Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources 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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About This Video Clip

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Classroom Snapshot

Classroom Lesson Plan

Professional Reflection

Teacher Tools
Additional Resources

Teacher Tools

Whether you are a classroom or preservice teacher, teacher educator, content leader, department chair, or administrator, the materials below can assist you in implementing the practices presented in the video clip.

Using Personal Writing To Extend Literary Envisionments
Go to this page for an outline of several ways students can use personal writing to develop their understandings of a literary text.

Assessment and Evaluation: Some Useful Principles
The terms assessment and evaluation are often used as synonyms. Distinguishing between them can be helpful as you plan instruction. Assessment means looking at what students can do in order to determine what they need to learn to do next. That is, assessment, whether of individual students or an entire group, is done in order to inform instruction. Typically assessment is holistic, often recorded simply as "credit" or "no credit."

Evaluation occurs after a concept or skill has been taught and practiced and is typically scaled, indicating the level of achievement or degree of competence a student has attained.

Supporting Whole-Class Discussion
Supporting Whole-Class Discussion for an article about ways to encourage productive literature discussions.

Developing Questions for Literature Discussion
Good questions can open up a discussion. Poor questions can close it down. For suggestions on framing good discussion questions, see Developing Questions for Literature Discussion.

Responding Visually to Literature
Many language arts teachers have come intuitively to use visual activities to support their literature instruction. Non-verbal activities provide an opportunity for students to develop and display their growing understanding and enjoyment of the literature in informal ways as they develop visual representations of their thinking.

In his preface to Phyllis Whitin's Sketching Stories, Stretching Minds: Responding Visually to Literature (for the complete citation, see "Additional Resources" in the Library Guide), Jerome Harste reminds us that "literacy is much more than reading and writing" (x). He tells us that literacy is "the process by which we mediate the world" which "means to create sign systems — mathematics, art, music, dance, language" — which "act as lenses that permit us better to understand ourselves and our world" (x).

When we take what we know from one sign system and represent it in another — as when we take a written text and represent it graphically — we are using transmediation, a process that "is both natural and basic to literacy" (x). Such transmediation has enormous value in the classroom. As students resee, they rethink. Rethinking, they understand in fresh ways, and their pleasure grows with their developing insights.

For less able readers, the very act of focusing on a brief passage or scene and doing what more skilled readers seem to do invisibly helps them develop the visualization powers to process texts effectively. Not only are they developing their understanding of a specific text, they are expanding their skill as readers.

Using Reader's Theater in the Literature Classroom
Developed as a convenient and effective means to present literary works in dramatic form, Reader's Theater is minimal theater that supports literature and reading. It is a useful tool in the literature classroom because of its simplicity and ease of presentation. There is no memorization; readers use the text during performance. Typically there is preparation, however. Either individually or in groups, readers analyze the text they will read, considering how to use verbal inflection to convey their understandings of character development and motivation. If used at all, costumes are partial and suggestive, or neutral and uniform. An Internet search for Reader's Theater sites identifies a number of sources for complete scripts available for classroom use.

Supporting Less-Able Learners in an Integrated Classroom
Ms. Rief's classes are heterogeneously grouped and include students with a wide range of abilities, interests, and levels of preparation. In addition to ESL students and those identified with learning disabilities, severely handicapped students with disabilities such as autism and Down-Down syndrome are mainstreamed into her classes. Her challenge is to find ways to support the learning of less-able students while continuing to challenge those with more developed abilities.

Two of the strategies Ms. Rief employs do just that. Reader's Theater allows less-skilled readers the opportunity to participate fully in a complex text that they might not be able to process independently. At the same time, it offers better readers practice in the oral presentation of language, forcing them to develop interpretive reading skills and elocution.

Asking students to focus on specific passages, either through written response or artistic renderings, also supports weaker readers by modeling the identification of key passages and allowing them to concentrate their energies on explicit issues. More-skilled readers are challenged to focus on particular passages, attending to language use and the implicit issues such passages present.

Another way of offering support to students with a wide range of abilities is by including children's picture books in the curriculum. In Teaching With Picture Books in the Middle School, Iris McClellan Tiedt includes stimulating thinking, promoting reading development, appreciating diversity, and introducing thematic studies as some ways picture books can enhance a middle school language arts curriculum.

You may also be interested in Ms. Rief's essay — "Good Children's Literature Is for Everyone, Even Especially Adolescents" — in Beyond Words: Picture Books for Older Readers and Writers, edited by Susan Benedict and Lenore Carlisle. This collection offers a number of ideas for using picture books with older students. (For the complete citation, see "Additional Resources" in the Library Guide).

Text Pairings
As you plan literature experiences for your students, consider offering text pairings, so that students have a rich palette of text background and reading experiences to draw upon in their literary conversations. Some texts that may complement the ones used in this lesson plan include:

  • Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry (this is a companion to The Giver; see if students can find Jonas)
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick
  • Tomorrowland edited by Michael Cart
  • The Exchange Student by Kate Gilmore
  • Memory Boy by Will Weaver
  • Hole in the Sky by Pete Hautman
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  • Trying Not To Hear by Sandra Scoppetone
  • Billy the Great by Rosa Guy
  • Futuretrack 5 by Robert Westall

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