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Engaging With Literature: A Workshop for Teachers, Grades 3-5

The Professional Teacher

In this video program, the teachers talk about the ways in which they nurture themselves as professionals: their mentors and heroes, their activities, and the ways they reach out to their peers as they all grow in their careers. Documentary-style footage showcases the myriad ways in which they maintain their professional edge — learning from their students as well as other professionals.

“The conferences I go to, the workshops I attend, and the professional  books I read are the greatest part of my learning and after twenty-seven years give me the boost to keep on teaching.”

-Rich Thompson, 4th-Grade Teacher
Canyon Elementary School, Hungry Horse, Montana

Every profession has practitioners and professionals. While practitioners may be skillful and effective at many aspects of their jobs, too often they become accustomed to their current practices and forget to reflect on what else they can do to help their students do better. Professionals, on the other hand, share an urgent need to learn and grow. As a result, they actively seek ways to improve and meet newly developing challenges in their fields.

Professional development is particularly important in education. Student populations are changing, curriculum is changing, technology is changing, and the world is changing. Yet because teachers are often isolated in their classrooms, it may be particularly difficult for them to identify sources of support and resources for growth. Professional reading, study groups, workshops, and regional and national conferences all form important aspects of the professional lives of the teachers in this workshop series. In this video, they share some of those experiences and the value their professional commitments bring to their lives.

Key Points

  • Professional teachers enjoy spending time with their students, and are committed to helping each one learn.
  • Professional teachers spend time on their own professional development, reading books and journals, observing students, reflecting on their lessons, talking with other teachers, and attending local and national workshops and conferences.
  • Students are an important resource for professional development. Observing their responses to lessons and talking with them about their learning helps teachers improve instruction.
  • Taking active roles in professional organizations is another valuable form of professional development.
  • Administrative support for professional development enhances teacher growth and supports student learning.
  • Over-emphasis on preparing students for mandated state testing can distract educators from issues related to student learning and professional growth.
  • Many teachers find collegial support groups—where they can share ideas about what they are doing in their classrooms—an important part of their professional development.
  • Experimentation with new pedagogies followed by reflection on their effectiveness is an important form of professional growth. A teaching journal and video- or audiotaping are two ways to support such reflection.
  • Mentors—experienced teachers—can be particularly helpful to those new to the profession.
  • National conferences, in particular, expose teachers to new ideas, new possibilities, and new authors.
  • Planning in envisionment-building classrooms centers on the activities students will be involved in and the kinds of thinking those activities engender.
  • Planning needs to be flexible in order to respond to student needs and yet focused on the major ideas that will keep students engaged and forge the links between and among texts.

Learning Objectives & Background Reading

Learning Objectives

After participating in this session, you will be able to:

  • Identify the professional development strategies you currently employ.
  • Consider other professional development strategies that you might find beneficial.
  • Support the value of finding the time and the energy for professional development.

Background Reading

In preparation for Workshop 9, read “Closing Thoughts: Literature in School and Life” in Dr. Judith Langer’s Envisioning Literature from the Teachers College Press. Copyright 1995.

A compendium of resources and articles about Dr. Langer’s research and the envisionment-building process can be accessed from the National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement’s Web site.

Explore the “Envisionment-Building resources” to access articles and guides to fostering literary communities in your own classroom.



Respond to the following in your journal:

What have been your most useful or valuable professional development experiences? What made them particularly helpful?

Identify one or two areas in which you might benefit from professional development. How might you go about addressing these needs?

For additional resources, refer to the Additional Reading section of this workshop’s materials.

Classroom Connection

Student Activities

Try these activities with your students.

  • Experiment with some of the Suggested Uses of Sticky Notes (PDF) listed in the workshop resources for this session.
  • Use the Student Survey (PDF) provided in the workshop resources for this session to probe student responses to classroom activities (or develop a similar survey of your own). Analyze survey responses for patterns that might help you fine-tune your instruction.
  • Try “Save the Last Word for Me” (the activity demonstrated by BJ Namba and her collegial group in this workshop session) with your students: Ask them to identify a significant passage from their reading and write it on a card; then ask them to write the reason they chose the passage on the other side of the card. In groups, have them share their passages, and have group members discuss why they thought the passage was chosen before the reason is revealed.

Teacher as a Reflective Practitioner

What activities have you developed for your classroom that have been especially effective for students? How might you develop a workshop or a conference presentation to share these with colleagues?


Additional Reading

This non-profit site collects booklists, authors, reviews, and “must  reads.” The children’s literature section of the site features a wide variety of links and author lists, grouped by age.

Newbery Medal Homepage
This site lists all the Newbery winners and authors as well as providing information about the selection process.

Professional Journals About Literature Instruction:

CELA Newsletter
The National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement, State University of New York, Albany, publishes a newsletter in the fall, winter, and spring. The newsletter addresses a wide range of issues concerning literacy.

The National Council of Teachers of English
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) publishes many subscription journals including Language Arts for the elementary school level. Many issues are available online to members.

The International Reading Association
This site offers links to local affiliates, information about meetings and events, access to an online bookstore, news about literacy developments, research, and online publications.

Reading Online
This Web site is an online journal of K-12 practice and research published by the International Reading Association. It includes helpful links to book reviews, peer-reviewed articles, discussions about literacy, and ideas and information about applying technology in literacy instruction.

The National Writing Project
In addition to providing access to NWP subscriptions and publications, the National Writing Project site links to affiliates, and offers online training as well as information about setting up and maintaining writing project sites nationwide.

The National Staff Development Council
The National Staff Development Council is a non-profit organization devoted to providing effective, high-quality training programs with intensive follow-up and support, but also other growth-promoting processes such as study groups, action research, and peer coaching.

Authors mentioned by teachers or portrayed in this workshop program and a selection of their publications include:

Nancie Atwell

In the Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading, and Learning


Crispin: the Cross of Lead
The Fighting Ground
True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
SOR Losers
The Good Dog

T.A. Barron

The Lost Years of Merlin series
The Merlin Effect
The Ancient One
Tree Girl

Stephanie Harvey

Nonfiction Matters: Reading, Writing and Research in Grades 3-8

Naomi Shibab Nye

Come With Me: Poems for a Journey
Never in a Hurry: Essays on People and Places
19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East
Red Suitcase: Poems
Sitti’s Secrets
The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems
This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World

Kathy Gnagey Short

Literature as a Way of Knowing

Texts mentioned by teachers or students in this workshop program:

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake
The Half-a-Moon Inn by Paul Fleischman
“The Wall” by Langston Hughes
Grand Conversations (Grades 2-6) by Ralph Peterson
Book Talk and Beyond: Children and Teachers Respond to Literature by Nancy L. Roser and Miriam G. Martinez, eds.