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Engaging With Literature: A Video Library, Grades 3-5
Engaging With Literature

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About This Video Clip

"In envisionment-building classrooms, students' ideas are right in the center of the discussion, so the role of the teacher is to help students find new and more complex ways to grapple with both the content and the ways of thinking about the content."

Judith A. Langer, Director
National Research Center on English Learning & Achievement (CELA)
University at Albany, State University of New York
Welcome to Engaging With Literature: A Video Library, Grades 3-5! Produced by Maryland Public Television with funding provided by Annenberg Media, this nine-part video library is designed to help language arts teachers in grades three to five enhance the literary experiences of their students. This series overview introduces Dr. Judith Langer's theory of literary envisionment and envisionment-building classrooms and invites us into real classrooms of real teachers to see how this theory plays out in practice with real students.

Like all good pedagogical theories, Dr. Langer's theory of envisionment building is philosophically concrete, yet allows for a widely diverse range of classroom practices. Grounded in key understandings about human beings as learners and as makers of meaning, the basic tenets of envisionment theory could productively underpin literature instruction in any classroom at any grade level.

Dr. Langer identifies four central characteristics of the envisionment-building classroom:

  • Students are treated as life-long envisionment builders. Both teachers and students assume that students have been making sense all their lives. They have been hearing stories and creating stories. They have been building envisionments — worlds of images, questions, disagreements, anticipations, arguments, and hunches that fill the mind during every reading, writing, speaking, or listening experience — and they know how to create understandings. They know how to respond to pieces that they have heard, read, or seen. And their ideas are at the center of the envisionment-building classroom.

  • Questions are at the center of the literary experience. These are real questions about things that people really want explained or want to know more about, encountered as they immerse themselves in a text. While some of these questions may come from the teacher, many of them come from the students themselves as they expand their understandings of the literature. Teachers and students in envisionment-building classrooms know that making sense in literature involves asking questions.

  • Students are expected to develop and expand their understandings. Teachers and students assume that students come to class with understandings and interpretations based on the readings they did individually, but that these will not be final. Rather, these interpretations will be the beginning of provocative discussion that helps everybody develop richer and more complex understandings.

  • Students and teachers assume that multiple perspectives are useful. Envisionment-building classrooms encourage different points of view because multiple perspectives enhance interpretation. They lead to the development of more complex understandings of the text than any one individual is likely to reach alone. In the envisionment-building classroom, respectful conversation is a tool for exploring and testing these multiple points of view. It is understood that it is not always possible to reach a complete consensus about a literary work, although the group will probably agree on a number of shared points. This is quite different from the literature classroom in which a push for consensus is the norm, and one "best" interpretation is valued above all others.

    Dr. Langer developed her understandings of envisionment building and how it might play out in literature classrooms through years of research during which she and her colleagues looked at how good readers-including adults-grappled with, and made sense of, literary texts. In addition, the researchers went into the classrooms of teachers around the United States-in urban, suburban, and rural schools-and tried to identify common characteristics of effective instruction. What they learned is distilled into the four tenets of envisionment-building theory listed above.

    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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