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
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.
About the Contributors