Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Making Meaning in Literature Grades 6-8
Conversations in Literature — Workshop

About Making Meaning in Literature: A Video Library, Grades 6-8

Individual Clip Descriptions

1. Introducing the Envisionment-Building Classroom
2. Building a Literary Community
3. Asking Questions
4. Facilitating Discussion
5. Seminar Discussion
6. Dramatic Tableaux
7. Readers as Individuals
8. The Teacher’s Role in a Literary Community
9. Whole Group Discussions




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Envisioning


About This Video Clip

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Classroom Snapshot

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Professional Reflection

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Classroom Snapshot

School: Sherburne-Earlville Middle School
Location: Sherburne, New York
No. of Students in School: 450
Teacher: Tanya E. Schnabl
No. of Years Teaching: 14
Grade: 6th
Subject: Language Arts
No. of Students in the Classroom: 15

Sherburne-Earlville Middle School is located 15 minutes from Colgate University in rural New York state. The school building houses both the middle school (450 students in grades six to eight) and the high school, each with its own principal. Sherburne's school district covers the largest area of any in the state. Historically, the region has relied on farming for its economic base and, although a few of the school's families are employed at the university or nearby Proctor & Gamble, many others live on working farms or in trailers. Students often have to help with chores before school or to babysit siblings in the afternoon until a parent arrives home. Approximately 47 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. As is typical of the region, minorities make up only one or two percent of the student body. Despite the wide range of family incomes, people describe Sherburne as a close-knit, friendly town with a strong sense of community. The school actively encourages the involvement of families in their children's education, and they have recently begun a family literacy program to improve the reading skills of parents and other relatives.

students in the classroomAccording to standardized tests administered at the end of eighth grade, Sherburne-Earlville is a typical rural school for that area. The school climate, however, is vibrant, and both the faculty and the administration are committed to their students. Over the past several years, Sherburne has hired additional language arts teachers to reduce class sizes to the current 10 to 16 students per section. The school now hopes to do the same with the other core subjects. Classes generally meet for 80-minute periods every other day, but in Fall 2001 sixth-graders began having 80 minutes of language arts every day. For the first time, the school instituted heterogeneous class groupings. Every classroom has four computers with Internet connections. In addition, Sherburne-Earlville has worked to provide teachers with the tools they need in the classroom - for instance, by assigning them to interdisciplinary teams that share a small subset of the larger student population. Teams meet two or three times a week to brainstorm possibilities for integration and cross-curricular collaboration, discuss the welfare of their students, and share their support for one another. The school also joins with representatives from the local elementary and high schools to map a cohesive curriculum across grade levels.

Within the framework established by the school, teachers are free to design their own curricula. For Tanya Schnabl in her sixth-grade language arts class, the only mandate is that students must have 10 polished pieces of writing in their portfolio by the end of the year. Schnabl is a proponent of using literature to enhance a study of history and cultures. In 2001, in collaboration with a social studies teacher, she helped her students orchestrate a Greek festival, an Egyptian funeral procession, and a feudal feast. The culmination of extended study, these celebrations were held after school to allow families to attend. The final cross-curricular activity of the year involved math, science, social studies, and language arts classes as students assessed the impact of a proposed dam and met at a mock town council meeting to lobby for or against its construction. Schnabl enlists parents in their children's learning through frequent notes or phone calls. She also involves students in assessing their own academic performance, asking them to evaluate their work according to a rubric and to determine what they would have to do to "bump it up" a grade.

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