Parent Workshops

The Literacy Leadership team (including one Junior Primary teacher) held two parent sessions in Terms 3 and 4. The first was an information session on how Class Libraries were operating across the school. We also talked about some simple strategies to help parents at home when reading with their child. This was summarized in a bookmark that parents took home.Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 9.24.41 pm

The second session focused on the reading comprehension strategy of “Text Connections” as this was a question that arose from the first session. We filmed footage of students across a range of year levels explaining what “text to self”, “text to text” and “text to world” connections were and how these connections helped them with understanding what they read. A summary chart was given out for parents to take home.

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We had “better than expected” turnouts to both sessions. This was due to the fact that students wrote a personal invitation home to parents about the sessions, we held them at 9:00am so parents could stay after dropping their children off, we made the sessions short – only 20-25 minutes duration and Governing Council members “lured” parents in classes first thing in the morning by offering cupcakes!!

Whole School Visit to Melbourne

In early September, our whole staff went over to Melbourne to view two of the schools who had started Classroom Libraries, Reading Conferences and Independent Reading four years ago– Monmia PS and University Park PS. At both sites, our staff split into groups who taught similar year levels and viewed the Reading Blocks of various classes. It was inspiring for us to see where this journey had taken staff, students and leadership, to gain insight into the strategies and approaches they were using that brought about whole school change and to listen to students talk explicitly about their reading behaviours and the goals they were working on.IMG_0199

Our staff came back from Melbourne literally “buzzing” with ideas to implement in their classes and in their planning teams. We changed the NIT timetable so that teachers teaching the same year level could have one lesson per week to plan together at the same time. This was an approach used by Monmia that has proven to be valuable in the consistency
IMG_0203of teaching different skills and strategies across classes as well as useful for teachers learning from each other, thereby enhancing their own teaching.


Reading Conferences

Reading conferences provide the most useful opportunities for formative assessment of students’ reading – assessment for teaching and learning (Snowball & Bolton, 2010)

Now that Classroom Libraries and Independent Reading were “up and running” throughout the school, we needed to delve deeper into what skills our students were using to help them read and how we could assist them to progress further. First of all, teachers filled out a Class Library checklist to see where they were at in terms of their development with their Class Libraries (see photo).IMG_0348 Staff also completed an online survey of their understanding of running records and when/how they used them to inform their teaching. This data will be used to identify where our learning needs are as a staff in this area so we can address these “gaps” through PD over the next couple of terms. We also revisited choosing “Just Right” books at one of our staff meetings, looking at the iPick strategy as one way of helping students with book self selection.

I can pick a Good Fit book based on …

Purpose – Why are you reading the text?

Interest – Why are you interested in the book?

Comprehend – Do you understand what you are reading?

Know – Do you know most of the words?

In Weeks 4 and 6 of Term 3, we undertook half day PD sessions with staff working in teams (Junior Primary, Middle Primary and Upper Primary) to learn about implementing reading conferences with our students and setting up Reading logs/journals.

During the session, we did some professional reading from Dianne Snowball, Faye Bolton, Carl Anderson and Ralph Fletcher about the components of a good reading conference. We learnt that conferences need to focus on what students are doing as readers and that teachers need to provide students with feedback about their strengths and help them suggest the next goal. This needs to be recorded, including the “next steps” for the student and how they are going to achieve them. Students need to be active participants too, responding to texts they are reading and articulating the strategies they are practising and using. We looked at various footage showing teachers conducting reading conferences with their students to clarify and confirm the main components of a good reading conference.IMG_0163

In groups, we perused a wide variety of reading journal entries then discussed and documented what students would be recording in their journal entries to show the evidence of the learning taking place.

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Independent Reading

‘There is a direct correlation between the amount students read and their reading achievement and higher achieving schools have more books in classrooms.” Allington 2001

The last 4 weeks of Term 2 saw the remainder of our teaching staff implement Classroom Libraries with their students and revisiting “Just Right” books (encouraging teachers to develop selection criteria with their children when selecting books, talking about what makes a book Just Right, Choice/Challenge or Too Hard using professional readings from Regie Routman).IMG_0223

We also held a whole staff PD workshop on Independent Reading. It was evident through looking at the Lotus Diagram – our plan to develop lifelong readers – that implementing Independent Reading throughout the school was vital as the more reading students do, the better readers they will become!

Through using Langford tools, staff came up with an operational definition of what we thought Independent Reading should be at our site:

Independent Reading is when students read texts of their own choice. They have time to reflect, use strategies, understand and share thinking about their reading of texts of choice including those that are ‘just right’ and appropriate.

We also had time to do some professional readings (Diane Snowball, Regie Routman) about clarifying Independent Reading and looking at the role of the teacher in supporting students.

