Reader Question – What to do with all the books?

This week I received an email from an early career teacher:

Hello, I just saw your article about not asking children to read books that they don’t know how to decode. About 6 weeks ago I discovered structured literacy, and simultaneously learned that most of what I had learned about reading instruction was wrong (because I had been taught balanced literacy). I am a first year teacher, and next week I will start teaching in a multigrade K-2 classroom. My classroom came with over 1000 books but almost none of them are decodables. …… But I am wondering what I should do with the hundreds of other books. Most of them are quite nice books – but are more the type that an adult would typically read to a child. So what should I put on my shelves next week? What should I do with all of these storybooks?

I am always happy to field questions from teachers wanting to know more about how to support their students’ learning. It am also conscious that there are so many of us who have not been adequately prepared by our pre-service education to effectively teach (both literacy and numeracy) according to evidence based guidelines. There are many, many teachers who have given years to the profession and are just now learning about what the science of reading tells us. So when I received this email I thought that there were two aspects that were important to share. Firstly, that as a teacher, if you have access to the internet you are never alone. There is a whole profession for you to turn to for advice, support and a virtual hug or two on the days you need it.

The second aspect is the answer to the question below

But I am wondering what I should do with the hundreds of other books?

Here is my response to the sender of this week’s email:

Thanks so much for reaching out. Congratulations on your first teaching job! The question of what do you with the existing books in your classroom is an important one. 
If they are picture books, give your children free access to whatever book they want to spend time with.

The difference between a book you spend time with for pleasure and an instructional text is that you are not expecting children to read the picture book. Let them enjoy the pictures and if you have read the book to them they might like to have a go at retelling the story.  Some children to will attempt to sound out some words and as long as they have initiated that and are comfortable with it, then it’s fine.  Make sure that you are reading to your students multiple times each day and choose texts that are rich in vocabulary and general language.  The average children’s picture book has more complex vocabulary than an adult’s television show.  They are an excellent and important source of vocabulary exposure. 


As for the other type of books that you might have, (predictable texts/guided reading books/ sight word readers), there are a couple of options for how to recycle them. 
Sort the non-fiction texts, which have great photos, into topics. For example, put the plant books together and the animal books together. Then when you teach about those things in science, have the books there for children to access and enjoy the pictures.  (not necessarily to read to the texts) – 

Choose fiction texts that have really engaging pictures to use for ‘guided speaking’.  Choose an oral language feature that you want to develop and choose a text that matches.  Present the pictures or the actual texts (either cut the words off the bottom or black them out) and engage children in talking about the pictures.  You can model the language and then have children repeat it as practice before moving on to using those features in writing or independent oral language. 

There are so many teachers in your position. Know that you are not alone in not being adequately prepared to teach reading.  Keep reading and reaching out to those who have been fortunate enough to come across this information. Take care. I’d love to hear about how you are going as you get to know your class. 
All the best,  Jocelyn 

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