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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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About This Video Clip

"I 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?"
Linda Rief
Oyster River Middle School
Durham, New Hampshire

The 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 listeners.

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With 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.

Ms. Rief teachingIn 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.

Recognizing 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.

During 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.

In 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.

For resources that can help you use this clip for teacher professional development, preservice education, administrative and English/language arts content meetings, parent conferences, and back-to-school events, visit our Support Materials page. There you will find PDF files of our library guide, classroom lesson plan, student activity sheets, and other Teacher Tools.

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