No excuses: Build a culture of readers this year

Teaching students to read is a daunting task. Teaching them to become engaged, habitual readers? That’s overwhelming.

It’s much more manageable to break the task into steps. I outline five of the most common problems and solutions in Hacking Literacy.

And a major inspiration for that book is the work of Nancie Atwell. Her book The Reading Zone discusses the place where nothing exists except the story.

One of my favorite parts of the book comes early on when she lists student responses to a survey. The survey asked students about what helps them get into the reading zone.

The best part of this list is no item feels daunting or out of my control. Not one requires magical skills. That’s a feeling I get when hearing teachers discuss inspiring students to read.

Certain people have it and certain people don’t. I reject that.

But, teachers can often place blame on others. This student can’t read well? Bad home life. She is absent all the time? Admin must be letting her off the hook. He’s spending all his time reading war books? Too many violent video games.

Teaching (and life) is much easier, though, when we focus on the elements that we can control. So for each elements that Atwell’s students have listed, I’ve anticipated the objections. Then, I’ve responded to those objections.

Like most things I write, this is a reminder to myself more than anything else. I’d love to know which of these you struggle with most OR what parts of Atwell’s work you love.


I don’t have a copy of the popular books students want yet.
To be honest, this one doesn’t even require books. I’ve given book talks without having the book there by pulling it up on Amazon. If certain students are going to read on their Kindle anyway, this is OK.

I’ve run out of YA books that I’ve read and can book talk.
Two ideas here. Consider the books written for adults that adolescent readers can manage. I can think of students who would love to read a book by Jhumpa Lahiri, Mitch Albom, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Or, ask your school librarian, another teacher, or students to do the book talks.

Classroom library

I don’t have the funds to fill my classroom library.
There are many places to get low-cost books. I’m going to address the objection through no-cost options, though.

Create a Donor’s Choose account and start a small project. I followed advice from my colleague Casey Fox and Dave Stuart Jr. and started a Donor’s Choose Project. Friends, family, and kind strangers funded three of my projects this year, all within days. The secret is to start small.

Additionally, put out a post on social media explaining your need for books. I did this several years ago, and people reach out to me today through Facebook Messenger about it. Try making a corny joke like I did. It might help.


In-class time to read

I don’t have time to let students “just read.”
Shh…if you say that again, I’ll be forced to alert the NerdCamp squad.

Free choice of books

I have a curriculum to follow.
Cut down on clutter in your curriculum using an 80/20 analysis. Then, give students 10 minutes to read at the beginning of every class. If you feel that you can’t break away from the curriculum. Try the Text Sets approach.

Recommendations from friends and the teacher

What if students become interested in reading a book that is too difficult or too easy for them?

Did you notice the first part of that sentence, “students become interested in reading a book”? Let’s stop there.

Comfort during reading time

I only have traditional desks and chairs.

This is a good point. There is lots of classroom eye candy on the Internet these days. It can create envy towards other classrooms. Some students like sitting on the floor, though. Some might want to stand and lean against a long row of shelves. Then, when someone is discarding a table or a comfy chair, make a small area with comfortable seating.

Writing to others about reading

I’m not sure how this works.
See Atwell’s In the Middle and Jim Mahoney’s Power and Portfolios for how to get students corresponding about books. I also referred to this article from Doug Fischer and Nancy Frey. Students communicate with each other through text today more than ever before. We can leverage that comfort with communicating to get kids talking about books.

Conversations with the teacher

I’m not great at conferring with students.
Here are three statements to get kids talking about their reading. How’s it going? Tell me more. And What makes you think that? Conferring is hard, especially with the many needs of the readers in our classrooms. But those three questions get kids to lead me to where I can best help them.

Watch this brief video

To read next lists

This is so easy to set up, I can’t think of an objection.
Have students carve out a page of their notebook and title it “To read next.” Every time the student encounters an interesting book, the student adds the book to the list. I like ot keep a physical to read next list at home so the next book is right there.

Reading every night for HW

My students won’t do it.
They might not. Some won’t. But it makes sense that this item is number 10 on the list. Because if numbers 1-9 are happening, then it’s much more likely that number 10 will happen, too.

Of course, ensuring that all ten of the items above are happening every day is daunting. But I’m not suggesting that we have to do that. Start with one, be consistent. Then, these elements of reading will have a kind of synergistic effect.

Which of the ten things above do you struggle with most? What parts of Atwell’s work do you love? Tell us in the comments.

robots in class from Hack Learning

5 Unusual Ways to Bring Technology to Your Classroom

Technology makes students more engaged. That’s not just a statement; it’s a fact that can be supported with research. A study from 2016 indicates that the iPad improved the literacy of students in kindergarten. It’s effective for all ages, too. Another study, focused on medical school students, shows that those who used iPads scored 23% higher on exams.

Education technology is huge and it’s here to stay. However, it’s also a challenge for modern educators. You have to be very careful with the apps and tools you choose and the way you introduce them in the classroom. The last thing you need is to make technology boring to your students.

We’ll share 5 simple, but unusual ways for you to introduce technology in the classroom.

