Conversations in Literature
Activity: Lesson Builder
Now that you have explored the envisionment-building process and revisited the joy of reading literature, we invite you to reflect upon your own instructional practices. Take this opportunity to help your students make rich connections to text, opening whole new worlds to their literary experiences.
At the conclusion of the Lesson Builder, you will:
- Implement the envisionment-building process in an existing classroom lesson.
- Take stock of your own instructional practices, considering which ones support a literary community and which ones need to be renewed.
- Begin to create a literary community within your own classroom.
Which instructional strategies are you currently using in your classroom that you think support envisionment building and foster a literary community? What instructional practices do not support an envisionment-building environment? What instructional strategies would you like to implement in the future to create your own literary community? Keep these questions in mind as you move through the Lesson Builder.
Select a classroom lesson that you feel comfortable renewing for future use. Consider selecting a single lesson, rather than an entire unit or series of lessons. This will give you the opportunity to experiment with new instructional approaches, rethink and enhance what you are already doing, and reflect upon what works for you and your students and what does not.
Lesson Analysis and Renewal:
Using the Lesson Builder Template, review your lesson’s instructional approaches and strategies [click here for a PDF version].
As you begin to evaluate the lesson, you might consider the following:
- What is the role of the teacher?
- What is the role of the student? How do the activities focus on students’ thinking?
- How are students given a variety of opportunities to build envisionments?
- How are students’ interpretations valued in the instructional process?
- What instructional approaches support envisionment building? Explain.
- What instructional approaches hinder envisionment building? Explain.
- What can you do to foster a sense of community in this lesson?
- How can students take ownership for their own literary interpretations?
- How are multiple perspectives valued and shared in the community?
- How is the class meeting time utilized for students to question, critique, and challenge?
- How are students encouraged to find their own interpretations, adjust them, question them, and even challenge and evaluate them?
- How is a sense of mutual respect fostered among the members of your community?
- How do you respond to students’ perspectives during a classroom discussion? Are there ways to move the conversation along by responding with additional questions? Explain.
Use the resources below to assist you in the renewal of your classroom lesson. Consider using the Lesson Builder Template as a framework for your lesson analysis and restructuring. In addition, use the links below as a springboard for your own creative thought.
Envisionment Building Online Resources:
The Center on English Learning & Achievement (CELA) The Center on English Learning & Achievement’s site is rich with reports on their current research on topics such as envisionment building and ways to support it in your classroom. Use their search feature to uncover the basics of Dr. Langer’s work. Some terms you can use for your searches include “envisionment” and “Langer.” You might also want to look at the links this site suggests to find additional resources.
Many of CELA’s publications are also available at this site. For example, “Guidelines for Teaching Middle and High School Students to Read and Write Well: Six Features of Effective Instruction,” is an especially pertinent article which was rated as one of Middle Web’s “Top Twenty Articles for Folks Interested in School Reform and the Middle Grades” in 2000.
Some additional notable articles and reports from the CELA web site include “Envisioning Literature-In the Classroom and Out,” where Betty Close, a participant in Dr. Judith Langer’s study, reflects upon her experiences in the classroom, how envisionment building impacted her own teaching and students’ learning experiences.
Visit this link for additional reports and articles on envisionment building.
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
The National Council of Teachers of English site provides many resources for language arts teachers at all grade levels. The search feature on the homepage will help you locate resources related to envisionment building and Dr. Langer. The NCTE Reading Initiative portion of their site includes valuable links, leading to current research and professional development and curriculum resources related to reading literature.
Strategic Literacy Initiative (SLI)
A non-profit organization based in California, SLI offers research and resources focusing on the improvement of student literacy at the secondary level.
Think Aloud: Consider using this steam-of-consciousness approach to responding to literature out loud [click here for a PDF version].
Literary Community Discussion Guidelines: Utilize this suggested list of discussion guidelines to begin building a classroom literary community [click here for a PDF version].
Literature Circles: This is a cooperative approach to literature discussion, where students take ownership of literary dialogue in small groups.
- Get an introduction to Literature Circles, teacher resources, student resources, examples, role templates, and basic information about how Literature Circles work.
- Review Education World’s comprehensive article and resource links about Literature Circles.
- Visit the Literature Circles Resource Center, which includes samples of classroom structuring, units, teacher resources, and more.
