Teacher resources and professional development 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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Envisioning


Introduction

Key Points

Learning Objectives

Background Reading

Homework Assignment

Classroom Connection
Ongoing Activity

Additional Reading


Extension: Classroom Connection

Student Activities
Try these activities with your students.

Student Survey
Take time to get to know your students as members of the classroom community. Survey your students for their interests, experiences, background knowledge, family heritage and traditions, and reading habits. Use the online Student Survey as a guide. (See the Appendix in the Support Materials.) Use this information to enlighten your understanding of the multiple perspectives they bring to the classroom and how you can capitalize on those assets to enhance students' understandings of the author's or other readers' perspectives.

As an alternative to this survey, ask students to create a collage that represents their personal life experiences, interests, reading habits, and anything that is significant in their lives. Ask students to write a companion paragraph explaining key elements of the collage. Invite students to share these collages in small groups. Then, discuss ways in which their experiences help shape their understandings of what they read and how these might compare with others. Here, both overlap and difference are important to discuss.

Good Questions
One way to ensure dynamic literary dialogue in your classroom is to ask students to generate discussion with their own questions. Students need opportunities to think about how to craft thought-provoking questions in relation to literature they are currently reading.

Assign a short story for your students to read either in class or at home. Selections like Shirley Jackson's "Charles," Toni Cade Bambara's "Raymond's Run," or Langston Hughes's "Thank You M'am" are appropriate short stories that will engage your students. Then, in collaboration with your students, brainstorm a list of characteristics of thought-provoking questions. Ask students to consider what makes a good question. Narrow the list down to two or three key qualities. As a homework assignment, ask students to use these qualities to generate three questions for the next day's whole-class literature discussion about the short story.

When students return to class the next day with their questions, take time to discuss and evaluate the questions they created. As a way of doing so, ask students to write out each question on a separate strip of paper or on an index card. Shuffle the cards and distribute a set of questions to groups of four to five students each. Ask students to evaluate the quality of the questions in terms of their ability to stimulate thinking and discussion about the text. If questions need revising, ask students to do so in the groups. Students may rewrite the questions on the same strips of paper or index cards as the original questions are written. Circulate from group to group, helping students with their revisions.

When students are ready, begin the whole-class discussion by inviting different groups to pose questions from the index cards or strips of paper. This encourages participation from all students and it invites them to take ownership of the class discussion.

After the literature discussion, invite students to share what they learned from the question writing experience. Ask them what they think they gained from the literature discussion that they would not have if they didn't pose their own questions.

Coat of Arms: All About Me
Cut out shields or use the student activity sheet Coat of Arms. (See the Appendix in the Support Materials.) Ask students to draw, write information, or cut out pictures from magazines to create a coat of arms that represents who they are as a person. Invite students to orally present their coat of arms in small groups, so that students in your classroom community get to know one another. As you circulate throughout the classroom when students share their Coat of Arms, help students to recognize similarities and differences among themselves in each group. Then have the students discuss what these differing representations might mean for how they might interpret a story or poem. This will help you and the students in the class understand the different life experiences and multiple perspectives that exist in the literary community.

Teacher as a Reflective Practitioner
Start a classroom observation journal. Each time your students participate in a literature discussion, take time to reflect upon the discussion. You may take time after school or during lesson planning for journaling. Think about classroom discussions with your own students. How would you characterize them? What elements of your classroom discussions support envisionment building? Do students offer multiple perspectives? Do they explain to each other why they arrived at the interpretations they did? Do they return to the text and discuss what they think is the author's vantage point? What is your role in the discussions? Are students raising thought-provoking questions relevant to the literature at-hand? How can you offer additional support to the students as they work towards becoming active participants in a literary community?

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