The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

Welcome to The Book Fort!

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!
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Week One: Cognitive Strategies Approach

After studying the first chapter of Carol Booth Olson's book, The Reading/Writing Connection: Strategies for Teaching and Learning in the Secondary Classroom, I had to purchase a copy for myself and I suspect that you might do the same if you take a deeper look. This week's feature is the Cognitive Strategies Approach to Integrating Reading and Writing Instruction, which comes from Olson but is based on almost a dozen formal studies and teaching experience, which are all cited in the chapter. Ramp-Up strategies came to mind many times when studying this chapter and made me miss this curriculum even more because it, too, was research-based and produced positive results for many years with students and teachers alike. So, for those of you who used RATATA and taught Fix-Up Strategies, this week's feature will make you smile.


The Gist

Reading and writing tend to be taught in isolation; in many primary and middle grades classrooms they are even separate classes. Research suggests, however, that they are "essentially similar processes of meaning construction" and proficient readers and writers "share a surprising number of common characteristics" (Olson, 16). As such, we are missing an opportunity to foster better reading and writing skills if we do not teach them together, alongside one another, instead of in isolation. Good readers write often and good writers read well.


The Strategy

The Cognitive Strategies approach from Olson hinges on the explicit teaching of reading strategies, which includes writing about reading frequently. Proficient readers and writers have the following shared characteristics (Olson, 16):


  • Actively construct meaning from and with texts
  • Go back to go forward in a recursive process
  • Interact and negotiate with each other
  • Access a common "tool kit" of common strategies
  • Use skills automatically
  • Are motivated and self-confident


We want all of these things for our students; this text outlines how we can be more intentional about assisting students who may struggle significantly, to exemplify these characteristics.


Olson, C. B. (2011). The reading/writing connection: strategies for teaching and learning in the secondary classroom. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Practical Applications

Reading Strategy: Planning and Goal-Setting

As outlined in Olson's text, here is the first in a list of cognitive strategies we can teach explicitly as we assist students in becoming more proficient readers and writers:


  • Planning and Goal-Setting: Provide opportunities for students to set realistic and personalized goals for reading and writing, including word written, pages read, and levels of proficiency, whether that be in Lexile of text, holistic score, or some other pre-determined measure. Make these goals visible and give students time to track their progress, reflecting often on how they are working toward the goals they set for themselves.


This is the perfect time of year to work with students on goal-setting. Remember: explicitly modeling what we expect to see from students produces better results. John Hattie makes this clear in Visible Learning for Literacy Grades K - 12 (2016). If they cannot see the target, how can they hit it?


**More strategies from this list will be featured in the upcoming weeks.**

Writing Strategy: Tapping Prior Knowledge

We will never know what students already know if we fail to ask them! Using a perpetual K-W-L chart in the classroom or even simply asking students to write all that they know and associate with a particular topic will open the door to constructing meaning. We tend to assume students know little or nothing about topics we cover in class, or even about skills we plan to teach. Instead, pre-assess, even informally, to determine what they already know and build upon that. This is an essential part of successful writing (and reading).


Bonus: This is a strategy that works across the curriculum and could be shared with your colleagues in an effort to unify the literacy instruction at your schools.

Grammar Strategy: Hunting

As Patti Slagle (Kentucky Writing Project) asserts in her publications and presentations, use what you've got and the students will get it! Instead of teaching grammar out of context, use either passages from class texts or have students select passages from their independent reading books for a hunting expedition. This is really parsing and identifying, but it seems like more fun if we call it a "grammar hunt." Try asking students to find examples of whatever grammatical concept you are teaching, including phrases, clauses, types of and parts of sentences, parts of speech, interesting syntax, punctuation, and diction. Doing this at least once a week reinforces in context, rather than repeats and frustrates. Also, this will showcase a variety of texts, thus recommending to students for future reading choices.

Classroom Tool of the Week

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Book Storage: The Hanging Shoe Organizer

Limited space and lots of choices make storing books a pain sometimes. If you invest in these hanging shoe organizers, they can store not only IR books, but also small composition notebooks and writing utensils. Each holds 30, so this should work for most classrooms.

Facing History and Ourselves

From the Close Viewing Protocol to Teaching about Charlottesville, this website is a treasure trove of resources. There are many tools to support literacy instruction that span content areas and can be integrated into any classroom, regardless of level.

What Kids are Reading

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