Our Literacy Committee, consisting of our Literacy Leadership team plus 4 class teachers, met and discussed whether or not the questions about Class Libraries from mid Term 1 had been answered. All the questions had been answered except two which we classified as “works in progress”. Borrowing systems hadn’t been implemented across all classes and we needed to do more regarding communication to parents about our broadbanded boxes of leveled texts as we had a levelled reading system prior to starting Classroom Libraries and some parents appeared to be confused with this change. We had put information in the school newsletters and held one parent session which was poorly attended – clearly this needed to be a priority for the rest of the year!IMG_0057

Collecting Data and Staff Sharing

In Week 4 of Term 2, we asked teachers to complete a Reading Audit. They needed to record strategies they were currently using when reading to children, with children and by children. Also documented was when and how often they spent using these approaches with their students. Teachers were also asked to video themselves interviewing a student in their class about their attitudes towards reading, how they select books, strategies they use when they come to an unknown word or when they don’t understand what they have read, etc.IMG_0089These audits and interviews provided us with a “snapshot” of reading across the school and helped us to identify where the “gaps” in our learning were. This data will also be used to document the journey travelled with whole school change in reading and, hopefully, show us the deeper learning that will take place over the next 2-3 years.

At one of our staff meetings mid Term 2, we walked around to different classes that had started Classroom Libraries and the teachers of those classes talked about getting set up, choosing and sorting books into different genres, what was going well, issues arising, etc. This was a positive, motivating time as it helped those who had started their libraries to communicate their reflections of their journey and gain ideas from other teachers on ways of overcoming problems or IMG_0118 improving classroom practice. For example, two of our Year 4/5 teachers were talking about classifying genres and how, from this process, they noticed that the majority of students did not necessarily understand differences between science fiction and fantasy as well as mystery and adventure. This opened up discussion about how to explicitly teach and reinforce features of particular genres through questioning.

This sharing session also inspired those teachers who hadn’t started their Classroom Libraries to begin as soon as possible!

Choosing “Just Right” Books

“Helping children to develop a strategic approach to book selection requires that teachers and librarians think, aloud, demonstrate, and reveal how they go about the process.” (Reutzel and Fawson, 2002)

IMG_0244Once Class Libraries were set up and students started borrowing from it, teachers then worked on explicitly teaching and modeling how to select books that were “Just Right”, that is books which suited the student’s level of ability, interests and needs. Fountas and Pinnell (1999) indicate that “Just Right” books should contain a proportion of approximately 90% known words to about 10% unknown words. Teachers directed younger students to where appropriately leveled materials were stored, in our school’s case, our coloured broadbanded boxes.IMG_0264

Techniques and strategies were explained and demonstrated for evaluating whether a book was too easy, too difficult or just right. Modelling thinking aloud when choosing a book, determining purpose for choosing a book, looking at the cover/blurb, reading the first page or two, discovering how many unknown words to known words on a page, etc were skills that were explained to staff in PD sessions to use with their students. Students in the Junior Primary chose a mixture of books from their particular coloured, broadbanded box as well as books that interested them from the broader Class Library. Older, more independent readers evaluated and chose books that were “Just Right” for them and have started to develop strategies for sampling books and making appropriate selections.

Over a few weeks, it became obvious to teachers that they needed to constantly revisit how to choose a Just Right book and they began to see the need of reinforcing the use of different book selection strategies with the class as well as observing students informally on a regular basis to assist them with this skill. Anchor charts were developed in a few classes and were referred to often.


Involving Students in the design and organization of the Class library

“When students help create the library, they use it more” (Routman, 2003)


Shelving was ordered from IKEA as well as tubs from Cheap as Chips after teacher discussions in staff meeting on what would be the best options for storing books in libraries. Older students were involved in the building of these units with a Temporary Relieving Teacher.

Broadbanded boxes containing levelled texts were borrowed by the class teacher. IMG_0102

In addition to the broadbanded coloured boxes, classes did a “bulk borrow” from the school library for their class library with the support of Jonathon, our librarian. To help students select a wide range of reading material that was of high interest, popular, age appropriate, related to topics being covered in class, etc., they:

  • Completed reading inventories
  • Brainstormed what sorts of books they wanted in their Class Library
  • Discussed and clarified choices with peers, teachers and Jonathon

Students were involved in the sorting, labelling and shelving of books according to genre, interest, series, authors, etc. Obviously, this looked different according to the year levels of the classes. Class teachers did explicit teaching on text genres and anchor charts were developed and used.

Classes also discussed and suggested ways they could make their Class Library a pleasant and inviting place to be. Some Junior Primary classes purchased Pillow Pets and cushions out of their class budgets. Old lounges, armchairs, round tables, beanbags, etc started to appear in libraries.


Each class worked out a manageable borrowing system that could be monitored by students with minimal assistance from the teacher. Some examples included borrowing cards/bookmarks, check in/out system on computers/iPads and exploring QR codes in Primary grades. Junior Primary classes generally swapped their 5-6 books on a given day, for example, the day they did their show and tell or the day they had their Guided Reading session.

