I have always made it a priority to have a classroom library, where my students could check out books in addition to those they access in the school media center. I usually keep my library organized by reading levels. Our school uses the Accelerated Reader program, and it has always just made sense to level my books according to that guide, so my students could easily find books on their reading levels.
Last year, however, I reconsidered my organizational method here. While I think it is so helpful to have books organized by reading levels, I began to wonder what message I was sending with that arrangement. Where was my emphasis, with books arranged in a way that made it easier for students to find a book on which they could take a test?
Ultimately, I want to share a love of reading with my students. I want them to read to enjoy books; not read to take tests. I know, I know... taking tests are part of the process and one way we measure comprehension skills. Still, they get those books from the media center; is it necessary for my classroom library to serve that purpose as well? I think not.
So I started thinking more about what it means to love reading and how I choose books to read. I look for topics that interest me. As I read, I may make decisions to discontinue reading if that book is too difficult for me, but chances are likely that I will still stick to a topic of interest when looking for another book to read as well.
So basically, reading levels have very little to do with my book selection. I know I'm an adult, but children are more than capable of making decisions about the readability of a text as well, if we teach them how to do so.
So when considering the way to do this - how to foster a love of reading while teaching children to make responsible decisions about the texts they read - I think it makes more sense to start with the "enjoyment" part than the book "level." I can easily teach a child various ways to determine whether or not a book is on his/her "level" for reading; I want them to start out thinking of books in a much bigger way than reading levels.
So I decided to reorganize my classroom library by topics, rather than levels. I categorized all of my books into a few common, easy topics that I thought might appeal to my students! As one of the topics, I decided to feature some of my favorite books. Would you believe that this is often the first basket my students dig through?!? They love to find books in my "favorites" basket that they like as well. It helps us connect through books without demanding any extra time or "work" during class.
The reading level for each book is still written on the inside cover, so my students do still have an easy reference point for the readability of each text before they check it out from my library. Still, the book level comes after the book interest, and I am hoping that sets the appropriate priority for reading in our classroom.
What about you? How do you organize your classroom library for your students?