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Conversations in Literature

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.


The envisionment-building process is recursive in nature, where at any given moment a reader can move from one stance to another, in no particular order. Envisionment describes the process competent readers go through as they make meaning out of what they read. Each stance provides another set of options — a panoply of ideas, filling out the reader’s depth of experience with the text and offering a fuller understanding of it.

Effective readers actively engage in literature in a meaningful, sophisticated manner, connecting text to their own personal experiences, literary experiences, and to the world in which they live. Competent readers are not aware of the stances as they build envisionments, nor should they be. It is necessary for educators to understand the envisionment-building process, as well as each stance, for the sake of instructional design and planning. Here, teachers can utilize their envisionment-building knowledge in order to create rich classroom experiences by asking questions that will stimulate student thinking. Students will benefit tremendously from creating their own envisionments, and from being a member of a literary community.

This program showcases the stances in action, where panelists are engaged in natural literary dialogue, recursively moving through all of the stances. Panel members build a rich understanding of the texts at hand, while adding layers of complexity to their envisionments.

For a complete guide to the workshop session activities, download and print our support materials.

Key Points

  • Readers experience the envisionment-building process in a recursive manner, experiencing all four stances nonsequentially, at any given moment in their reading.
  • Envisionment-building is a natural process that all readers utilize. It suggests how teachers can help their students become more able readers. By asking questions framed in the various stances, teachers can help students gain a rich array of knowledge from different vantage points.
  • Effective readers are not cognizant of the stances as they build an understanding of what they read, nor do they need to be. But less successful readers need to learn the active process of thinking about texts in order to learn how to make meaning out of what they read.
  • Effective readers engage in literature, gaining an understanding of not only the text, but also insight about the world in which we live and the human experience.
  • Literature provides readers with a variety of legitimate responses, allowing them to make connections to their own lives, examine others’, as well as to explore the craft of the author.
  • The envisionment-building process is a valuable experience for students. It permits them to rely on their own understandings and background experiences, as well as their powers of observation and analysis to form a multi-faceted experience with an interpretation of a text.

Learning Objectives

After viewing this program, participants will be able to:

  • Observe the value of the envisionment-building process, both for personal reading experiences and literary experiences within the classroom.
  • Identify the four stances as unique relationships to the text, each one offering an opportunity to add layers of meaning to an envisionment, in a nonlinear order.
  • Examine possible questions that a teacher may frame literary discussions around, in order to enrich students’ experiences with the text by adapting a variety of perspectives.

Background Reading

In preparation for the workshop, you may want to read the poems “Icarus” by Stephen Spender, “Icarus” by Edward Field, “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph” by Anne Sexton, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by William Carlos Williams, and the first chapter of the novel The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. All texts can be found in the anthology, Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing, 5th edition, Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs, ©1998, Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-13-010076-5.

Some online resources you might want to consult include:

Poem: “Icarus” by Stephen Spender

Poem: “Icarus” by Edward Field

Poem: “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph”
by Anne Sexton

Poem: “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”
by William Carlos Williams

Novel Excerpt: The House on Mango Street, Chapter One, by Sandra Cisneros

You may also consider reading Chapter 4, “The Classroom As a Social Setting for Envisionment Building,” and Chapter 5, “A Practical Pedagogy,” from Dr. Judith Langer’s Envisioning Literature.

For other resources, look under Additional Reading.



Homework Assignment

Journal: How can envisionment building impact your current classroom instructional practices and student literary experiences? What instructional strategies are you currently utilizing that support envisionment building?

Reading: In preparation for Workshop 8, you may consider reading Chapter 6, “Strategies for Teaching,” in Dr. Judith Langer’s Envisioning Literature.

Extension: Classroom Connection

You may want to try these activities back in the classroom.

Activity One:
Videotape a classroom literary discussion. View the tape later for analysis, focusing on the quality of the conversation and the stances students and teacher utilized in the discussion. As a reflective practitioner, think about the extent to which you as the teacher and facilitator influenced the dialogue. What can you do in the future to guide the students through all facets of the envisionment-building process? How can teacher comments push the process along? How can teacher comments hinder the process? What questions could you ask that might bring about a richer literary dialogue? What comments could you have made after student interjections that would lead the conversation in a more complex direction? What hints can you pick up from student comments that indicate their level of understanding or lack of understanding? Did you validate students’ input? Were all students in the community involved in the conversation? How can you get more students involved? Did the literary community support all ideas presented? What activities might lend themselves well to this process and community? What follow-up activity would benefit the students in this community?

. . .

Activity Two:
Consider implementing literature circles or small discussion groups, where each member of the group has a specific role and responsibility. Allow students to lead their own literature discussions. Circulate throughout the classroom to observe groups as well as to hear threads of discussion. Wrap up the class meeting with the groups reporting about their discussions and accomplishments. Use this time to allow groups to challenge one another, as well as to raise questions. If this is the first time you have implemented small group literature discussions, you might consider utilizing one group the first time, positioning them at the center of the room while the rest of the class observes the group, its roles, the conversation, and how the group works together. This is a “fish bowl” effect. This will allow you to teach the students about the group roles, your expectations, and about how literature groups should work in your classroom.

Online resources related to this activity can be accessed at:, Education World’s comprehensive article and resource links about Literature Circles., for the Literature Circles Resource Center, which includes samples of classroom structuring, units, teacher resources, and more.

. . .

Activity Three:
Using the Envisionment Building Stance Wheel [click here for a PDF version] from the Watch the Workshop Video portion of the print guide for Workshop 7, create questions specific to a piece of literature you are reading with your own students. Use these questions to lead a whole-class literature discussion with your students or print a list of the questions generated from the wheel for use in small group discussions. These questions can be used as conversation starters for the students. Consider mixing up the order of the questions or lay them out on a piece of paper in a random format. Not only will students learn what “good” questions look like, they will also begin to pose their own thought-provoking questions. The Envisionment Building Stance Wheel Sample Questions [click here for a PDF version] may help you get started.

Additional Reading

An article by Judith Langer, “A Response-Based Approach to Reading Literature.” Here, Dr. Langer offers guidelines for instruction and a framework for teaching strategies that support an envisionment-building classroom.

Dr. Judith Langer’s article “Discussion as Exploration: Literature and the Horizon of Possibilities.” This article explores how the teacher can frame discussion and move along students’ critical thinking and exploration of a horizon of possibilities in envisionment building.

Doralyn R. Roberts and Judith Langer’s report “Supporting the Process of Literary Understanding: Analysis of a Classroom Discussion.” Roberts and Langer analyze a classroom literature discussion where students are immersed in their own text interpretations.

Guidelines booklet on “Teaching Middle and High School Students to Read and Write Well.” This practical guide offers six effective features of successful instruction.

“How English is Taught and Learned in Four Exemplary Middle and High School Classrooms,” by Steven Ostrowski. The researcher examined several classrooms, noting how instructional practices in the classroom assist students in higher levels of achievement.

Online links to Chicano/Latino authors and resources include:

Links to information about authors.

A guide to Hispanic literature on the web.

The Pat Mora homepage.

A biography on Rudolfo Anaya and related web links.

A biography on Julia Alvarez, as well as related links, criticism and resources.

A biography on Ana Castillo, as well as criticism and a listing of her works.

A biography on Gary Soto and the poem “Mission Tire Factory, 1969.”

A teacher resource file on Gary Soto, including links and resources on the web related to the author and Hispanic authors in general.

A biography on Gary Soto and the poem “How Things Work.”