When I began working at Our Lady of Hungary School in fall 2018, I was surprised to see that each classroom had its own small library of independent reading books. At my previous school (which had recently been closed to budget cuts), the only books I had in my classroom were the few I’d been given through charitable donations. As a middle school English language arts teacher, encouraging kids to read for their own recreation is a struggle—getting them to read without books that interest them is another battle in itself.
The reading library in my classroom had been accumulated over many years. The teachers before me had left many books behind, mostly classics or books donated from Scholastic Book Fairs of years past. Finally, I thought to myself, I won’t have trouble with students finding books for independent reading. I imagined encouraging my students to read Hatchet for the first time or a student discovering the joy of reading The Secret Garden.
I was almost immediately proved wrong. Even with a small classroom library, my students struggled to find books that they wanted to read. Your books are boring, they often said. Why can’t you get some books about sports? The selection of books about sports were limited to one or two books about soccer and an old graphic novel about a basketball player long past his prime. They also asked for non-fiction books, which were mostly non-existent. There was a book about space, another about Switzerland, and a third about renewable energy. Most students liked to try and take the space book because they could just look at the pictures.
Of course, some of my students always had a book. These were the students who were asked to put their books away during other lessons. Often times their books came from home or the public library. These students presented the other side of the problem with the library—they had already read most of the books of interest. They read so voraciously that they had exhausted the books I had available to them. Why can’t I go to the library? they would ask. Our school library has a very nice selection of books considering the size of our school, but the middle school grades don’t go to the library on a regular basis. In a school that houses kindergarten through eighth grade, weekly trips to the library stop after fifth grade.
Receiving the Sigma Tau Delta Classroom Library Grant has changed many of my students’ approach to reading. I used the money to buy books students were interested in—non-fiction and graphic novels. Instead of complaining that they can’t find a book they want to read, I have students racing to get the next Diary of Wimpy Kid novel. Students are asking me if they can take Raina Telgemeier‘s Drama home. Some of the books I wasn’t sure would be so popular—such as The Unwanted, Don Brown‘s graphic novel about Syrian refugees—are picked up by students nearly every day. I also chose some more traditional-style books that they’ve taken to, despite the lack of pictures. Biographies of current popular athletes, historical events retellings, and realistic slice of life novels are just as popular as the graphic novels because they resonate with my students. It’s not that the classics don’t matter anymore, but middle schoolers have tunnel vision. They struggle to relate to stories outside their sphere of experience, so high-interest content matters.
Expanding the classroom library with newer books has helped students become interested in the older ones as well. Now, when a student says that they liked a book about a historical event, I can recommend an older book with similar themes and they aren’t as resistant. Do you have any more books about the Titanic? is a question met with a new book placed in their hand. It might not look as shiny and new as the other, but they are willing to give it a chance. Now that they trust my taste in books, they are more willing to expand their reading horizons. Do students still ask if they can go to the library? Yes, but it’s because I’ve introduced them to a new series and they need to track down the next book. Their interest in reading is still growing, but it’s there—and the Classroom Library Grant gave them that opportunity.
Sigma Tau Delta Classroom Library Grants
Sigma Tau Delta’s Classroom Library Grants are designed to enhance the Society’s goals of
- promoting interest in literature and language in the surrounding communities;
- fostering all aspects of the discipline of English, including literature, language, and writing; and
- serving society by fostering literacy.
The Classroom Library Grants are also intended to support our members who have entered the field of teaching and need material support to help achieve these goals through their work in the classroom by providing their students with a library in their own classrooms, especially where access to school or public libraries or to books in the home may be limited.
The Society will award up to five grants of $400 each per year to help members of Sigma Tau Delta who have been teaching in the classroom for five years or fewer. That is, applicants may or may not be recent college graduates; the Classroom Library Grant is intended to help new teachers, whether in their first years out of college or in the first years of a second career, to build a classroom library for their students.
Criteria For Selection
In choosing recipients, the Classroom Library Grant Committee will consider the following criteria:
- lack of economic and geographic access to books at your school, or another demonstrated need;
- the explanation of how the classroom library envisioned will support your goals in alignment with the Society’s goals; and
- supervisory endorsement of your classroom library project.
Deadline and Dates
The deadline for 2020 applications will be November 9, 2020, 11:59 p.m. CST. Awards will be announced December 7, 2020.