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Book Baskets in the K-2 Classroom

(These baskets would work well for book baskets. They just need fewer books in each one.)

Do you use book baskets in your classroom? Do you want to but just can’t find the time to manage them? Do you wonder if you are using them in the most effective manner? Read on to find out how to use Book Baskets effectively in your classroom and manage them quickly and easily.

Do I need Book Baskets?

Yes! Yes! Yes! Did I say yes? Yes!

I’ll be the first to admit, I did it wrong when I first started using book baskets. In the beginning it was just a basket of books on the table for Self Selected Reading (SSR) time. As time went on, I figured out how to use individualized book baskets in a meaningful and productive way. All students were on task and they didn’t take much effort to manage.

First Steps….

Get a basket for every student and a few spares for new students. Find a place to house them permanently in your classroom where they are easy for students to access. That’s it!!! Setting them up is that easy.

Don’t go grab a bunch of books and stick them in the baskets. You’re going to populate your baskets with the books you use during Guided Reading. In this way, students have books they are familiar with to practice independently. You’re not going to change them out too frequently either, because you want them to have some books below their current reading level because this is how children develop fluency and confidence.

Examples…

Sara, aged 6, an above average reader in September of first grade. Let’s look in her book basket……

Level E – How an Orange Grows

Level E – Miss Potter is an Otter

Level F – My Best Friend

Level F – Funny Fish

Level G – Who Makes this Sound?

Right now, Sara has these 5 books in her basket. She’s been in school for 3 or 4 weeks now and has done Guided Reading lessons with all of the books above. All the students in her reading group have the same books. After working with the book for 3-5 days in guided reading, the students were told to put the book in their book basket. By now, the level E books are very easy for Sara to read but as she rereads them she is developing fluency. Another benefit is that she is paired up at center time with Angel (see her basket below) and she reads these books that are above Angel’s reading level aloud and Angel gets the benefit of hearing a fluent reader and being exposed to some vocabulary above that which she can read. Notice also, that she has a mixture of literary and non-fiction type texts as any good book basket does.

Angel, aged 6, a below average student in first grade. Let’s look in her book basket….

Level aa – I Like

Level aa – This Is A …

Level A – Mom and Dad

Level A – Jobs

Level A – At The Zoo

Notice that Angel also has 5 books but she only has two different levels. Angel may be moving slower because she had to do some letter sound work at the beginning of the year instead of jumping straight into reading. She might also have a little stack of sight words on index cards to practice. Her books are all emergent readers with repetitive text (“I like dogs. I like cats. I like birds.”) She can figure out the text by looking at the pictures and using the repetitive pattern. However, when she is in centers with Sara and they get out their book baskets, she is also a 6 year old, so she is interested in the books that Sara has too. They may look at all their books or I might suggest they take turns reading aloud one book from their basket. “Ms. Foster, why didn’t I get that book that Sara has?” “Because I only have 6 copies of each book so I can’t give the same book to everyone at the same time. You’ll get that one in your basket later.” They generally buy this as an excuse, there isn’t really a need to go into their differing needs as readers. However, as the year progresses, you may want to set goals and help them begin to monitor their own progress, turning their differences into something to be celebrated and worked on.

Managing the baskets

In the data binder that I keep at my reading table, I have pre-assessment data on each student and running records showing their progress throughout the year. Each student has their own tab in the binder so I can flip to their information quickly. On the back side of the tab divider I write the books as I give them to the students. After they have more than 3 or 4 levels in their basket, I collect the first ones I gave them, and mark them off the list. I do this as part of their guided reading group and it only takes a few moments. When I give a group a book for their basket, I quickly jot the level and title (or an abbreviation of it:) on the tab divider for each of those 4 or 5 students. It literally takes less than one minute. When I’m ready to take back a book, I ask students to bring their book baskets to their reading group and I tell them which book to turn in and mark through it on their tab divider. This also takes less than a minute. It also keeps them honest, because those guided reading sets are expensive, belong to the school and you will need them year after year so you don’t want them going home in book bags. Below is a sample of what Sara and Angel’s tab dividers might look like in December.

Sara

  • Level E – How an Orange Grows
  • Level E – Miss Potter is an Otter
  • Level F – My Best Friend
  • Level F – Funny Fish
  • Level G – Who Makes this Sound?
  • Level G – Furry’s New Friends
  • Level H – Furry Has a Nightmare
  • Level H – Water Everywhere
  • Level I – Rocks, Rocks, Rocks
  • Level I – A Parrot Named Ox
  • Level I – Airplanes
  • Level J – George Goes Bonkers

Sara still has three levels in her basket, 5 books, (it’s okay to have more but keep it under about 8).  She stagnated a little bit on level I and we worked on three books at that level instead of two before she accomplished it.  However, I am not concerned because she is already starting level J which is the goal for the end of first grade and it’s only December!  I’m going to be careful with Sara and her group because I don’t want to just keep pushing them UP through the levels.  I want to make sure to give them a good solid foundation by looking at the many standards they can master at each level even if they can easily read the texts.  How is comprehension?  Other grammar skills I can include such as compound words, commas, etc.?

Now let’s look at Angel.