Reader’s Theater: Consider using this creative and dramatic approach to literature instruction, where students’ interpretations affect their read alouds, from voice inflection to body language and the use of props. The possibilities are endless. Visit the following links to learn more about reader’s theater:
Sample Stance-Framed Questions: As you reflect upon your classroom discussions, consider the types of questions you ask your students. Are you requiring students to use critical thinking skills, moving beyond their initial hunches of a reading? Consider framing discussion questions around the four stances, so that students have the opportunity to respond to a text from a variety of positions and perspectives.
Click below to access sample questions that can be utilized to develop a literary discussion [click here for a PDF version].
Assessment & Reflection
Teachers are constantly thinking on their feet, making swift adjustments to instruction in order to meet the needs of all their students within a given class session. Take the luxury of reflecting upon the implementation of this renewed lesson and how it worked in your classroom. As a reflective practitioner, you have the opportunity to learn from the classroom experience, growing as a professional and honing your instructional practices.
To learn more about the “teacher as a reflective practitioner,” visit the following links:
- For information and a reflection cycle diagram, visit the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. It targets pre-service teachers, as they begin to strive towards becoming master teachers. Even so, the information is relevant to any teacher, at any point in their career.
- Access information regarding the teacher as a professional from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Questions to Ponder
After you implement your renewed lesson plan in your classroom, consider:
- What helped your students get into the piece and build their interpretations?
- Describe the kinds of thinking your students were doing. What were they focusing on?
- What didn’t work well? Why do you think you had complications?
- What was the role of the teacher? What was the role of the students?
- Did all students participate? Why/why not? How can you get more students involved next time?
- What would you change for next time?
- Did students value one another’s comments and perspectives? How can you continue to promote this in your classroom?
- What do you think the students learned from the classroom experience? What didn’t they learn? What questions were left unanswered? How can you help the learning happen more readily next time?
- Did you use the class meeting to explore the literature and raise questions or was the class time used to answer questions?
- What surprised you?
Lesson Builder Template
Directions: Use this framework for analyzing and renewing your classroom lesson. Use the many online resources linked from the Lesson Builder activity on this web site to thoughtfully consider all aspects of your lesson.
Length: Class Period(s)
Texts for Lesson:
Background Information: What information do students need to know to successfully participate in the lesson?
Lesson Objectives: What are students expected to do, think about doing, and know by the end of the lesson? Or, how are students expected to apply the learning beyond the lesson? How do these objectives align with language arts standards?
Student Assessment: How will you know students achieved the lesson objectives? What measures will you utilize to determine their learning? How will students synthesize the information or apply it? How will students extend their learning beyond the lesson objectives and classroom experience?
Expected Products from Activities: What will students know or produce after the learning experience? How will students apply their knowledge and learning?
Instructional Strategies: What instructional approaches do you use to assist students in achieving the objectives of this lesson? How do you conduct literature discussion in the classroom? What is your role and what is the role of the students? Consult the resources section of the online Lesson Builder for more thought-provoking questions to consider and for valuable professional resources.
Cooperative Structure of Class: How are you utilizing whole-class instruction, small groups, pairs, and engaging them in substantive thinking and discussion?
Lesson Procedures/Activities: List the step-by-step procedures for the lesson, from start to finish.
Follow-Up Activities or Culminating Activity(ies): These activities may be the same as the expected products for the lesson or this might be built into your assessment. How are students going to apply their knowledge or extend it?
Teacher Reflection: As a reflective practitioner, consider what worked when you initially implemented the lesson and what did not. How can you renew this lesson to support an envisionment-building classroom? How can you use elements of this lesson to foster a rich literary community?
A Think Aloud is an activity where readers verbalize their internal thoughts while building an understanding of what they are reading. This process of figuring out what the text means begins from the very moment readers pick up a book and glance at its title. Readers’ thoughts might include questions, connections to personal experiences and past reading experiences, judgments of the author’s writing, as well as thoughts about their lives. Consider the following leading questions and statements as you prepare to model a Think Aloud for your students:
When you first approach the text:
- What does the title mean?
- This reminds me of…
- I’ve heard of this…
- The title…
- This author is known for…
Throughout your reading:
- I predict that this will be about…
- I predict that the character will…
- I am surprised by… because…
- I am confused by…
- Why didn’t the character…
- I imagine the character to be like…
- I’ve had experiences similar to… I have read something similar to this before…
- This type of literature usually…
- What happened…
I didn’t get it…
- This is different from what I expected…
- I originally thought…
but now I think…
- I particularly like the phrase…
- I did not understand…
- This reminds me of …
- This literature makes me wonder if I made the right decision when…
- It must be easy/difficult/interesting to be that character, because…
- I would/not want to be that character’s friend because…
- I imagine the town/setting/place/house/etc. to be like…
I think this because…
- Why did the story turn in that direction or why did the author choose to shape it that way?
