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want kids to be asking big questions of themselves. I want
them to put themselves in characters' roles. I want them
to say, "Where would I fit and what stance would I
take if I were a character in this book? And what is this
book making me think about myself and about the world at
large? And about where I fit in the world?"
Oyster River Middle School
Durham, New Hampshire
creation, interpretation, and appreciation of language and
literature form the heart of Linda Rief's curriculum. Her
major goal is to enable students to develop into literate,
articulate young men and women who contribute creatively and
productively to society by communicating effectively with
others, by understanding the world in which they live, and
by finding their places in a complex and diverse world. She
believes they become informed, clear-thinking citizens by
participating actively as readers, writers, speakers, and
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this goal in mind, Ms. Rief asks students to read a minimum
of half an hour daily. For the first part of the school year,
students make their own reading selections, either from a
well-stocked classroom library, from the school library, or
from sources outside school. By respecting students' choices
early, Rief believes they are more open to choices she makes
later in the year.
addition to making many of their own reading selections, students
are given ample opportunities to choose their own writing
topics. In both reading and writing, they are expected to
sample a variety of genres and styles, broadening their experiences
as both readers and writers. In addition to reading their
individual choices, students are asked to read together in
small groups, using text sets based on themes and levels of
difficulty, or together as a whole class, sharing the experience
of a novel, play, short story, poem, or essay. Language conventions
are taught both in the context of the students' writing and
through direct, whole-class instruction.
that sometimes teachers become overly concerned about students
who are reluctant to enter classroom conversations, Ms. Rief
uses writer's notebooks to see how students are responding
to their reading or to the class discussion. Eventually, she
believes, a student who rarely participates will join the
conversation and have something wonderful to say.
discussion, Ms. Rief acts as a facilitator. She likes students
to keep the conversation going on their own, listening to
one another and adding to earlier comments or responding to
questions posed by a classmates. If that doesn't happen organically,
Ms. Rief is ready to urge the discussion along by asking a
particular student what he or she thinks, or by wondering
if anybody wants to comment on a point that was just made.
this particular lesson, the entire class reads and discusses
Lois Lowry's Newbery Award-winning novel, The Giver.
Ms. Rief uses class discussion to help students connect the
world of the novel with their own experiences. She asks them
what the book made them think about themselves, other
people, and the world they live in. She asks them to consider
the implications of living in a world in which many of their
important choices would be made for them. Ms. Rief believes
it is important for students to hear what others believe.
She hopes to see students responding to ideas raised by classmates
and then rethinking their understandings based on those comments.
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