The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

Welcome to The Book Fort! Vol. 1 Issue 13

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 Issue 7 Issue 8 Issue 9 Issue 10 Issue 11

Issue 12

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Week Thirteen: The Case for Rigor

Anyone who has attended one of my workshops know I hate the term rigor. I mean, come on, it immediately evokes visions of cold, dead bodies. It became an educational buzz word right around the time I became a teacher in a school that was experiencing a change in leadership under turnaround efforts and I could not avoid it. Instead, I chose to embrace it, but I did find it useful to define rigor in better, more specific terms: challenge and complexity. I learned to focus my lesson planning on levels of challenge and complexity; funny enough, I never had to worry about being observed after that.


Barbara Blackburn does a fantastic job of defining rigor in very concrete terms in Rigor Is Not a Four-Letter Word (2008). She offers strategies to teachers for providing “challenging learning experiences in their classrooms to prepare students for a better future”, whatever that future might be. I was hooked immediately upon reading the introduction because Blackburn cites some sobering statistics on dropouts related to rigor, such as lack of interest, challenge, and engagement in their learning experiences. That is something we can fix, folks, and in a political climate where it seems that we have little power to be changemakers, we owe it to students to fix what we can. I hope you find these strategies useful.


Blackburn, B. (2008). Rigor is not a four-letter word. San Antonio, TX. Print.

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Practical Applications

Reading Strategy: Good Questioning Techniques

Blackburn cites Costa's three levels of questions, “new” Bloom’s Taxonomy, and Ciardiello’s Four Types of Questions. However, perhaps the most useful part of Chapter 2 is the original acrostic with nine reminders for good questioning that Blackburn provides (24). It is reproduced below and can be used in response to reading, whether it be self-selected texts, whole class novels, or short, assigned texts.
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Writing Strategy: RAFT

The RAFT strategy is often studied in English Methods or Writing Across Content Areas courses in teacher prep programs. It is not new, but it is good and I am not sure why I stopped using it. Well, that’s not entirely true; I got away from using strategies like this because I got too wrapped up in preparing students for timed writing tests required by the powers that be. Blackburn recalls the 1996 work of Santa, Havens, and Macumber in developing the RAFT strategy to “ratchet up the rigor of writing” (66). It calls on students to try on different roles, modes, and techniques for writing, forcing them to consider all aspects of a topic rather than simply regurgitating facts.
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Vocabulary Strategy: Critical Concepts

If I didn’t already know I loved Blackburn, I definitely did when I read her reminder about vocabulary in Chapter 3. She calls on Marzano’s work Building Academic Vocabulary (2005) when she suggests focusing on critical concepts instead of 10 - 20 new vocabulary words every week with a quiz on Friday. Instead, Blackburn suggests pre-planning vocabulary study by dividing vocabulary in a text into three categories: critical, useful but not critical, and interesting but not very useful. In this way, we are valuing depth instead of breadth and students will retain more this way.
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Classroom Tool of the Week

Haiku Deck

Haiku Deck is an amazing alternative to a traditional slide show. @HaikuDeck
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Read Write Think

Read Write Think has been around for a long while now and continues to provide a plethora of literacy lessons and tools for all teachers.
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What Kids are Reading

This week, the recommendations come from the November #WonderChat about engaging nonfiction titles to pair with Wonders of the Day. Teachers participating in the chat this month shared titles that their students really loved, either independently or as class read. Check out next month's chat on happiness and creativity in education the first Monday of December @ 8 pm EST.
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