The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

Welcome to The Book Fort! Vol. 1 Issue 5

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

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Week Five: Deeper Learning

In my home state and district, there is currently a big push for "deeper learning." This means educating the whole child, not just the parts that produce standardized test results. This means using inquiry-based instruction to push students to question the world around them rather than blindly accept things that might be done to them, without them. This means intentionally planning instruction to connect under large. universal truths that prompt discussions about tough issues and promote empathy. This means doing what's best for students, even when that isn't the newest educational trend or the quickest, cheapest fix.

In honor of deeper learning, I went back to Kelly Gallagher's In the Best Interest of Students (2015) this week. Thanks to my amazing former boss and current friend, I had the opportunity to hear Gallagher speak about this book at Indiana University Southeast in 2016 and I was immediately reminded why I do what I do. In the text, Gallagher reminds us to focus on enduring skill instruction that is relative to student needs rather than to fall in love with the latest trends. He reminds us that the Common Core Standards are the minimum we should teach and that they aren't all-encompassing. He reminds us that reading, writing, grammar, speaking, and listening are all intertwined, not mutually exclusive standards that should be taught out of context.

The strategies and activities that follow are based on ideas from this text. I hope you find them useful!

Gallagher, Kelly. In the best interest of students: Staying true to what works in the ELA classroom. Portland, ME, Stenhouse, 2015.

Practical Applications

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Reading Strategies: 17-Word Summaries & Writing Headlines

In Chapter 2, Gallagher mentions these simple techniques for assisting students in refining their summary skills. He mentions using the 17-word summary to gauge initial comprehension after reading a portion of a complex whole class text aloud to students, in this case Lord of the Flies. The same strategy can be used with informational text, literary nonfiction, independent reading books, and anything else students might be reading. This is also called the "one-sentence summary" and is a perfect way to teach economy of words and to efficiently formatively assess student understanding.

Writing headlines is a similar idea, but instead of writing a complete sentence, students write a headline for a section of text or for an article you have given them to supplement literary reading. This is often done with hashtags or Tweets as well. Extension: actually post the tweets and/or hashtags and tag authors; a sure way to engage the students in an otherwise routine strategy!

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Writing Strategy: Theme Newsletter

In Chapter 4, Gallagher mentions the idea for theme newsletters, which he credits to his colleague, Dave Hibler. The students create digital newsletters for a particular theme or genre that include four separate pieces of writing that give important information on that theme or genre. In the book, some of the examples given are about general topics or literary genre. My suggestion is to take this a step further and ask student to determine a theme or topic from their own independent reading texts and do the informational research needed to complete a newsletter about it that includes relevant details from the text. For example, one of Mr. Hibler's 7th grade students created a newsletter on urban fiction with an introduction to the genre, and explanation of myths and facts about the genre, author profiles, and book reviews. This required careful consideration of her independent reading texts but also outside research, evaluation of sources and texts, and citation. These can be done using any number of platforms, including Smore, Canva, Google Docs or Slides, or various page-maker applications. Of course, they can be done one paper or posters as well.
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Speaking Strategy: Socratic Circles

Gallagher dedicates the entire introduction to Chapter 7 to the importance of speaking and listening skills. He shares a table from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (2012) outlining the desired skills and qualities of employers, and verbal communication is at the top of the list. The problem often becomes that speaking and listening skills are not formally assessed on standardized exams, so they take a back seat in the classroom.


The most interesting and challenging way to engage students in speaking and listening in authentic ways has always been Socratic Circles. This strategy came to me via graduate school at the University of Louisville in the College of Education and Human Development. It became a part of my regular instruction right away, and in later years, I found ways to integrate it into independent reading successfully. The basic idea is to teach students how to create their own levels of questions (1 - 3) based on text and use those questions as the basis for student-led discussion. There are tons of resources on this technique; many teachers start with shared text, practice effective discussion and listening techniques, then turn students loose once everyone is comfortable. The teacher takes a back seat and observes, records, and gives impressions only at the end. My 12th grade students loved it so much that they wanted to do it weekly. Check out my resources on Teachers Pay Teachers and Matt Copeland's book, Socratic Circles for more ideas on how this looks.

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Classroom Tool of the Week

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Achieve the Core

Looking for resources to reinforce those Common Core Standards without re-inventing the wheel? This website it full of well-designed, passage-based mini-assessments and tools for incorporating complex text without spending 9 weeks on a novel.
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What Kids are Reading

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