Well! Two days down, and the students who were once just names on a page are now starting to become real people with real personalities. Things in the classroom are taking shape.
Much of my time in the last two days has been spent in matching books to readers. It's a messy process, with some real issues to consider. One obstacle is just classroom management. I can't have 20 kids browsing simultaneously in my 20 square feet of classroom library space. Another obstacle is my lack of knowledge. Book selection is a personal affair, but I don't know my students very well at all.
Here's how I deal with it. I divide and conquer. When the kids are out of the classroom, I use a crate and gather about 30 of my best chapter books at various levels. For beginning of the year fourth grader, I need a huge range: some Horrible Harry books, some Magic Treehouse books, a few by Andrew Clements, Clementine, Dragonslayers Academy, and Judy Moody. (Lots of series books here--they work wonders at the start of the school year!) At the upper end of the range, I toss in a few by Eva Ibbotson, some Hank Zipzer books, and some books by Dan Gutman.
Then, I put out some of my best high-interest picture books on a shelf at the front of the room. Many of these books are familiar to my students, but I expect that some will want the comfort of a book that they know. Diary of a Worm is a favorite every year, as are the nonfiction books by Nicola Davies and anything by Jon Scieszka.
To hand out books, I gather students at our read aloud area. We brainstorm some rules to remember for independent reading time. For our first two days, I didn't go heavily into reading strategies or comprehension. There is time enough for that later. Right now is the time for just sitting and reading.
After a quick discussion of rules, I hold up books, one by one, and give a brief but supportive introduction. As I hold them up, I distribute them to students who indicate interest. As they get a book, they leave the area to go find a quiet reading spot. Slowly the group around me dwindles until I end up with The Five.
Every class has The Five. These are the students who resist book recommendations because they are looking for The Very Best Book Ever Written. I don't know why there are always five of them. I can't pick them out at the beginning of the class. The Five include both boys and girls, talkative students and quiet ones, kids who want to please and kids who want to cause mischief. They are a diverse group.
But now I can give them my full attention, because everyone else is reading. Two or three just need some more one on one attention. I ask, "What was the last book that you read that you liked?" and base my further recommendations on what they say. Sometimes I read aloud from a first page--"Listen to this!"--and then they'll take a book. Sometimes they'll ask for a particular author or series, some book that they enjoyed from the previous year. Once these students have taken their books to a quiet spot, I'm left with just two. The two who remain are the most challenging. They shake their heads at my suggestions, listen with patient resignation to my book descriptions. It would be easy to take their refusals personally.
But I don't live and die by the first day. Sometimes I need to concede: "Maybe we won't find your favorite book right now. Let's find something that you can read for a little while." This is when the picture books are useful. They are short and non-threatening. We adjourn to the front of the room to look at the shelf of picture books. "This will be a quick read, but I think you'll enjoy it. Then we can talk more about what you like as a reader." I'll hand them out, the last students will take them, and suddenly, I've done it. The room is silent as everyone reads.
This was my day. Getting books in the hands of kids--one of the only fun parts of the beginning of the year.