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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About the Project

Making Meaning in Literature: A Workshop for Teachers, Grades 6-8 gives teachers like you — literature and language arts teachers working with middle grade students — two important opportunities.

Its videos, Web site, and guide introduce the theory and practice of building active literary communities in your classroom. Together, these resources explain how effective readers engage in literature and how you can support your students as they become effective readers actively engaged in short stories, novels, poems, and drama.

This Workshop also gives you a chance to think about what you are currently doing in your classroom, and examine principals and practices other teachers like yourself have adopted to see if they can enhance your work with students.

In each workshop session, eight teachers from around the country meet together to talk about some of the important issues you face every day-from assessment to text selection to encouraging class discussion and more-delineating how they have met classroom challenges by evolving a community of active and engaged readers of literature. As they talk about the theory behind their work, you will visit their classrooms to see those theories in action. These teachers work in a variety of community settings, from rural to urban, and with an assortment of socioeconomic levels, from the very poorest communities to the more affluent. Their students also represent a gamut of possibilities, including those who are just acquiring English as their second language, differently-abled learners, and those performing at grade level, as well as those whose reading levels span the K-12 spectrum and beyond.

In these various settings, you will see how teachers encourage their students to immerse themselves in the world of the text. You will observe them as they encourage learners to pose and answer their own questions of the text by moving through the story world using their logic, intuition, and common sense. You will follow them as they make connections between the text and their lives, and as they move beyond the text to evaluate their journey through its words as a literary experience.

Through their conversation, teachers will clarify the experiences you see by explaining why their work helps students become more effective readers. In doing so, these teachers are reflecting the theories first delineated by Dr. Judith Langer, Director of the National Center for English Learning and Achievement, State University of New York, Albany. During a decade of research on the habits of the mind of successful readers, Dr. Langer found that effective readers are those that interact with literature to form their own rich and highly-nuanced picture of a text. These ever-changing pictures, which Dr. Langer calls envisionments, are formed and grow as students read, talk, and write about literature. For more information on Dr. Langer's highly-validated research and its implications for the classroom, we encourage you to look at other workshops and libraries constructed around this philosophy, available in video, print, and online. These professional development opportunities are part of the project called Envisioning Literature. Dr. Langer has served as the chief content advisor for all the workshops and libraries in this series.

In a classroom that supports this approach to interacting with literature, the teacher is no longer the sole source of information about a text, or the arbiter of what is a correct or incorrect interpretation of its words. The text itself is not looked at as a source of information, but rather as an experience and an opportunity for readers to develop and use strong mental muscles. Their individual interpretations, strongly supported in the text, become more important than simply finding answers to closed-ended questions the teacher asks.

Instead, in an envisionment-building classroom, the task before readers is more open-ended. They read to explore the entire universe of the story world; to predict and verify events and character development; to pose, build, and refine theories about what is happening there and what they can learn from it. They can then look back on their interaction with the text to evaluate it as a literary experience, looking at the author's skill in using language, posing ideas, and offering possibilities. They also look to other readers, in their classroom and beyond, to try on alternative impressions of the text and refine their own ideas. Simply put, they read literature as literature, not as a nonfiction article or a "how to" book, where the sole purpose is to converge on kernels of information.

The teachers and students you will meet in this workshop are at various points on the road to making the ideal envisionment-building classroom a reality. We hope you will join them on that path.

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