The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

Welcome to The Book Fort! Vol. 1 Issue 8

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

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Week Eight: Getting in the Zone

This summer, a colleague and I facilitated a professional book study with a cohort of middle and high school English teachers featuring the latest edition of Nancie Atwell's The Reading Zone (2016). Atwell paired with her daughter Anne to update the original version (2009) and it served as a beautiful way to both bring in new teachers to the independent reading fold and realign experienced teachers to what truly matters in English education. One of my favorite lines from the book captures it all, really: "...why create obstacles to the reading life, especially during years critical to academic, social, and emotional growth and personal identity?" (123).

In general, the older our students get, the less they love reading and frankly this is a crisis. It isn't a crisis just for those that are headed to college and who will be woefully unprepared for the sheer volume of pages they will be expected to read each week for various instructors. It is a crisis for the future of our country. Students who read more score better on standardized assessments and are better writers, yes, but they are also more ethical, compassionate, and well-informed citizens. We have to get in "the zone" ourselves right now, and we must create the right conditions for students to do the same.

Our future depends upon it, not just theirs.

The following strategies come in part from a close re-reading of The Reading Zone (2nd edition). I hope they reinvigorate you and give you some practical ways to get in the zone this week and beyond.

Atwell, Nancie, and Anne Atwell Merkel. The reading zone: how to help kids become passionate, skilled, habitual, critical readers. Scholastic Inc., 2016.

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Practical Applications

Reading Strategy: Reading Workshop

If we don't want to hinder the reading lives of our students as they grow older, we must dedicate ourselves to helping them. The reading workshop approach is outlined in detail in The Reading Zone. The basic non-negotiables are:

  • Students must read frequently, regularly, and as part of regular classroom routines.
  • Students must have choice in what they read.
  • Students must be exposed to a variety of books through book talks, visits to the library, book trailers, and/or a well-stocked classroom library.
  • Students need a comfortable environment in which to read, including alternative seating, space, quiet, lighting, etc. in order to get into "the zone".
  • Students need encouragement and advice from adults about their reading lives.
  • Students must become part of a culture of reading that is widespread and an embedded part of their academic lives.
  • Students must interact with these texts in meaningful ways.

The text gives many suggestions about how to create the conditions necessary to facilitate this reading workshop and how to manage it with instructional planning and assessment ideas.

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Writing Strategy: Writing about Reading

Instead of compartmentalizing writing as another part of English class, why not write about reading and make text-based writing a part of classroom routines? This same idea is encouraged in one whole chapter of The Reading Zone (78 - 95). Anne Atwell Merkel's voice is heard in this chapter and included are a plethora of meaningful ways for students to write about their reading, no matter what it is they are reading:

  • Maintain a critic's journal in which students actively critique and analyze the text the entire time they are reading it, considering elements such as theme, authorial choices, narrative voice, character development in the context of the text as a whole.
  • Write letters of critique on the entire text when finished reading based on the journal entries; these are shared with peers and adults and serve as powerful reading recommendations (or not).
  • Compose book reviews that are published in print or online.
  • Give book talks of their own that persuade others to read the text without spoilers.
Think about it, folks: if students do all of this in their writing, almost all of the writing standards could be covered in authentic ways that encourage student voice, choice, and engagement.

Bonus: this prepares students quite well to take AP exams in both language and literature.

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Grammar Strategy: Teaching with Tech

No Red Ink revolutionized the way I incorporated grammar instruction into my classroom. Instead of being something other than the rest of our more thematically organized class, No Red Ink allowed me to individualize instruction based on student needs, save time, and engage my students without taking up a ton of my precious minutes.

  • Teacher accounts are free and all of your classes can be set up separately.
  • This tool starts students with a comprehensive diagnostic assessment and sets up individual goals based on their performance.
  • It is standards-aligned and hits the same mechanics skills that frequently show up on standardized English exams.
  • Can be accessed outside of class for extra practice.
Follow them on Twitter @noredink and check out the website to set up your classes today!
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Reading Menus

One tool for giving students choice in how they respond in writing to what they read is the menu. There are a ton of examples on Pinterest and TpT, but it doesn't take much time to create one from scratch that is aligned to your standards and goals for your students. Consider what you'd like them to ultimately be able to do or show after reading and design short tasks to scaffold that learning. The lowest level and most scaffolding might be the appetizer and the highest level with the least scaffolding might be dessert. Students then create a meal with their tasks until one of each is completed in a given time. This is a fun twist on the traditional reading response.
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PBS Learning Media

If you haven't checked out PBS Learning Media yet, you are missing out! There is a vast bank of instructional resources, including videos, photos, and nonfiction support for themes and historical events. Everything is openly accessible and free to teachers and students. Follow them @PBSLrnMedia on Twitter.
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What Kids are Reading

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