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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Individual Workshop Descriptions

Workshop 1. Introducing our Literary Community

In this workshop, you will meet the eight teachers who will guide your experience, and take a look at their communities, schools, and students. In conversation, the teachers share the principles that guide their work with literature and students. Their thoughts are woven into a framework offered by Dr. Judith Langer, who talks about the ways effective readers interact with text and the ways teachers can support these learners.

Workshop 2. Encouraging Discussion

Introduced by Dr. Langer, this workshop concentrates on discussion and its importance in helping engaged readers go further in the text. The featured teachers converse about ways to encourage whole class and small group discussion, the importance of asking the right question to provoke thoughtful discussion, and ways of making the discussion inclusive, folding in both talkative and reticent students. Their discussion is punctuated by visits to a variety of classrooms where discussion flourishes.

Some of the texts that are featured in these discussions include Langston Hughes' short story "Passing," The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, Fig Pudding by Robert Fletcher, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Letters From a Slave Girl: The Story of Harriet Jacobs by Mary E. Lyons, Holes by Louis Sachar, the nonfiction text To Be A Slave by Julius Lester, and the picture book The Lady With a Ship on Her Head by Deborah Nourse Lattimore.

Workshop 3. Going Further in Discussion

Since discussion is so central to the growth and development of a literary community, the third workshop in this series also concentrates on this activity. Here the teachers talk about ways to recognize good discussion, adding personal anecdotes about ways in which they participate in or step out at various points in the discussion to help students go further in their understandings of the text. The group also looks at different stimuli they use to provoke and maintain good discussions in their classrooms. These principles are illustrated by classroom footage showing rich and involved student discussion, and expanded by commentary from Dr. Langer.

Classroom discussion focuses on several novels, including On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper, Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Necessary Roughness by Marie G. Lee, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and Dangerous Skies by Suzanne Fisher Staples. Short stories are also featured, including "Passing" by Langston Hughes and "Guests in the Promised Land" by Kristin Hunter.

Workshop 4. Diversity in Texts

In this workshop, Dr. Langer and the participating teachers talk about the importance of choosing rich texts for their students as a group or as individuals, enumerating various criteria they have developed for this initial classroom decision. Supported by commentary from Dr. Langer, the group looks at the part student interests play in selecting the right text, building thematic study units using a variety of texts, and helping students select texts that meet their needs or help them go further in their experiences with literature.

The group examines a number of texts for consideration, and classroom visits show activities related to many of them. These texts include contemporary novels such as Year of the Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper, The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake, Fig Pudding by Robert Fletcher, Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, Gaucho by Gloria Gonzalez, Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt, the Redwall Series by Brian Jacques, Heaven by Angela Johnson, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Slam by Walter D. Myers, Somewhere in the Darkness by Walter D. Myers, Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, the Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling, Crash by Jerry Spinelli, and Dangerous Skies by Suzanne Fisher Staples.

Classic novels the group talks about include To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, and Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth by William Shakespeare.

Short stories that get the group's attention include The Day it Snowed Tortillas: Tales from Spanish New Mexico by Joe Hayes, "Guests in the Promised Land" by Kristin Hunter, and Couple of Kooks and Other Stories by Cynthia Rylant.

Poems by Langston Hughes and Gary Soto are also considered.

Workshop 5. Student Diversity

The varied viewpoints necessary for valuable class discussions are celebrated in this workshop. The group talks about the diverse ways in which their students are unique and how their interactions with literature are shaped in part by their life experiences, distinctive thoughts, and previous reading experiences. They examine the value of using the lens of multiple perspectives to examine a work of literature, and offer suggestions of ways to encourage each student to contribute to the ongoing classroom conversation. Dr. Langer validates their comments, offering her thoughts on involving students' diverse voices in a way that honors all of their contributions.

Some of the texts that the group talks about include House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Tatum, Taking Sides by Gary Soto, Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, Holes by Louis Sachar, and The Day it Snowed Tortillas: Tales from Spanish New Mexico by Joe Hayes.

Workshop 6. Literature, Art, and Other Disciplines

In this workshop session, the featured teachers explore various ways in which students can use the fine arts to express their impressions of a text, and why this kind of activity should be encouraged to make sure that every voice in the classroom can be heard. The group also looks at ways to expand meaning by interweaving literature with other disciplines, including social studies.

Dr. Langer offers her thoughts on this integration, explaining how learners grow cognitively and expand their impressions of the text by using other means of looking that the fine arts and other disciplines offer.

Several classroom projects demonstrate how learners expand their growing interactions with texts as they work in the fine arts. Their projects are centered on texts such as Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Smoky Night by Eve Bunting, Thunder Cave by Roland Smith, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Lyddie by Katherine Paterson, and The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Workshop 7. Assessment

In a classroom where students are actively engaged in literature, there is a need to find authentic assessment vehicles that measure their progress as readers and thinkers. In this workshop, the featured teachers identify useful criteria-including portfolios and literature logs-that they have used in both formal and informal assessments that measure this process. The group stresses the importance of ongoing assessment, and the worth of looking at several measures to construct a holistic picture of a student's progress. Dr. Langer augments their comments by stressing the importance of measuring how students are thinking and how they are growing as effective readers. The group also talks about integrating their evaluation strategies in the milieu of traditional and high-stakes assessments, while maintaining an emphasis on the individual growth of the readers in their classrooms. Dr. Langer explains that encouraging readers to become more actively engaged in the text also gives them firm grounding as thinkers and achievers on tests such as these.

Classroom visits that enhance this workshop specify these principles, featuring teacher-student conferences, student projects, and peer assessment.

Workshop 8. Planning and Professional Development

In order to grow in their careers, teachers need a great deal of sustenance. In this workshop, the participating teachers talk about the ways in which they fulfill this need as they develop individually and as members of a professional community. The group invites us into their classrooms to look at the way they have grown professionally, stimulated by their peers, their membership in professional organizations, and their willingness to seek out new thinking on literature and teaching literature. Dr. Langer also describes the personal and professional benefits of an active professional life.

Cameras follow the featured teachers to professional development meetings where they interact with their peers, noted educators, and authors as they find many ways to grow as professionals.

Workshop 9. Starting in September...

The concluding workshop in this series takes a close look at the first steps teachers take in getting ready to help their students become successful and engaged readers. With classroom visits during the first few days of classes as their backdrop, the teachers in this session talk about everything-from classroom arrangement to long-term goals-that enters their minds as they start another year and plan for success. Dr. Langer underscores their remarks with advice for teachers who want to recreate the kinds of classrooms they have seen featured in this series.

During this workshop, featured teachers invite the audience into their classrooms as they begin to set the tone for the year through an assortment of activities focused on literature. Some of the texts they turn to in these first days include Holes by Louis Sachar, Gaucho by Gloria Gonzalez, Little Things are Big by Jesus Colon, and Smoky Night by Eve Bunting.



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