The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

Welcome to The Book Fort! Vol. 1 Issue 6

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

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Week Six: Visible Learning

In the ten years I taught or coached at schools with predominantly at-risk students, I attended many professional development sessions in which the presenters focused on the newest ways to reduce novice learners and improve student achievement. I have heard everything from cultural competency to standards-based grading; classroom community to higher expectations. I have read book after book on differentiation and RTI. None of these things works in isolation and there are no silver bullets.

That being said, one of the most influential thinkers I have every studied is John Hattie. Widely regarded as an expert in educational research, Hattie's work centers on the idea of visible learning. He has conducted various studies over the years that provide lists of strategies that produce measurable results and these studies have been used in many schools to guide instructional planning.

The most recent publication that has helped me and those with whom I work is Visible Learning for Literacy (2016). The text is dedicated to practical applications for Hattie's findings. His co-authors Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey have helped tie all of the research to ELA best practices and it spans grades K - 12. Also, in my experience, administrators trust his work. The strategies that follow come from this text.

Fisher, Douglas, et al. Visible Learning for Literacy, Grades K-12: Implementing the Practices that Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning. Corwin Literacy, 2016.

Practical Applications

Reading Strategy: Close Reading, Hattie Style

Hattie defines close reading in Chapter 3 as "an instructional technique for inspecting a brief passage of text to determine its inferential meaning" (89). This is by no means a new idea, and it has been even more popular in professional development since the Common Core Standards for Reading have been around. The effect sizes for repeated reading programs and study skills are both > 0.60, which is worth investigating for sure. Here are the suggestions

  • Multiple reads of short, complex passages build fluency and deepen understanding.
  • Intentional annotation of text makes student thinking visible.
  • Teacher uses questioning to guide discussion and analysis.
  • Teacher and students engage in extended discussion and analysis.
  • Students conduct investigations, read additional materials & work with peers to make sense of complex texts.
  • Students deeply consolidate their learning.

The most interesting thing about this list is that it goes far beyond what most teachers consider close reading. That is perhaps what I like most about it; close reading is so much more than annotating and finding the main idea or theme. If we work toward doing the bulleted items above with students regularly, they will begin to internalize the practice of close reading and apply it on their own, in any class. This can also be done across the curriculum.

Writing Strategy: Extended Writing

Three strategies are included in Chapter 4 that fall right in line with what worked in my own classroom and what I have seen work in the classrooms of Writing Project Fellows. The following are the writing strategies with their corresponding effect sizes and a quick suggestion for implementation:

  • Teaching students to summarize (0.63): "Embedded within effective writing instruction is teaching students to summarize as part of their study skills" (126). There are many ways to teach this, but modeling and repeated practice with a variety of texts is essential.

  • Concept mapping (0.60): "...students' ability to transfer knowledge is predicated on reading and discussing complex texts, especially as students interrogate concepts and link these to other texts and schools of thought" (125). Writing about reading is one of the easiest ways to push students to make connections between text and text, world, self, and universal truths. This may help visual learners as well.

  • Feedback (0.75): "The feedback loop between the teacher and peers is critical as students immersed in writing seek and offer feedback from others" (125). Making changes and suggestions in various ink colors is an easy way to track thinking and feedback visibly.

Vocabulary Strategy: Depth & Transfer

In Chapter 2, Hattie points out that the effect size for vocabulary "programs" is 0.67, but that encompasses many approaches that vary greatly K - 12. He warns against student experiences with "vocabulary instruction as making passing acquaintances with a wide range of words" (49), as this is ineffective. Depth and transfer must be at the center of vocabulary instruction. The following are the five dimensions to view vocabulary (Cronbach, 1942, cited in Graves, 1986) mentioned in the chapter:

  • Generalization through definitional knowledge
  • Application through correct usage
  • Breadth through recall of words
  • Precision through understanding examples and nonexamples
  • Availability through use of vocabulary in discussion

A couple of ways to implement the five dimensions are given in the rest of the chapter including: the Frayer Method (middle school), word "solving" (the teacher models a think- aloud while determining meaning), word and concept sorts, reading as much as possible. :)

Interactive Notebooks

In keeping with visible learning, the interactive notebook is an amazing tool for students to make their thinking visible to themselves, their peers, and their teachers. The following article on Eduptopia lists five practical tips for using them with high school students so that they are not so "gimmicky" and uncool. It can be used in many ways, but the basic idea is to have one notebook where students keep a record of important class concepts and work and they can take the concepts down in any way they find useful (i.e. comics, pictures, doodles, traditional notes, Cornell notes, bullets, lists, etc.). These stay in the classroom and are essentially individualized running records of the classroom concepts.
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Follow Edutopia on Facebook and Twitter for frequent, thought-provoking articles that will enhance your practice. Today, for example, there is an interesting article on their Facebook page about increasing reading engagement through book commercials. Check it out!
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What Kids are Reading

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