

Made with Padlet
Made with Padlet

In addition to curating this comprehensive site, Clare has also extensively written about creating digital classroom libraries. I’m still in the process of creating my start of year virtual library for our fifth grade classes, so I’m not sharing it quite yet, but I will once it’s ready!

Other digital book access resources include the following:

If you’re interested in getting books in kids’ hands who may not have internet or who may not have easy access to physical books, check out the work of First Book.

One size will not fit all when it comes to book access. Finding the right fit for your own situation may take a lot of trial and error. It will definitely take time, teamwork, and intentionality. The goal is to get and keep kids reading, and they can’t read without a steady stream of reading material. Simply put, we have to make getting books into kids’ hands one of our biggest priorities at the start of the school year.

Posts #12-15 are coming up next week! Next week’s final four posts of this series will discuss four simple but big overarching ideas as we start the school year from a distance.

All posts in this blog series will be housed here: 15 lessons learned for the 2020-21 School Year, July 20-August 7th Click on the follow this blog link to have the posts delivered to your inbox each day, or check back tomorrow!