effective reader knows that engaging in literature brings
many rewards. Literature's words and images are great cultural
storehouses, affording readers a glimpse into the things centuries
of people have thought, experienced, and valued. Through its
poems, plays, short stories, and novels, readers can escape
their own lives if only for a few moments and
become a part of things past, present, and future. As they
live within the world of the text, readers can also consider
a host of possibilities, stretching their minds to acquire
an acute awareness of what they are and who they might be.
key to this process is active involvement. Readers who interact
with literature, experiencing the emotion of the plot with
the characters and identifying elements both familiar and
strange in the story are better able to enjoy the true fruits
of a text. Effective readers both expect and seek out this
textual encounter, creating meaning by comparing the literary
world to their own thoughts and experiences.
decade of research conducted by Dr. Judith Langer, Director
of The National Research Center on English Learning &
Achievement at the State University of New York - Albany,
has clearly demonstrated that this kind of experience with
literature is something capable readers do as a matter of
course. Dr. Langer talks about this process as one of creating
an envisionment of the text. Envisionments are constantly
evolving, painting rich pictures of understanding that effective
readers construct as they make sense of what they are reading.
In the workshop series Conversations in Literature,
readers from all aspects of the educational community exemplify
Dr. Langer's findings through their thoughtful conversations
in literature. You may want to consult this workshop series
and its Web site at www.learner.org/envisioningliterature/
to learn more about envisionment building and its implications
for the classroom.
her research, Dr. Langer found that students in all stages
of learning and at all ability levels can and do create envisionments
if they are scaffolded by teachers who create an atmosphere
in the classroom where they are supported to do so. In such
an atmosphere, teachers expect that, as they read, students
will probably have more questions than answers. They anticipate
that the time they spend together will be a time for talking
through these questions, working together as a literary community
to dissect, unravel, and move forward within the text. In
such a community, each learner is expected to offer a particular
perspective on the text, and is respected for doing so, not
only by the teacher, but also by his or her peers.
this approach to interacting with literature, the teacher
is no longer the sole source of information about a text,
or the arbiter of what is a correct or incorrect interpretation
of its words. The text itself is not looked at as a source
of information, where readers go about their work trying to
find the names of characters, a plot event, or validations
for a generally-accepted interpretation of the text that long-ago
literary critics have offered. Rather, in an envisionment-building
classroom, the task before readers is more open-ended. They
read to explore the entire universe of the story world, seeking
possible meanings and alternative interpretations. Simply
put, they read literature as literature, not as a nonfiction
article or a "how to" book, where the sole purpose
is to converge on kernels of information.
this library series, you will visit with language arts teachers
and their middle grade students, all working together to construct
the kind of literary communities where envisionment building
flourishes. With the help of our advisors, we have chosen
these eight classrooms to represent as many geographical,
ethnic, social, and student achievement levels as possible.
The eight teachers you will meet have found a variety of ways
to respect and support their students as they work. These
classroom visits were captured as they occurred, offering
a glimpse into some innovative ways of establishing and nurturing
a literary and highly literate community in which all members
move forward as diverse and respected voices.
Word about the Educational Focus of the Project
this library series, active and engaging literary education
is promoted. In celebrating these practices, these teachers
have made these basic assumptions about their work and their
works of literature are an important part of every language
arts curricula. They can help students as they learn to
read, write, speak, and listen.
can purposefully interact with a variety of literature,
relying on what they know and what they have experienced,
and employing not only their logic but also their intuition,
to make sense of a text.
this interaction, readers form unique and diverse understandings
that grow richer as they are shared with their peers in
a respectful classroom atmosphere. These understandings
are firmly rooted in the text.
active engagement in a text, students develop strong mental
muscles of logic and analysis on which they can rely throughout
their academic career.
Audiences, Different Purposes
Meaning in Literature: A Video Library, Grades 6-8 can
be used by many members of the educational community to promote
engaging, interactive involvement with literature in and out
of the classroom.
teachers can use this library series:
a professional development resource, exploring the envisionment-building
these videos, teachers will be able to observe the teacher
attitudes and behaviors that foster a growing community
of learners focused on interacting with literature, where
students of all ability levels are succeeding. They can
reflect on their current practices, and revisit the goals
they have for their work and that of their students. Teachers
can work with these videos individually or together with
other teachers, using the suggestions in the guide that
accompanies each video to direct a professional development
resources for curriculum planning and text selections which
highlight the importance of active interaction with works
Teachers can also use the text and teacher techniques showcased
in the video as a springboard when they plan similar or
adapted experiences for their own students.
teachers can use this library series as a practical resource
to observe actual classroom events. They can see how teachers
present materials related to literature, and the ways they
react as students deal with these materials. Because these
experiences were recorded as they occurred, viewers will see
a complete picture of what happens in an actual class, a stage
where the plays aren't scripted and the actors are exuberant
improvisers. In this way, these video experiences give flesh
to the bones of educational philosophy in a way texts never
educators can use these video clips to enhance their instruction,
introducing preservice teachers to the realities of the classroom
focused on teaching literature. Each clip could be used as
a case study to examine and assess teacher planning and implementation,
teacher and student attitudes, the ways in which each lesson
succeeds, and the reasons behind its success.
including supervisors, principals, and content
or team leaders, can use this library series:
a personal resource to explore new emphases in a tested
and highly successful method of language arts instruction.
the centerpiece for professional development seminars, to
introduce groups of teachers to the ideas and pedagogy that
support envisionment building in the classroom.
educators can also use these materials for community
outreach, sharing models of sound classroom practices with
educationally-oriented organizations, such as the PTA. Through
them, they can see how students excel when they are encouraged
to develop and depend upon their own mental acuity to engage
in works of great literary merit.
library series can also be used to show families successful
language arts classrooms throughout the country. Teachers
can use the video clips as models for appropriate ways to
support their children's education at home, either as a partner
with a school or in a home schooling situation. Activities
or discussion questions from the guide can be reproduced as
handouts to spur parent participation.
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