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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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.

Popcorn Reading
Many teachers like to use popcorn reading (metaphorically named for the way students pop in and out) when they want to hear from a number of students, without reverting to the row-by-row (or around the circle) tedium of round robin reading. Without naming anyone specific, a teacher invites students to begin reading. When that person finishes, another student is expected to follow, again without explicit direction from the teacher. The process continues until everyone has taken a turn. With popcorn reading, students have the responsibility of participation coupled with the choice of when to do so. In addition, attention to the readings is enhanced when students are prompted to listen to peers for the opportunity to link their contributions to what has come before. Popcorn reading can be used with any text-even with students' own writing.

Quick Writes
Quick writes have many names (journal jottings, freewriting) and multiple uses. Briefly, quick writes afford students the opportunity to pause momentarily during reading or discussion and record their thoughts and feelings in writing. Teachers can then ask students to share their writings, confident that every member of the group has had the opportunity to grapple with the issue at hand and has something to offer.

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 Overheads in Discussion
Give each group an overhead transparency and a pen and ask them to record the results of their discussion for sharing with the class. Then, when it is time to report out, they can use the overhead to guide their contributions. This strategy has several benefits. First, the overheads can be saved, and referred to again days or weeks later to remind students of observations made earlier. Second, the use of a prop offers support for students who may be anxious about standing and speaking in front of the group. Finally, the use of the technology itself has a grown-up appeal that students respond to positively. When ordering materials, be sure to get clear transparencies that can be written on. Those intended for copy machines or printers don't always receive ink well. Also, overhead pens come in a number of colors and students like to choose a color to represent their group. The transparencies can be rinsed off after use and reused for years.

Using Webbing To Keep Track of Student Discussions
Often it is difficult to remember who said what during a lively discussion. Even harder — when teachers have multiple sections of the same subject — is remembering which class or which group raised which issues. Following Mr. Hoonan's example, teachers can web the content of a discussion to create a concrete record of what topics were raised in each group.

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.

Using Personal Writing To Extend Literary Envisionments
Look here for suggested ways to help students respond to their reading.

Sketch to Stretch
Based on ideas developed by Phyllis Whitin and presented in her book Sketching Stories, Stretching Minds: Responding Visually to Literature, the basic premise behind Sketch to Stretch is that creating a visual based on a literary work stretches student thinking, helping them to see the text in new ways. Visit the Sketch to Stretch page for ways to use this in the classroom.

Save the Last Word for the Artist
After a student (or a group) has completed a visual representation from the literature, it is shared with the class. In Save the Last Word for the Artist, the visual is displayed so everyone can see it, and the class is invited to comment on what they see and their understandings of how the visual connects to the text. When the group has finished, the artist is invited to offer his or her thoughts, validating what the group has said and suggesting other possible interpretations. Often the artist will be surprised that the group found things about the work that were there, but were not consciously intended.

Text Pairings
As you begin to 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. While Mr. Hoonan has chosen to link the texts in this lesson thematically, you may wish to offer students other works by the same authors. If you do, some texts that may complement the ones used in this classroom lesson plan include:

  • Crusader by Edward Bloor
  • Walk Two Moons, Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech
  • Phoenix Rising, The Music of Dolphins, A Time of Angels by Karen Hesse
  • Acting Natural, Backstage Fright, Nightmare Mountain, The Richest Kids in Town by Peg Kehret
  • Nothing To Fear, The Falcon, The Primrose Way, A Place To Call Home by Jackie French Koller
  • Fallen Angels, Somewhere in the Darkness, The Glory Field, Shadow of the Red Moon by Walter Dean Myers
  • The Fire Pony, Max the Mighty, The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick
  • Wayside School Is Falling Down, There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom, Dogs Don't Tell Jokes by Louis Sachar
  • Maniac Magee, Wringer, Crash by Jerry Spinelli
  • Dancing in Cadillac Light, Mister and Me, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis-Holt
  • True Believer, The Mozart Season, Probably Still Nick Swansen by Virginia Euwer Wolfe

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