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 Workshop for Teachers, Grades 6-8

Individual Workshop Descriptions

1. Introducing our Literary Community
2. Encouraging Discussion
3. Going Further in Discussion
4. Diversity in Texts
5. Student Diversity
6. Literature, Art, and Other Disciplines
7. Assessment
8. Planning and Professional Development
9. Starting in September...

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Key Points

Learning Objectives

Background Reading

Homework Assignment

Classroom Connection
Ongoing Activity

Additional Reading

Key Points

  • In classrooms that support discussion, teachers guide students to examine texts at a deep level, connecting the literature to other texts and their own lives, and exploring possibilities for themselves.
  • Teachers can help students take a discussion further once it's underway by:
    • Posing broad thought-provoking questions to encourage students to consider texts in a variety of ways. These types of questions have no wrong or right answer and invite students to think "what if…" or "how does this apply to my own life?"
    • Preparing lists of key issues or concerns that prompt students to explore areas of a text they would not have discovered yet.
    • Modeling read alouds from texts in the midst of literature discussion. A read aloud is the expressive reading of a passage from literature. When planned in advance, this may include the use of dramatic voice, props, or music. An impromptu read aloud demonstrates to students that good readers revisit a text for further examination.
    • Expanding and enriching students' understandings through artwork, music, drama, and writing.
    • Providing a discussion format or structure that students can follow and then go beyond. Teachers may post this format or provide a discussion guide.
    • Modeling and celebrating risk-taking in the classroom. Students need to feel confident that their thoughts and ideas have merit and are worth trying out with the group.
  • Teachers need to develop a "third ear" for productive conversations — insuring that students listen to each other, build on each other's ideas, challenge each other, and still have something new to offer.
  • Teachers must be ready to step in and help move the conversation forward, to help students consider other possibilities, consider the same issues in more complex ways, or to move on and get more information by reading or connecting to literature, history, and life.
  • Teachers need to monitor their interjections in a discussion, allowing students to take the conversation in directions the teacher may not have considered.
  • Personalizing what we read is a natural part of the literary process for experienced readers. Teachers can help students personalize what they read. Some questions teachers can ask students to make personal connections to the text include:
    • How do your own experiences help us better understand the story?
    • How do you see the character differently? How might she feel? What else might she do?
    • How else could you explain what happened?
    • Have you thought about...?
    • What did the event or scene remind you of?
    • How did it make you feel?
    • How would you handle the situation?
    • Did anything like this ever happen to you?
    • What can you learn from how the characters handled their dilemmas?
    • Does the story make you rethink any of your own choices or decisions? Explain.
  • You know you have a successful discussion when:
    • Students begin to converse with one another instead of through the teacher.
    • Students use the text as a starting point, but go beyond it by connecting the text to their lives and the world in which they live.
    • Students are listening to one another and making comments based on what others have contributed to the conversation.
    • Students argue with one another, revisit the text to make a point, and express passion about their viewpoints.
    • Students can identify what made the discussion powerful and what they took away from it that they would not have been able to do without the interaction with other students.
    • Students are posing their own questions.
  • Teachers need to guide students in thinking about what they gained from the discussion. This awareness helps students understand the depth of the conversations they are having. Some questions that might help students examine their discussions include:
    • How did the discussion impact your understanding of the literature? For instance, how is your interpretation of the literature different from your initial understandings of it?
    • How did the discussion change your perspectives?
    • What did you learn about yourself from the conversation? What did you learn about others?
    • What did you learn about the world in which you live?
    • How did you contribute to the conversation?

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