The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

Welcome to The Book Fort! Vol. 1 Issue 11

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

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Week Eleven: Differentiation through Engagement

The school year is off to a good start. You’ve begun building classroom community and by now you know all of your students’ names, nicknames, and preferred names. Rituals and routines are in place and you’ve given your first set of grades. Now what? The focus of this week’s Book Fort is differentiation, a term that strikes fear in some and frustration in many. It has become an educational buzz word, but not many people really know what it means, in my experience. Admins might expect to see it in the classroom when they observe and evaluate, but have teachers been trained on planning for it and using it effectively? The jury is out on that.

So, this week, I am giving you a few strategies that will hopefully help you think about differentiation in a broader sense, and a fantastic professional book published by ASCD to reference if you want more to study with your PLC. Differentiation strategies can be imbedded in your daily instructional approach without a ton of extra effort or planning, I promise. And, you will better meet the needs of all your learners if you do take the time to differentiate. If you are elementary, never fear: these strategies are for everyone!

Doubet, Kristina J., and Jessica A. Hockett. Differentiation in middle & high school: strategies to engage all learners. ASCD, 2015.

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Practical Applications

Reading Strategy: Sparking Student Interest

Brain research tells us that novelty is an important motivator when it comes to reading, and all areas of learning (84-85). Sparking student interest is an important part of drawing them into the reading material we want and/or need them to work with, even when that material is prescribed or seemingly dry. Taking the time to do this, even though it won’t be done for them on standardized tests, helps to build background knowledge on a variety of topics and is a way to encourage them to do the same when they approach unfamiliar texts on their own. Below are a few strategies for engaging student interest in reading.

Writing Strategy: Interactive Learning Experiences

Writing experiences for students unfortunately tend to be very similar across the grades and content areas once they pass 3rd grade and move into intermediate studies. Testing is partially to blame, but so are we, if we’re honest. Taking some time to design interactive learning experiences that encourage various types of writing regularly will pay off in the end. Students will loathe writing less and so will you! Bonus: student voice and idea development will soar when differentiation is regularly used to approach writing in different ways. Below are a few ways to create interactive learning experiences.

Speaking Strategy: ThinkDots

Kay Brimijoin developed this strategy “for thinking and talking about a concept, topic, idea, or issue from multiple perspectives” (137-139). This can be used to introduce a new concept, topic, or text, to fuel larger, whole group discussion, to process reading, and/or to assess and review after reading. Bonus: this is perfect for AP Language and Composition Synthesis prompts.

Here’s the gist:

  • Teacher creates six ThinkDots cards, each with a number corresponding to one of the “dots from a die on one side and a prompt or question on the other side.

  • Students work in groups of two to six with one die and a set of ThinkDots per group. Each student is responsible for one of the prompts/cards.

  • Students take turn rolling the die, sharing the question, and responding until each student has take responsibility for one card.

  • Students use a graphic organizer to track their thinking and discussions.

  • All groups can work with the same set or different ones, depending on the level of differentiation needed for a given topic or instructional sequence.

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Classroom Tool of the Week


If you are looking for a way to flip your classroom, eliminate distance between your classroom and potential educational experiences, or hold virtual meetings, Zoom is for you! Yes, you can use Google Hangouts or Skype, but Zoom has all kinds of free tools, such as a recording option and private chatting, that other platforms often do not. Latonya Taylor-Rowe, 1st grade teacher at Johnson Elementary, has even begun using it to have a virtual book club with her students about topically related nonfiction texts. Follow them @zoom_us.
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Supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Teacher 2 Teacher is a space to connect to other educators, to gain some food for thought, and to simply be inspired. Their #whyIteach campaign is powerful and is a great activity at any conference or PD to remind all educators why they got into this crazy business to begin with. Connect @teacher2teacher
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What Kids are Reading

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