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Rowland Hall has always emphasized literacy development for our Beginning School students. Teachers foster a love of reading by using positive reinforcement to build confidence and encourage effort. Thanks to the generosity of annual fund donors last year, our kindergarten literacy program recently got a boost: the Lucy Calkins Classroom Library, a collection of diverse reading material with selections specifically chosen for that grade.
Curated by Lucy Calkins and colleagues at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, these classroom libraries—available for kindergarten through eighth grade—give students access to "high-quality, high-interest books," including some "all-star classics, but also many of the newest cutting-edge titles," according to their website. They cover a wide range of subjects, from sports to travel to history, and some offer traditionally underrepresented students a chance to see themselves in stories. The volumes are organized into different reading levels within a grade—though Rowland Hall students aren't made aware of such designations—and students can progress to more complex material throughout the year.
Kindergarten teacher Melanie Robbins is delighted with the new library and said that her students use the books in some capacity every day, including a reader's workshop three times a week. "The quality is top-notch," she said, "and the library was built with a worldwide perspective." Titles, for instance, include Animals at Risk, about endangered species, and Houses Around the World, which depicts dwellings from nations and cultures across the globe.
While teachers welcome the collection's cultural diversity, their primary goal centers around getting students excited to read—and the Calkins Library helps them achieve that goal. Kindergarteners Milo Canale and Ruby Mertens spoke enthusiastically about the books they read: Duck Goes Swimming and Animal Tricks, respectively. They eagerly read portions aloud, pointing and laughing at the illustrations. In particular, in Animal Tricks, Jasper the cat knows how to read the label on a tuna can, something Ruby and Milo found very amusing, if not entirely believable.
The children go "book shopping" at least once a week—they can swap out titles to keep in their cubbies at school, Mrs. Robbins explained. Additionally, the three kindergarten classes all have different volumes from the library on hand, so the teachers will rotate material when it's time to refresh.
According to Lucy Calkins, the Richard Robinson Professor of Children's Literature at Teachers College, "The kind of readers that you build will grow to match the libraries that you build...The challenge is to nourish our children with books that will make them into the readers, writers, and citizens that we long for them to become." She led the effort to develop the Calkins Classroom Libraries both to provide greater access to students and to improve literacy instruction for teachers. Each library arrives with tips and tools for using the books, along with ideas for reading activities that students will enjoy.