The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

Welcome to The Book Fort: Volume 2, Issue 1

@BookFortNews #BookFort

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Week 36: Be the Change

"There is no magic formula for making the world a better place. It happens in the moments we embrace discomfort and have candid conversations." ~Sara K. Ahmed

The 2018-2019 school year is beginning for the K-12 educators across the nation and the fall semester is upon us in the Adult Ed realm. The time is right to think about how we can set the stage for these candid conversations in our classrooms, our schools, and our homes. It is going to be tough, uncomfortable at times, heartbreaking, and infinitely worth it. Sara K. Ahmed offers an approach to teaching "social comprehension" in her new book, Being the Change (2018) and I have chosen to feature it because she is so real, so full of heart, that every person on the planet can benefit from reading it, regardless of their connection to the classroom. Take a look at the portions I've pulled out below, but more importantly, purchase her book now. You won't be sorry! Follow Sara on Twitter @SaraKAhmed.

Ahmed, Sara K. (2018). Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension. Heinemann.

Affirming Our Identities

Identity Webs

"Everything we do can be planned and scaffolded from our initial rapport-building activities and dialogue with our students" (2).

Looking for a meaningful way to begin building classroom community? Ahmed begins the first section of the text with a focus on the affirmation of identity and the connection to or wonders about the identities of others in the classroom. The first activity suggestion is the creation of identity webs, which Ahmed defines as "...personalized graphic tools that help us consider the many factors who shape who we are" (5). She got the idea from Facing History and Ourselves, which is a fantastic resource for educators and students (featured in the first Book Fort last year) and suggests educators complete their own identity webs as a way of introducing themselves to their students, of opening the dialogue about differences and shared connections. This builds empathy, and any opportunity we can get to do that is golden.

Some suggestions for using identity webs in the classroom:

  • open the class you'll do this activity with a read-aloud of a text about identity (Ahmed has many suggestions, including poetry and picture books)
  • after the reading, ask students to brainstorm the factors that shape identity
  • offer loose leaf, butcher, or extra bulletin board paper and art supplies for students to use to create their own webs after you share yours
  • give students an opportunity to share with small groups, partners, and/or with the whole class
  • build in opportunities to revisit them throughout the year
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Placing Ourselves in the World

Grounding the Work in a Mentor Text

"If we want kids to have a strong sense of self, we can celebrate names and the stories behind them" (15).

The second part of this section of the text includes the idea of the further examination of identity through "name stories." This is an excellent time to introduce mentor texts and to begin close reading practice. Ahmed suggests The House on Mango Street's Chapter 4, titled "Name" as a close reading lesson. In the chapter, Esperanza thinks deeply about the meaning of her name in Spanish and English. As an extension to the creation of personalized identity webs, Ahmed shares an activity (15-16) in which students read the chapter in pairs or small groups and fill out an identity web for Esperanza. Alternatively, you could read the chapter aloud, making notes on the web as you think-aloud to model habits of proficient readers. Be sure to point out Esperanza's disposition toward her name. Then, Ahmed suggests students model this through storytelling with their own names and webs. They can work with partners to share their stories.

Additional suggested mentor texts (from the book and me):

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Thunder Boy, Jr. by Sherman Alexie

Fish Cheeks by Amy Tan

"Snow" by Julia Alvarez

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Listening with Love

Build Listening Skills Across the Year

"If we want our kids to truly respect one another we have to meet them where they are, consider interactions from their perspectives, and find teachable moments along the way" (31).

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to "teach", listening skills are essential for healthy relationships and a sense of safety in your classroom. Most people can remember feeling that no one listened to them as a child or young adult and it hurt. One of the most frequent complaints in marital counseling is "She just doesn't listen!" If, as educators, we can facilitate the development of listening skills throughout the year, we can potentially help kids have healthier relationships for years to come.

Ahmed suggests introducing active listening "by giving kids a chance to show what they already know" (33). To introduce this concept, a bit of role playing might do the trick. Choose a text that is likely to engage and/or elicit a reaction from the students (such as Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" for high school, Gary Soto's "Seventh Grade" for middle school, or Jacqueline Woodson's The Other Side for elementary). After reading a portion of the text, model a conversation about it with a student volunteer. Ask open-ended and clarifying questions to keep the conversation going. As you converse "fishbowl" style, ask the rest of the class to notice any signs of active listening from you and the student. Then, send the kids off into pairs to have their own conversations and ask them to model active listening. Ahmed offers sentence starters for students to use when responding to others and tools for managing discomfort in when disagreement arises (36-37) that would be excellent preparation for Socratic Seminar as well. We cannot assume that students have the tools to listen actively or positive models for dealing well with disagreement. This chapter can help us help them.

Active Listening Cues (from the book and me):

  • Body position (facing one another) and eye contact (direct)
  • Making notes (mental, written, or recording)
  • Responding to a comment with a follow-up question or "piggyback"
  • Not talking over one another or interrupting
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Website of the Week

The Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League's website offers resources for educators, parents, and families, including lessons plans, on fighting Antisemitism and all forms of hate. This would be an excellent place to explore tools to accompany an exploration of identity at the beginning of the school year, and is certainly a companion to Facing History and Ourselves. One of the coolest features I came across while looking into the educator resources was the "Books Matter" section. I was hooked with this headline: "Books have the potential to create lasting impressions. They have the power to instill empathy, affirm children's sense of self, teach about others, transport to new places and inspire actions on behalf of social justice." YES! Follow ADL on Twitter for up-to-date information and resources: @ADL_National

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Ed Tech Tool of the Week


If you are interested in giving students the option to create digital identity webs, check out MindMup. It is free and intuitive for users and is a spinoff from similar programs like MindMap that are now not free. Another idea for using this tool instructionally is to have students choose a thematic idea or motif from a particular text or a text set and have them create a map that show show the theme is developed. Follow MindMup on Twitter for other ideas and updates: @MindMup

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Get it while it's hot! Matt Miller just sent out his latest email update, and in it was a gem! As a champion for using digital tools to enhance the student and teacher experience in the classroom, Miller always shares excellent ideas and motivates educators to streamline their instructional use of educational technology tools. Want to try Google Classroom this year? Check out Miller's Quick Start Guide. Sign up on his website to receive the newsletter and the locate not only the guide but many other useful ideas! #DitchthatTextbook today and follow the fun on Twitter @jmattmiller.
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Reading Recommendations

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My Summer Reading Faves

Reading Recommendations from Book Fort Subscribers

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!