- The word choices of the author are…
Throughout your reading:
- My overall opinion/reaction to story/passage is…
- Some points I still did not understand are…
- Some questions/concerns I would like to discuss include…
- Some connections with my own experiences (reading and life experiences) are…
- The author built a believable story because…
- From this literature, I have learned that…
- This piece makes the following statement about society or culture…
Here are some suggested guidelines to consider as you begin to build your own literary community with your students. Paramount to creating a viable classroom literary community is the opportunity for students to take ownership of the classroom environment they help to create. Consider the following ideas as you create discussion guidelines in concert with your students:
- All contributions are valuable and deserving of respectful attention.
- There is no such thing as a “bad idea.” But some ideas do not hold up. Help one another to explain, reflect, and evaluate ideas to determine what works and what needs to be revised.
- There are many interpretations of literature and hearing others’ views helps us develop our own understandings.
- Questions are essential in the process of understanding literature.
- You may express opinions about a piece of literature as long as you can also explain your reasons for your opinions.
- Understandings of literature are constantly open to change, revision, and debate.
- It is O.K. to not like a piece of literature, as long as you have reasons why.
- It is O.K. to not understand something, but you should also remain open to possible understandings in the future, built through discussion and further reading.
- Come Prepared
- Read and think about the piece.
- Bring questions.
- Bring your book and any assigned writing.
- Respond Appropriately
- Address your responses to classmates by using eye contact and not necessarily to the teacher.
- Do not put down another person’s idea.
- Ask questions when you don’t understand someone’s viewpoint and when you are curious about something.
- Disagree politely, providing examples to back up your own opinion.
- Continue to raise questions about the text, related texts, experiences, and possible interpretations.
- Refer to significant passages that confused you, inspired you, or just struck you.
- Discuss the author’s craft and what about it worked or did not and why.
- Respect each individual’s idea by listening, responding appropriately, and by thinking about what they have to say.
- Every time you think about the literature, discuss it and interact with it. Expect that your interpretation is going to change or evolve.
- There is no “right” or “single” interpretation of a work of literature. But this does not mean “anything goes.”
- Questions are just as important as answers and ideas. You can learn from your questions. Good questions provoke discussion and exploration and can lead to sharpened understanding.
- Examine what it might be like to “walk in a character’s shoes.”
- Use examples from your own life experiences, in order to connect to the reading, as well as to explain your perspective.
- Think about what you can learn from the reading or what the reading has taught you about your own life. Share these ideas.
- Refer to passages that you find significant.
- Think about if the text inspired you? Confused you? Did you like the style of the passage?
- Consider how the style of the writing affected your reading and your interpretation of it.
- Continue to raise new questions.
Sample Stance-Framed Questions
Being Out and Stepping Into an Envisionment
- What is the title and what does it suggest? Can I make any predictions based on the title?
- Who is the author and what do I already know about their writing? What can I expect from this author?
- What does the book jacket suggest about the story? What predictions can I make about the story based on the illustrations or the teaser on the cover?
- Who are the characters and what are they like? What can I expect from them in the future?
- What time period does this take place? What do I already know about this era that can inform my understanding?
- What is the setting and how is this going to impact the piece?
- What is the organization of this piece and what does this tell me about the text?
- What genre is this text and how does that impact what I can expect to encounter in the piece?
- How is this story similar to something I have already experienced?
- What do I think may happen next? What do I think the piece may be about?
Being In and Moving Through an Envisionment
- What isn’t being told? What would I like to still know?
- Who are these characters and are they like anyone I know?
- How do those people feel about their circumstances?
- How do I feel about?
- What have I experienced in my own life that is similar to this? Different from this?
- What if the character?
- What if it happened this way?
- What other texts have I read that inform this and in what ways?
- How have the characters changed over time or across the story?
- What motivated the characters’ behaviors or what led them to their actions?
- How would you describe the relationships of the characters in the text?
- How would someone from a different culture or background interpret the story?
- Do I like these characters? Does what they are doing make sense? Would I have done the same thing in this situation?
- How is the plot developing?
- What are the characters like? Are they acting as I expected?
