The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

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Welcome to The Book Fort: Volume 2, Issue 4

Week 39: Literacy Tools in the Classroom

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Teaching Through Critical Inquiry

November marks the annual National Council of Teachers of English Convention and this year I was fortunate to attend. The theme was "Raising Student Voice" and it informed my entire experience at the convention, as I attended sessions, roamed the exhibit hall, and presented alongside dynamic colleagues. I came across this National Writing Project text, Literacy Tools in the Classroom: Teaching Through Critical Inquiry, Grades 5 - 12, and while it is not new (2010), the four authors offer food for thought and practical ways educators can encourage authentic, critical inquiry in literacy instruction. Considering the theme of the convention and the impending semester's end, I thought I would offer you a few suggestions from this book for ending 2018 on a positive note while continuing to push your students to explore their identities and think critically.

Check out the text online if you'd like to know more and follow one of the authors on social media for more info about his current work: @rbeach

Beach, R. et. al. (2010). Literacy Tools in the Classroom: Teaching Through Critical Inquiry, Grades 5 - 12. Teachers College Press.

How Do We Use Literacy Tools to Engage in Critical Inquiry & Create Spaces?

"Knowing about the world involves knowing how to change it." ~Satya Mohanty~

After a brief introduction about the unique narratives and identities our students bring with them to the classroom and the ways in which the typical conformity of American schooling stamps out these unique stories, Chapter Two begins the discussion of an inquiry stance. The authors collectively believe that inquiry becomes ...critical in spaces where young people, working alongside supportive adults, begin to 'question the everyday world and consider actions that can be taken to promote social justice'" (26). As such, the Critical Response Protocol (CRP) is suggested as a method for engaging students with adults in critical inquiry about challenges faced in the school community. The protocol was adapted from Liz Lerman's approach to providing feedback to dance artists, interestingly enough, and in it, students and teachers utilize the following questions:

  1. What are you noticing?
  2. What does it remind you of?
  3. How do you feel?
  4. What questions does the "text" raise for you (whatever the text may be, not necessarily print)?
  5. What did you learn?

These questions can then be used to create spaces to facilitate discussion, to prompt writing, to analyze literature or other texts, to illuminate problems, and many other instructional activities. Questioning critically first and identifying the reader responses becomes the focus, rather than answering questions about text that come from the teacher or another source. Those have a place, certainly, but they often do no promote critical thinking or analysis.

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How Do We Use Literacy Tools to Enact Identities & Establish Agency?

"Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, reveling in our differences, this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community." ~Bell Hooks~

The third chapter serves as an introduction to multiple subsequent sections that offer practical instructional activities teachers can use to enact identity and establish student agency. This begins with the idea that every student, every person has a story to tell. The marginalization of some stories, particularly those of students, prompts a focus on creating supportive learning experiences and environments that promote the development of student voice, agency, and ultimately to enact positive change in the school and broader community. Below, I have provided a short sample from each section with an instructional suggestion. For more, buy the book!

Website of the Month

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Share Your Learning

Looking for authentic, safe ways to share student learning in a public forum? Check out Share Your Learning, a project I learned about at NCTE. The organization is currently running a campaign to recruit new teachers, schools, students, and projects. There are toolkits available to help you facilitate student-led presentation events in your community, resources for publishing, and lots of examples. Partnered with The Buck Institute (among MANY others), this is the perfect platform for project-based learning in English Language Arts. Follow @ShareYourLearn for amazing student examples and connections to other educators using the platform.

Ed Tech Tool of the Month

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Scrible is a research tool I learned about at NCTE. I was immediately sucked into the marketing presentation when the sales rep mentioned the words research and documentation. This is the world I live in -- I am a doctoral student in my final year of writing -- but like any teacher, I was skeptical. Upon further review, however, I found this tool to be extremely useful and user-friendly for both educators and students. Featured on Mashable and LifeHacker, Scrible makes documenting, storing, and sharing research sources incredibly easy for any writer. Check out the website for pricing plans, to sign up for free, to check out short videos about how it works, and decide for yourself if Scrible might make your academic writing a little bit easier. Follow @scrible for up-to-date tips for using the tool.

Reading Recommendations

Missed Previous Issues?

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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!