Every teacher organised for each student in their class to have a box, basket or container to put their book selections in. This also varied according to the ages and needs of the students. IMG_0263

Levelling and broadbanding texts

Research shows us that

  • Higher achieving schools have more books in classroom library collections
  • Classrooms with a larger supply of books have kids who read more frequently
  • Classrooms with a larger supply of books usually have more kids reading books that they can read successfully (just right)
  • Teachers have greater understanding of the needs of individual readers and can more effectively guide kids to appropriate text selection

How then did we at Hackham East go about providing classes with lots of books?

The first stage in our implementation was to organize our levelled texts into broadbanded coloured boxes and buy extra books so there would be enough boxes to cover the needs of each class. We budgeted a large amount of money in our Literacy budget to meet costs.

What is broadbanding?

  • Boxes of levelled reading materials grouped in more than one level

Why are we broadbanding our reading materials?

  • The criteria for levelling is approximate
  • No two publishers level in exactly the same way
  • How hard a book is, is not just determined by the level, other factors come into play- prior knowledge, fiction vs non fiction, interest etc (eg. I may know a lot about farm animals so I would have more success at this even if it was a text at a higher level than someone who did not)
  • Reading is NOT just about reading a level

    How we grouped levels into coloured broad banded boxes

    How we grouped levels into coloured broad banded boxes

Levelling – degrees of difficulty

  • Support of illustrations
  • Length of book
  • Complexity of concepts, vocabulary and familiarity of subject
  • Percentage of unique or repeated words to familiar words
  • Appearance and placement of print and visuals

Jonathon and I worked with Sally on how to level texts using guides on text levels and characteristics from different publishers as well as taking into account the degrees of difficulty (see above). It was certainly evident, once we got the hang of it, the discrepancies between publishers! We then invited parents who were interested in this process to volunteer

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 their time over 2 mornings to come in and learn how to level and sort. Our class based SSOs (School Support Officers) were also involved in this new learning. Sally presented to the group what broadbanding meant and why we were going this way with our levelled texts. We had 7 dedicated mums come in and volunteer which was such a big help as the task we were undertaking was huge. It involved levelling each book based on the criteria we were using, putting it in the correct coloured broadbanded box and sticking the right coloured dot on the book. Index cards were stuck on the back of each box for teachers to sign in and sign out when they borrowed/returned a box.


To inform parents about the changes we were making with implementing Class Libraries and broadbanding levelled texts, Sally and I held a parent session on the first day back in Term 2. We had 13 parents attend but we will need to run further follow up sessions or look at other creative ways that we can communicate information to our parents and involve them in their children’s reading.


‘Setting up your Classroom Library” staff workshop sessions

Staff who volunteered to start their class libraries participated in a half day Professional Development (PD) session run by Sally. The morning session was for the Middle/Upper Primary teachers and the afternoon was for the Junior Primary teachers. We started with some professional independent reading from Regie Routman’s book “Reading Essentials”, focusing on Chapter 5 – Organising an Outstanding Classroom Library. From this reading, teachers then brainstormed: What is a Classroom Library? What do we want it to look like/what do we want it to be?


A Classroom Library needs to have:

  •  a minimum of 250 books
  • lots of different genres
  • books that are age appropriate
  • baskets of books organised into genres borrowed from the school library
  • coloured boxes of broadbanded, levelled texts for independent and take home reading

Using Post It notes, we brainstormed then sorted what sorts of books we would like to borrow from the school library to have in our Classroom Library, discussing age appropriate texts, what stages of reading development were the students in our class, topics/authors that students are interested in, etc.





The next part of the session was to walk around to each person’s classroom and talk about where the Classroom Library may go, how were books going to be organized and displayed, how would the Classroom Library be the central hub, how to make it comfortable and inviting, etc.

After the walk, we discussed, listed and prioritized: What do we need to do to prepare our students when we implement Classroom Libraries? Teachers also made a commitment to collect baseline data on their students. Agreement was made to start by interviewing 3 students about their reading behaviours, interests, strategies, support at home, etc. Teachers formulated questions to ask students in this reading interview and some of these are listed in the chart below.




To conclude the session, teachers were asked to rate their responses to the following questions using scattergraphs: How prepared/supported do you feel to begin? How excited/motivated are you to implement your Classroom Library?



Wonderful quote about books

Our Federal Labor MP for the seat of Kingston, Amanda Rishworth, does regular street corner meetings to hear from the local community about issues of concern and to talk about what the Labor government are doing to address these issues. A couple of weeks ago, she gave out a pack that contained a bookmark encouraging people to support local libraries. This quote by Charles W. Eliot in 1896 was written on it – “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers”. How true. Thanks for sharing this quote, Amanda! Let’s all get into reading books!!