The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

Welcome to The Book Fort! Vol. 1 Issue 7

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!

Missed previous issues? Find them below:

Issue 1 Issue 2 Issue 3 Issue 4 Issue 5 Issue 6

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Week Seven: Return to Best Practice

With all of the educational initiatives that come down the pike, it is no wonder that teachers are often left with heads spinning about what is best for their students. In our hearts, educators know that building relationships and doing our best to prepare students for the "real" world should be at the center of our instructional practices, but what does that really look like in the 2017-2018 classroom?

This week, I returned to the work of Harvey Daniels, Best Practice: Today's Standards for Teaching and Learning in America's Schools, 3rd edition (2005). It was published pre-Common Core Standards Initiative, but reading it reminded me that best practice transcends. Reading it reminded me that the school experience should be student-centered (12) because our only clients are students and their guardians. It reminded me that experiential learning is key (13) because students learn by doing. It reminded me that subjects should be taught holistically (13) because students must understand the "why" and the "how", not just the "what". It reminded me that instructional activities should be authentic and challenging (14) because the world is complex and we need students to be prepared for that world beyond the classroom. Lastly, it reminded me that powerful learning comes from cognitive processes (15) and if we don't engage students in learning that activates these processes, we won't make positives strides in academic achievement.

The following applications originate from this text. I hope you find them useful.

Daniels, Harvey, et al. Best practice: todays standards for teaching and learning in Americas schools. Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann, 2005.

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Practical Applications

Reading Strategy: Engage Adults

Cultivating and maintaining avid readers once they have learned the basics of how to read and make basic meaning is not a simple task. It might be cliche, but it really does take a village. We must build a community of readers; we must do more than give students time to read in English class and choose complex whole-class reads. If we don't, students are much less likely to carry a love of reading with them into adulthood and that is not something American society can afford.

So, involve the entire school in your efforts. Daniels provides a great list of things principals and other administrative staff can do to support the building and maintenance of a community of readers in Chapter 2 of the text, but the suggestions work for engaging all stake-holders (61). Here are some of the practical tips that are easy to implement with maximum effect:

  • All adults should be readers and writers themselves; post signs outside the doors of adults in the building that show what they're reading or what their favorite books are. Add "What I'm reading" to email signatures. Invite adults to come in to do book talks.
  • Be an audience for students; invite students to share their work with adults other than their English teachers and be present in classrooms, not just for discipline.
  • Celebrate literacy in your school with a literacy fair, by inviting authors in to speak and share, with book clubs, and on the announcements and bulletin boards.
  • Publish a regular parent & community newsletter that highlights literacy instruction and invites adult stakeholders into the learning.

Check out what Marion C. Moore School (grades 6 - 12) is doing to promote a culture of literacy on social media by following @MooreMustangs and the hashtags #knowMoore and #read Moore. Adults in the building, including the principal Mr. Fulk, are sharing their love of reading through book talks, modeling for students as they also begin this process. The librarian has also invested her budget in getting books into the hands of students. They have seen positive gains in reading achievement in one year of a concerted effort; I can only imagine what will happen as the culture evolves!

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Writing Strategy: Mini-Lessons

In Chapter 3 of the text, a comparison of writing the "old" way and the "new" way is thought-provoking (78); it will force you to examine your current writing instructional practices, no matter the grade level. The success I have seen in the classrooms of National Writing Project Fellows across Kentucky is corroborated in this chapter. Writing must me more than just a stop-drop-and-write on-demand piece once in awhile. We owe it to students to do better and more, even if that makes us uncomfortable.

Providing embedded opportunities for students to engage in various types of writing routinely, creating a culture of editing and revision through frequent sharing of writing, and allowing freedom to authentically create, even with prompt-based writing can transform your students' writing. The text suggests (88-93):

  • Write with your students, share your work, and edit/revise with them and student buy-in will follow.
  • Find real audiences for publishing and real issues about which to write and authentic voice will shine.
  • Students need ownership and responsibility with deadlines and various types of conferencing; this will scaffold and encourage eventual self-sufficiency.
  • Students must see the complete writing process more than once a year.
  • Grammar and mechanics are best learned in context of routine writing.

Want to get started but not sure how? Check out the National Writing Project Argument Mini-Units. These are ready to download and vetted extensively by students and teachers across the country. Need more support? Pair up with a Writing Project Fellow near you and be on the lookout for development opportunities through your local chapters. Still not enough? Contact me and I will be happy to help.

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Speaking Strategy: Student Interviews

This strategy does not come from the text, but instead from my own experience at Waggener High School when I worked with 12th graders. Each year, graduating seniors were required to spend time in their weekly advisory classes (similar to homeroom) learning techniques for professional interviewing for college and career. Not only did students prepare resumes and cover letters, but they also participated in mock interview training with peers and faculty. They watched videos about the do's and don'ts of interviewing. Finally, they actually dressed in professional attire and participated in interviews with community stakeholders, including local business owners, and were scored on their efforts.

This took a lot of planning and coordination but was one of the most rewarding, practically useful experiences the seniors and senior teachers had. It hit many of the best practices for writing and allowed us to formally assess speaking skills in authentic ways. Students were allowed to re-do interviews if they did not go well, but the added component of dressing professionally and speaking formally with community business owners forced them to engage in productive stress -- eustress if you will -- in a relatively low-risk environment. Authentic, practical learning experiences are the most impactful and this was my favorite!

For more information on this process, contact me and I will put you in touch with schools that use this technique.

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Check out the free leveled reading passages and core-aligned assessments for grades 5 - 12 on CommonLit. The texts are complex and the questions are text-based, two of the ELA Shifts we all need help implementing! There are even opportunities for teacher internships.

What Kids are Reading

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