Kids should read a book and build a freaking fort

Motivating kids to become lifelong readers is every teacher’s goal, but I’ll be the first to admit to having to resort to crummy prizes and rewards, including candy and toys, to get kids to read a book. In this short post, I want to offer a fun alternative: The blanket fort.


Set a goal with your readers to read a certain amount, and if they do, they can build a freaking fort.

The blanket fort is an incentive that links closely to reading (when they build it, they will read in it), and it costs you no money. Just send home a letter and collect blankets and sheets for a week. Once they design it and build it, have them read in it.

If your maintenance team is cool, have them string up some wires or ropes or something to hang the blankets and sheets. Push the desks together and make tunnels. During breaks, invite other classes in for a tour and read them a story. Who cares? It’s a fort!

At the end of the day, what students need from their teacher is someone that models their love of reading. Don’t take reading so seriously in elementary that you disenfranchise your base. Inject a shot of adrenaline into your reading program and let kids build a freaking fort.

The CODA Perspective on Teaching and Learning

I am the child of a Deaf mother, emphasis on the capital D. CODA has been a term used by some to refer to a “Child Of a Deaf Adult”, aka me. American Sign Language is one of my two home languages – and the one that I spend restless night practicing to the ceiling.

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My mom’s classroom of Deaf and hard-of-hearing preschoolers

It wasn’t until recently that I started to see my mother’s identity as a Deaf woman and a teacher of the Deaf as having a profound influence on my teaching practice. Let me explain.

For us CODAs. . .

Differentiation Comes More Naturally

My mom has to live in a world where many people prefer to communicate by speaking and hearing. While it’s easy to assume that most people have the decency to write their words on a piece of paper to explain something to my mom at a Jiffy Lube, I grew up seeing example after example of poor communication and a lack of differentiation from hearing people of all walks of life.

Maybe that’s why it always seemed like a no-brainer to me that teachers provide a variety of visual and audio cues for students, and to provide opportunities for students to produce work in the formats that suit them. Sometimes a whole class discussion can be intimidating; Use an online forum once in awhile. Some kids like to read by themselves; Create a balanced reading program in your classroom so that kids have the opportunity to read in multiple ways. There are many, many ways to get that “snapshot of learning”, and they don’t all have to be teacher directed or written by hand on a piece of paper.

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Check out this wikihow on How to Communicate with Deaf People

Which brings us to. . .

Technology is Ubiquitous

If you just started reading here, my mom is Deaf, meaning that she cannot hear out of both ears and uses American Sign Language and English to communicate with people. The technology that I grew up watching my mother use has improved dramatically. I have to admit that I am a bit nostalgic right now thinking back at the old days of the TTY and the phone operators, and how that has now been replaced by the iPhone in my mom’s pocket.

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Things have changed so fast, but let’s be clear: We were using that 1980’s device (TTY) throughout the nineties and well into the 2000’s.

While my mom would be first to admit that she is not the most tech-savvy teacher, I wonder if somewhere between the vibrating mattress alarm clock and the flashing doorbell did I start to conceptualize technology differently than if I had been brought up in a hearing household.

In my view, technology should be completely ubiquitous during the learning process. Why some teachers still see technology as a completely separate entity and subject that has no connection to learning is beyond me. In a 21st Century-minded classroom, a student’s device is as ubiquitous as a wall clock, and a teacher plans for ways to maximize learning without focusing on any one tool or device.

Noisy is Overrated

There’s definitely been a trend in recent years to focus on aesthetics more than on evidence of student learning. My Twitter Feed is always full of teachers and administrators professing a “new” messy and noisy style of learning. Now, while my classroom can get that way when the task fits the learning, you can also find my entire class sitting around with headphones while diligently completing a project.

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They’re not flopping under tables with exercise balls and wearing beanbag hats, so they must not be learning!!

My mom’s classroom (which was also my classroom when I was in preschool) is an entirely silent place, but with a lot of language going on. Students are signing, sharing, playing and fighting in the quietest preschool you’ve ever seen. Whether or not you’re a control freak or a laissez-faire style teacher, a classroom shouldn’t always be noisy, and it should definitely never be deafening. Take a page out of a Deaf teacher’s classroom and have a silent day or hour to celebrate the inaudible sounds of learning.

Respect for Home Language and Language Minorities

Raised during a time when sign language has become increasingly threatened by the hearing folks that prefer an implant-only approach for their Deaf children, rather than learning a bit of sign language, I see home language as an important part of my students’ identities.

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Loss of home language is especially an important issue in the international teaching circuit, where many students’ school language is interfering with the students’ retention of their home language. When a child loses their home language to the point that they are no longer comfortable speaking or signing it, it’s nearly impossible to see the transfer of home language to the next generation. It gets even worse for language minorities without a sizable population or community in a child’s host country that can help support home language acquisition.

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Deafness is such a part of my life that it may have even found its way into my teaching. I hope you enjoyed this and other articles you have read at educationrickshaw.com, and I promise that I will keep on signing all of my ideas for blog posts to the ceiling on restless nights.

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