1 – Bring Robots in the Classroom

Robots are becoming part of our lives. We all loved The Jetsons as kids. Can you imagine how would it be to make that cartoon almost reality for your students? Teachers are increasingly using robots to present a number of concepts from science, language, and math. The students, naturally, love this method. However, most teachers are not entirely ready to introduce it.

Vex Robotics, Lego, and SoftBank Robotics make it easy for you. Of course, you’ll need a considerable budget to get a robot for the classroom and go through training, but the good news is that most schools are willing to provide these resources for such a cause. The NAO humanoid robot from SoftBank Robotics, in particular, is a realistic character that moves, listens, speaks, sees, connects, and even thinks and feels. This is the kind of artificial intelligence that’s making your students ready for the future.

2 – Introduce Augmented Reality

When you and your students use a device to scan or view an image, it will trigger a subsequent action – another image, video, games, 3D animations, QR codes, or whatever else you want to show. This method is called augmented reality, and it’s a huge trend in education.

Hacking Engagement author James Sturtevant

Learn more

Aurasma is the most popular app teachers use for that purpose. You can use it in many different situations:

  • During your school’s art show
  • Making geography lessons more realistic
  • Leading the students to math videos when they scan a math problem
  • Giving your students virtual tours through museums, and much more

3 – Explore Virtual Reality, Too

Virtual reality is a different concept from AR. It’s not related to objects from the real surroundings. This is an entirely computer-generated simulation of a 3D environment, which you can interact with in a realistic way. Your students will need special equipment, such as gloves with sensors or a helmet with a screen inside.

If your school provides such equipment, it would be a shame not to use its potential. If that’s not the case, you can suggest the board to get super-cheap headsets that are compatible with iOS and Android, and cost less than $10 per piece.

Virtual reality is great for astronomy lessons. Your teaching will become much clearer and more fun if your students are seeing how the solar system works. Imagine how cool it would be for them to see the stars, move the planets, and track the progress of comets. You can also use virtual reality to explore the ocean or different places all over the world without leaving the classroom, or take your students through a time traveling experience.

4 – Connect Your Class with the World through Video Conferences

Are you teaching your students about different cultures and societies? Why don’t you use technology to connect them with classes from the countries in question? If, for example, you’re exploring the social or political culture of France or you’re teaching French, you can connect with a classroom from that country. Your students will definitely enjoy the experience.

Learn more

You can also connect your students with college professors and recognized experts from different areas of study. They can act as guest lecturers, who will boost the engagement in the class. You can use LinkedIn or Edutopia to form connections with educators.

5 – 3D Printing Projects for More Fun in the Classroom

3D printing is not new to engineers and designers. They use it to quickly build prototyping tools. For students, however, it is a new and intriguing technology. They can make anything they want, and that’s enough to get them interested.

They can build models of the atom, reconstruct ancient cities, or create art projects thanks to this technology. If you’re teaching a lesson about the wheel, for example, they can build a well-functioning wheel. 3D technology is useful and interesting for students of all ages. The best part is that it’s really simple to master, even for the non-tech teacher.

Are you ready to give technology a chance? Your students will be thrilled if you use any or all of the above-listed methods.

Please share your experiences with these 5 unusual EdTech tools and strategies in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Karen Dikson is a creative writer at Best Essays, and a teacher from New Jersey. Her works have been published on Huffington Post and other educational resources. She loves to help her students achieve their most ambitious goals. Connect with Karen on Twitter.

3 Simple Ways to Stop Bullying that Don’t Require a Longterm Plan

Listen to “86: Three Simple Ways to Stop Bullying” on Spreaker.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 42 percent of students who are bullied report that it happens in school hallways and stairwells.

Thirty-four percent say they’re bullied in the classroom, right under their teachers’ noses.

In an article at, summarizing the NCES findings, author Stephen Merrill says, “it’s the location data that jumps off the page of the report. While the playground is typically considered the epicenter of bullying, it’s the more transitional spaces—the fast-moving, highly social hallways and stairwells—that dominate the landscape of student harassment.”

In Episode 86 of the Hack Learning Podcast, Mark Barnes shares his three simple ideas for Hacking Bullying, without adopting a new program or creating yet another longterm plan.

What You Can Do Tomorrow

1 – Be vigilant — Teachers must be in the hallways at all times, especially during student transition time. If students are entering your classroom, stand at the door. Greet incoming students while keeping an eye out for any sign of bullying in the hallway.

2 – Team up on the problem — Coordinate with colleagues to use some of your teacher-directed plan time to patrol the school, especially in places where bullying often happens out of the watchful eye of adults.

3 – Be proactive — Identify bullies and bring them in with key stakeholders (parent or guardian, counselor, principal) to create steps to eliminate the bullying. Again, coordinating with colleagues and students to find the bullies and bring them in for conferences is a crucial first step that will lead to longterm success.

How are you hacking bullying at your school? Let us know in the comment section below or tweet about it at #HackLearning.

Subscribe to the Hack Learning Podcast, using the links above or download the app on iTunes here.

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Hacking PD: What Do You Want?

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