  • Level aa – I Like
  • Level aa – This Is A …
  • Level A – Mom and Dad
  • Level A – Jobs
  • Level A – At The Zoo
  • Level A – I Can Help
  • Level B – Bear’s Fish
  • Level B – Things That Go
  • Level B – Cars
  • Level B – Pets Are Fun

Angel is not progressing at a pace that will allow her to keep up let alone catch up.  I would already have an intervention in place for Angel.  Just from the book basket point of view, I would leave more books in the basket because it is taking her longer to get through each level so she is going to be tired of the books more quickly.  I also might add in items such as additional sight words to work on or a “PALS” reading segment, and so on.

The book baskets are differentiated to each student’s needs and are useful for independent reading, reading with a partner, and self selected reading.

I hope these tips will help you boldly incorporate book baskets into your primary classroom!

Baseline Data

The what, why and how of collecting baseline data in the first days of school.

What?

The “what?” is determined by your grade level and your standards. Each grade has certain “Power Standards” that are building blocks for that grade level and prerequisites for the next grade. If you are a new teacher, you will find out what these standards are when you are planning with your grade level.

Consider this example. First grade has literally dozens of reading/ela standards. One standard covers how to use commas in a series while another states that students can read on level text with purpose and understanding. A first grader can move on to second grade and be successful even if they did not master where to put commas in a series but they cannot be successful in second grade if they did not master reading on first grade level text with purpose and understanding. That is a power standard. You will want to see what level the student is reading on in your baseline data because that is something you will want to track all year long and will be a factor in determining readiness for second grade at the end of the year. In contrast, you will certainly teach and formatively assess the standard about commas but it does not warrant a place in your baseline data.

Why?

Why gather baseline data at all? You are going to assess the students summatively at the end of units, quarters, the year. The summative information will ultimately inform your decision about readiness to promote, so why bother with diagnostic or baseline data?

First all all, we live in an era of accountability in which we are required to justify our methods, materials and even our pedagogy. The gathering of baseline data allows you to prove student progress, prove why you are using the method or materials that you are using and prove the need each young learner has, in a very specific way.

Secondly, baseline data gives you a starting point for instruction. It tells you what your students already know and what they need to know. You are able to be your most effective when you can provide direct instruction and practice on precisely the skills students need to acquire.

Thirdly, baseline data is essential to tracking student progress, or lack thereof. When you gather baseline data in the first week of school, you will be able to identify struggling students within the first few weeks when you see they are not making progress from their baseline. You will be able to deliver remediation or reteaching quickly and prevent a huge learning gap from developing. In the lower elementary grades especially, it is a responsibility of the teacher to identify students who may have innate learning difficulties that will require extra, ongoing interventions. The baseline data is just the first data point in this process. The process is quicker and more efficient, thus providing the student with the help they need that much sooner.

Lastly, there is a wealth of research out there suggesting that when the student and the teacher know exactly where the student is academically; students tend to grow more and quicker. Giving a diagnostic assessment with the right attitude “It’s okay if you don’t already know this; I just want to see what you already know.” allows students to see that they do have something they need to learn, which in itself can be impetus enough for them to engage in learning.

How?

How do you collect diagnostic/baseline data? You’ve heard the expression “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Although I don’t agree with skinning cats; I agree there are many ways to assess. There are multiple ways to gather this data and you can use the method that works best for you.

  • Whole group – some data can be gathered in a whole group setting. For example, math computation can be done whole group because you are looking to see if a child can compute the correct answer (be sure to use privacy boards or folders to prevent copying.)
  • Small group – some data can be gathered in small groups. For example, a second grade teacher may want to do the math computation in small group if she is also taking note of who still uses their fingers to count, and so on.
  • Individual – in a perfect world, we would have plenty of time to do all of the assessments individually so that we could take note of individual strengths and weaknesses and which strategies the student prefers. However, some assessments MUST be done individually such as reading sight words, naming letters, making letter sounds and reading running records and fluency.

You will make time for these assessments in the first week (or two, at the most) of school because you will not be instructing until you have gathered the baseline data (it informs your instruction, remember?). The transition from summer break to school is difficult for young learners and you can make it easier on them and on your data collection by providing structured play activities that will allow you to work with individuals and small groups to gather data. Activities that are considered developmentally appropriate and also mentally valuable in K-5 are playdough, blocks, legos, puzzles, brain teasers, computer/ipad based activities like ABCya.com, PBS.org, BrainPop and TumbleBooks.

Suggested baselines to gather, by grade:

  • K – write name, recognize letters, recognize letter sounds, sight words, recognize numerals, count sets to 10, addition to 5
  • 1 – sight words, running record (reading level), sight word fluency, addition fluency to 10, subtraction fluency within 10
  • 2 – sight words, running record (reading level), reading fluency, addition fluency to 18, subtraction fluency within 18
  • 3 – running record (reading level), reading fluency, addition fluency to 1,000, subtraction fluency within 1,000, multiplication facts
  • 4 – running record (reading level), reading fluency, addition and subtraction fluency to 10,000, multiplication fluency through 12’s, division fluency within facts to 12’s,
  • 5 – running record (reading level), reading fluency, multiplication fluency through triple times double digit multiplicands and corresponding division as well as creating decimals with division

This is just a basic list of suggestions for some of the heavy hitter standards at each grade level. Your school, your system, your grade level may do others as well.

Which ones do you use for your grade level?