The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

Welcome to The Book Fort! Vol. 1 Issue 18

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Week Seventeen: The Book Whisperer

Putting the right books into the hands of students is one of the things I love most about being an educator. It doesn’t matter if the student is six years old or fifty, the same light shines in his eyes when the book changes him forever. I know that book love intimately; the right books at the right time helped me escape some dark times in my life and continue to take me away to places that I may never go in “real” life.

I returned to The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child this week because I am getting swept up in this Icelandic idea of Jolabokaflod, or the Yule Book Flood. Kate Barrows, colleague at Liberty High School and fellow Library Media Specialist/ELA Teacher, introduced me to this idea of giving just right books to friends and family at the holiday.

Texas teacher Donalyn Miller encourages teachers to do the same in The Book Whisperer; she caught me immediately in the introduction when she cited the (ridiculous) fact that the National Reading Panel (2000) left Independent reading off of the recommendations for strategies that improve students’ reading skills and backs up her disgust with Stephen Krashen’s work on its effectiveness. We also agree on this point: students need to read more and have choice in order to get better at reading.

The strategies that follow come from her book. Thinking ahead to the new year, which signals a new grading period or term for most of us, consider trying independent reading if you don’t currently. If you haven’t read or purchased the book, YOU MUST. Add it to your Christmas list, or better yet, give it to a colleague or friend.

Miller, Donalyn. (2009). The book whisperer: awakening the inner child in every reader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Books.

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Practical Applications

Reading Strategy: Creating the Conditions for Reading

We all know it, but let’s be honest, it is easy to move into survival mode this close to Holiday Break. Things like the classroom environment and intentional routines that truly encourage learning can go right down to tubes with holiday parties, school plays, choir performances, and the looming due date for posting grades. Miller’s suggestions for creating positive conditions for learning are listed below (34-36). Consider resetting yours when the break ends.

Writing Strategy: The Reader's Notebook

As a high school ELA teacher, I was always looking for new ways to authentically assess independent reading and more importantly for students to respond in writing. Integrating reading and writing (and potentially grammar/vocab) is the best way to get the most bang for your buck (my favorite cliche). This strategy is one of those. Check it out below. The journal sample comes from a teacher model (Kate Barrows, Louisville, KY).

Tips for Successfully Using the Reader’s Notebook

Adapted from D. Miller (95-102)

  • Must be a living notebook that is constantly changing, yet organized in such a way that the student finds it usable & the teacher can access the student learnings. Each may look different than the next and teachers have to get comfortable with this (even those OCD teachers).

  • Students should have a very personal experience with reading and convey that in varied ways. Some suggestions are: a letter to the teacher about their status with a book, a double-entry journal with quote analysis, a running glossary of tier 2 vocabulary words from a book with their sentences and synonyms, 17-word summary (K. Gallagher), a found poem that captures a thematic idea, a connection to another text, analysis of character through tracking of the conflicts.

  • Use this notebook as the basis for student conferences; don’t pack them home on Fridays in a crate. While students are reading each day, grab three or four to scan, add some written comments, make a note on your tracking sheet, and confer based on this.

  • Summatively assess overall reading growth through a thesis-driven essay at the end of each term; ask students to determine their strengths and weaknesses as a reader, the state of their reading identities, and provide evidence of this using the notebook. Reading, writing, reflection, #BOOM. Check out the Self-Reflection Activity prompts from Miller (111) below.

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Speaking & Listening Strategy: Shared Reading

Miller outlines some great things to keep in mind when it comes to fluency practice in Chapter 6, “Cutting the Teacher Strings.” Students need to practice reading aloud, but they also don’t need to be embarrassed or ridiculed if they struggle. As much as we all try to create a safe, inviting space for learning in our classrooms, kids will be kids. So, a couple of suggestions for oral reading practice are below.

Classroom Tool of the Week


Looking for a cool, quick way to formatively assess before the students leave the room each day? Need a different way to collect feedback from a teacher training? Mentimeter is for you. You can create several for free in various formats, including a word cloud like the one shown below. Participants simply use a six digit code to access the question via phone, tablet, or computer and the results populate in real time while everyone watches! Bonus: there are profanity filters in multiple languages.

Check it out here and on Twitter @Mentimeter
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OER Commons

OER Commons is a wealth of community-curated and created, sorted, leveled, and curriculum-aligned (including AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner!) resources. Save, tag, evaluate, align, and view conditions of use for existing resources, or create materials, lessons, and modules independently or in user groups. Accessibility controls include adjusting font size and style, line spacing, and contrast. Use OER Commons to find amazing resources throughout K-12, or have learners in grades 9-12 and beyond create and publish materials to share with the larger community.

Check it out here and on Twitter @OERCommons

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#NCTE17 Recommended Reads

Since visiting the exhibit hall at #NCTE17, I continue to go through all of the books I bought and received from generous publisher giveaways. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be promoting amazing books that students might like and I will be giving away some in exchange for student reviews. Stay tuned!
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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!