The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

Welcome to The Book Fort: Issue 34

@BookFortNews #BookFort

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Week 34: Principles in Practice

This week I took a look at one of the Principles in Practice series published by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Disciplinary Teaching in the High School Classroom. Don't be scared away if you don't teach high school English; on the contrary, I always discover applicable strategies for K - Adult learners and have provided some for you below. With this NCTE series, relevant research is linked to a policy brief or statement and then applicable practices for teachers comprise the bulk of the text. As a practical, action researcher and instructor myself, I appreciate the balance immensely. Too much theory and research and no practice is of little use to me.

Heather Lattimer brings us Disciplinary Teaching in an effort to address the discrepancy in reading abilities between adolescent readers in the US and students of the same age elsewhere in the world. She prompts readers to consider this: "Fourth graders in the US score among the highest in the world on literacy assessments, but by tenth grade the same students score among the lowest" (xi). Of course the texts are more complex and longer as students progress through the grades, but they are also increasingly more rooted in the disciplines (or content areas), not in English Language Arts, literature, or fiction. Lattimer's argument is that if we actively develop and invest in communities of practice that support literacies of the disciplines, teachers will come to view professional development as it is so named, a process of developing skills and knowledge with a wide range of experts in their field working together toward a common goal. We know this model well, the Professional Learning Community (PLC), but I have seen first hand that PLC work is only as meaningful as teachers and administrators make it.

The academy approach that is sweeping the nation, when implemented well, is highly effective at best helping students develop "real-world literacies." Lattimer provides several examples of schools in Southern California who are using similar approaches to meaningfully and successfully integrate literacy instructional into the disciplines in ways that significantly improve student outcomes. So, I hope you can take away something useful from the three ideas presented below. Check out the NCTE Series here, and read more about Heather Lattimer's work at San Diego State University here.

Lattimer, Heather. (2014). Disciplinary Teaching in the High School Classroom. NCTE.

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More than just adding in some reading and writing in the disciplines, learning-by-doing suggests that students will truly experience an integrated approach to every subject, no matter what it is. Reading, writing, speaking, listening, and digital literacy become a regular part of learning, students are better prepared for this in the world beyond the classroom. We know that in order to meet the demands of the digital age, students must be able to:

  • identify problems that need solving, not just solve problems
  • critically analyze
  • read, understand, and critique new information
  • synthesize across disciplines
  • develop new ideas and approaches; then, explain, apply, and defend innovative thinking
  • represent information in new and creative ways
  • evaluate and respond to the ideas of others
  • effectively articulate and advocate for innovative ideas of their own

So how do we encourage students to learn how to do these things and provide the learning conditions for them to demonstrate them before they leave us? Learning-by-doing is one way. Below is one particular innovative project that Lattimer had the opportunity to observe and be involved with in her research in Southern California. The authentic purpose and audience intimidated students at first but also encouraged them to work hard, present their best work, and ultimately take on a real community issue.

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Reading for Learning

The need for reading competence is more important than ever as it is no longer enough to be trained in one profession, trade, or skill; one must continually evolve and learn to survive and thrive in our ever-changing world. Everyone, Lattimer points out, no matter their role in society, needs to be able to "...access information, read and comprehend that information, critically evaluate sources, and determine relevance and applicability" (23). She also mentions research that shows that in order to fully develop as "competent and confident readers," secondary students need both explicit reading instruction beyond the basic (24), yet this tends to stop once students make it through middle school (and even elementary in many cases). High school instruction is hyper-focused on content demands than instruction in reading.

Yikes! What are we doing (or, NOT doing) folks?!

Lattimer shares a vignette in this chapter about a ninth-grade social studies teacher who was panicking toward the end of a school year when she realized her students still had large gaps in both knowledge and skill when it came to Asian geography and reading for learning, despite her concerted efforts. This teacher took an innovative, integrated approach, outlined below, for teaching reading for learning and covering content that otherwise might have been done by more traditional methods using the class textbook. Instead, a chance meeting with a college friend who was a business consultant sparked this teacher's approach.

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Writing for Real

Hallelujah to this title, right? Writing for real is something that we just don't do enough, partly of course due to the demands of standardized writing assessments that are as inauthentic as they come. "School" writing has taken the place of creative, real writing that has actual student voice present, that accomplishes actual purposes.

In this chapter, Lattimer shares an example of the way an 11th grade history teacher approaches the study of World War II, a required and expansive topic that can easily become so big, students and teachers alike fall short of real understanding. This teacher puts his students to work, year after year, collecting the stories of people who have actual historical memories connected to World War II and through these experiences, his students learn to write more authentically with depth and voice.

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Website of the Week

Tchers' Voice Blog

The Teaching Channel is a one stop shop for innovative, practical teaching ideas that can help you re-imagine your instructional focus and practice. There are videos, lesson ideas, continuing education courses, and teacher blogs. Feeling the strain that inevitably comes with the end of the school year? Take a minute to read the latest blog post by my friend and co-teacher, Christopher Bronke, on the Teaching Channel's blog, Tchers' Voice. Our co-teaching experience is listed as one of the 10 possible ways to combat end-of-the-year blahs.
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Ed Tech Tool of the Week

Pear Deck

All about engagement, Pear Deck is a hybrid tool that prompts active learning and formative assessment. It is built to work with Google, so you can sign up through your Google email, and it fully integrates with G-Suite. Essentially, you can use Pear Deck to present a live session through Google Slides that allows participants to interact and provide feedback throughout. Students can also create them! There are plenty of features in the free version and if you're interested in premium, it is a one time fee. Check it out! Follow on Twitter for updated ideas for applications @PearDeck.


Marion C. Moore School is Spreading the #BookLove!

As a district instructional coach, I had the distinct opportunity to work with the several of the amazing teachers at Marion C. Moore School in Louisville, KY. This school, which serves grades 6 - 12, has invested in the promotion of independent reading through a fantastic Library Media Specialist, a supportive administrative staff, and teachers who truly care about putting books in the hands of kids. Two of these teachers, Maegan Woodlee and Kelsey Hayes Coots, have been absolute warriors in the fight to preserve time for kids to read in class and to celebrate reading, even when so many other demands creep in to instructional time. All involved understand that kids must read more to know more and must have choice in what they read to get be engaged. I am so proud to showcase their efforts in this issue. Check them out @mooremustangs, #ReadMoore, and #KnowMoore. Principal Rob Fulk (@robfulk) is a true advocate for teachers, students, and what's best for the future of public schools.
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Wednesday, July 11th, 8am

This is an online event.

This FREE six-session series offers an amazing opportunity to learn from innovative educators who are moving beyond the basics. These teachers are leading the charge to bring creativity, individuality, achievement, and real understanding back to the classroom. You’ll hear their stories, learn their methods, and discover how to inspire positive change in your own students! Hosted by Kim Strobel, Happiness Coach and Education Consultant, featured presenters include Hal Bowman, Matt Miller, Whitney Litherland, Jennifer Mitchell, and Gina Stancombe. The six session topics are:

  • Growth Mindset
  • Homework
  • Assessment & Grading Practices
  • Genius Hour
  • Trauma-Sensitive Classrooms
  • Revolutionizing School Culture

Register today!

Missed Previous Issues?

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Kristie Hofelich Ennis, NBCT

In an effort to systematically study relevant research and stay connected to the teachers I greatly respect and with whom I have worked for years to successfully implement independent reading, this newsletter came about. It will offer research and practical ideas for quick implementation and may prompt further discussion or study with your colleagues. I hope you'll find it useful and thought-provoking; I also hope you will stay in touch if you implement any of the ideas with your students. They are, after all, why I do what I do!