- How do the characters feel about and relate to each other? How will this affect the story?
- How do I think the piece might end?
Stepping Out and Rethinking What One Knows
- How might I react if I were in a similar situation as the character in the text? Was I ever in a similar situation? Do I know anyone who was?
- What can I learn from the situation in this text?
- Why did I feel a certain way or act a certain way when I found myself in a situation similar to the one in the text?
- What were my choices? Did I make the best ones?
- How else could I have handled it? What should I do now?
- What did I gain from that decision? Was it the right one?
- How could I act if I wanted to become a more ______ person?
Stepping Out and Objectifying the Experience
- Are there any other texts that I have read that can inform my understanding of this piece?
- Why did the author choose that particular phrase, style, or organizational feature?
- How does the title relate to the construct of the story?
- How does the language and voice affect my understanding of the text?
- How does the author’s voice contrast with my own perspective?
- Why did some of the word choices affect me so deeply?
- How can my understanding of literary elements (plot, setting, theme, characterization, and so forth) inform my envisionment?
- How would the piece differ if written, taken place, or read in another era or culture? How would I see things differently if I were from another culture, another era, or another’s perspective?
- How do other interpretations of the text contrast with my own? What are some other ways I can react to the text? Consider other perspectives, such as critical, feminist, or political.
Workshop 1 Responding As Readers
In this session, the audience meets the readers in this workshop — including Dr. Langer — and their varied literary backgrounds. Dr. Langer introduces the major concepts of her work in understanding the processes through which effective readers interact with literary texts.
Workshop 2 Envisioning
Dr. Langer explains the four vantage points that effective readers take as they build "envisionments," and the research process through which she identified them. She explains how each vantage point, or "stance" — being outside and stepping into an envisionment, being in and moving through an envisionment, stepping out and rethinking what one knows, and stepping out and objectifying the experience — contributes to an evolving and expansive understanding of the text. The stances are demonstrated as the readers discuss Gary Soto's poem "Oranges."
Workshop 3 Stepping In
In a discussion of James Dickey's "The Lifeguard" and Frank O'Connor's "First Confession," the group talks about their impressions, intuitions, and hunches that help them gather information as they first enter a text. They also talk through sticking points when the information they encounter in the text fragments their envisionments, and demonstrate how they work collectively to rebuild them. Throughout, Dr. Langer clarifies and explains content and suggests ways to apply techniques in the classroom.
Workshop 4 Moving Through
In this session, the community of readers shows how they create an envisionment as they are in and moving through a text, a time of great personal involvement in the action and character motivation. The group works with two texts, Cathy Song's poem "Lost Sister" and Stephen Dixon's short story "All Gone," building on their initial impressions to examine motives, feelings, causes, interrelationships, and interactions as they create a more complete envisionment of these texts. At this point in their reading, the community steps inside each text virtually, living through it as it unfolds.
Workshop 5 Rethinking
The group demonstrates another important vantage point that competent readers adopt: that of stepping outside the text and using what they find there to rethink what they know. As they discuss Shakespeare's Hamlet, they plumb the familial relationships included in the text to find points of congruence between the text and their own lives, and lessons they can take away from this examination. Dr. Langer stresses that, while not all texts speak explicitly to readers in this way, seeking the places where one's life intersects with the lessons of literature is important for all readers.
Workshop 6 Objectifying the Text
This session showcases the reader as critic, as the readers step out of the text to reflect on what it all means, how it works, and why. From this stance, the readers look at Alice Walker's "Revolutionary Petunias" and Langston Hughes's "Theme for English B" to examine the authors' craft, the structure of the text and its various literary elements, and the choice of language. Dr. Langer reminds readers of the importance of personal evaluation of the text and encourages teachers of readers to include the techniques explored here in their classrooms.
Workshop 7 The Stances in Action
This session shows how readers move into and out of each of the stances as they build their envisionments. This program serves as a model of effective reading habits for the viewer, focusing on two extended discussions as the onscreen readers individually and collectively enter and become immersed in their reading, and step back and reflect on its lessons. Viewers will learn to discern the various stances used and how they can influence work with students.
Workshop 8 Returning to the Classroom
In the concluding session, the readers in this community talk about the ways in which these processes can affect the language arts classroom, sharing their success stories. The audience is also given the opportunity to eavesdrop on classrooms throughout the country to see how teachers can encourage their students to become active and involved readers, creating rich and complex envisionments as they interact with literature.