professornana (professornana) wrote,

Let me do that for you

Each day I discover that I have won a lottery, that I have been selected to help someone smuggle money out of her country to the US, been told I am a long lost relative of a billionaire, or that I am one of the lucky few who will have the chance to hear about an exciting new product, property, or venture. Because I am staying on the west coast right now my Facebook feed has tons of ads and postings about real estate, spas, and other "opportunities" for me. These are "tailored" for me right now. Of course, I also receive ads and see posts that assure me that Facebook and Twitter do NOT know me as well. For instance, this morning, Twitter suggested I follow myself (should I?).

Allowing some algorithm to dictate my feed makes as much sense as some of the other idiotic things I see happening in my field. Most recently, I discovered something about classroom libraries that set my teeth on edge.

Classroom libraries are key to the development of lifelong readers, those reads Donalyn Miller helps us create in READING IN THE WILD. Research indicates that, even if the school library is across the hall from the classroom, kids are more likely to stay engaged with books and reading if the classroom also has a collection. And herein lies a problem. There are companies who will put together that classroom library collection for you. No need to know what your kids like to read or books that would have a potential audience, just let the company send you the KIT and, voila, you have your library. No muss, no fuss, no having to consider the needs, interests, preferences, and habits of your students. You can even get them leveled and lexiled (and BTW, autocorrect changes "exiles" to "exiles" each time I type it).

When I began my classroom collection back when T-rex was roaming the planet, I added books as I could afford them. The books I brought into the classroom were the ones my students talked about when we discussed books. I had series books (Sweet Valley High was hot then) and some nonfiction (always a well worn copy of Guinness Book of World Records and the Draw 50 series) and books I had read (YA) and thought might be of interest to my students. Each year, the collection grew, though I also took time to weed titles that did not find readers. Each year the collection changed a bit. SVH had a few diehard fans, but the Orphan Train books were supplanting them in my 5th period class while 3rd period tended to still want from Babysitters Club books, etc. When I moved to my university position, I gave away books to me middle school colleagues and started a new collection for the undergrads who would be taking courses from me. Then, when the courses went totally online, I invited the student teachers over so that they could begin to build their own libraries. I still float books on when I do PD. But I do not try to package books for individual classrooms.

I wonder how well any expert would do in selecting books for your classroom? Perhaps if I spent some time with you and your students I could recommend some titles to add. But, if I am sitting in my office far away from you and the students, how can I offer you a pre-packaged "starter" kit of 300 books? This is what I encountered recently: every single grade level had exactly the same books in the classroom library. So, if I entered a 3rd grade classroom in, say, Houston, that collection would be identical if I drove hundreds of miles to McAllen (south) or El Paso (west) or even drove just 75 miles to Conroe or Willis or went to Austin. That is implying that kids from these different locales all want and need the same thing in books just by virtue of being in 3rd grade. And therein lies the problem.

My own kids were never defined by lexiles, levels, gender, or "ability." Their books were selected by interest and preference. How can that happen when we have cookie cutter collections? Kids are not cookies cut into identical shapes and sizes. They are kids who are wondrously diverse and individual. Let me extend the cookie metaphor just a bit (I have been off sweets for over a year now, but I love using sweets as metaphors for the "flavor"). Do you prefer the uniformity of a packaged cookie or the sweet variations of cookies made by humans? Consider this the next time someone sends you an email about solving all of your classroom problems and meeting the reading needs of all your kids. YOU are the one who knows best what to bring to your readers. Don't allow someone far removed from kids to do that for you.
Tags: collections, idiocy, kits, programs
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