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Making Meaning in Literature: A Workshop for Teachers, Grades 6-8

Learn techniques for helping students become engaged and enthusiastic readers in this video workshop for middle school teachers.

A video workshop for middle school teachers; 9 one-hour video programs, workshop guide, and website.

Making Meaning in Literature: A Workshop for Teachers, Grades 6-8 offers teachers practical ways to help their students form rich and informed interactions with literature. Eight teachers from around the country talk about the ways in which they encourage students to become active and effective readers, building strong mental muscles as they place themselves in the world of a text, form impressions of the work, and pose questions that help push their understandings further. The on-screen teachers illustrate their ideas by bringing the viewer into their classrooms as they and their students work together to “make meaning.” The video programs are augmented by commentary from noted educational researcher Dr. Judith Langer. Dr. Langer identified these habits of effective readers, calling them “envisionments,” or ever-expanding landscapes of understanding that are formed as students read, write, and talk about texts. A Web site and print guide supplement the videos.

Helping Students As They Make Meaning in Literature

Visit the Library companion to Making Meaning in Literature.

Learn about other workshops and libraries in this series.

Examining. Thinking critically. Wondering. Imagining. Growing. At its best, reading literature with your students has the power to enthuse and encourage them to new levels of success in countless directions. At your best, your teaching has the power to provoke thoughts, expand worlds, and help your students grow academically, socially, and personally.

This workshop is about combining the best of literature with the best of teaching to create communities of learners where literature is the path to growth. Based on solid philosophies and sound practices, it explores ways to shape reading, writing, and discussion into the genuine opportunities for personal development you always knew they could be.

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 asks.

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

Featured Teachers

Joe Bernhart
Fondren Middle School
Houston, Texas

Joe Bernhart received his degree in secondary English (K-12) from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1994. Following a year of substitute teaching in Milwaukee public schools, he took a full-time language arts position at Fondren Middle School in Houston, Texas, where he has worked for the past six years. He currently teaches seventh grade magnet and pre-AP students.

Mr. Bernhart is a lead teacher in the Houston Independent School District. He is also active in the Greater Houston Area Writing Project. During 2000, he assisted as a convention planner for the annual middle school convention of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and participated in the National Writing Project, a month-long professional development workshop.

Believing that literature helps people understand themselves and the world in which they live, Bernhart uses contemporary young adult literature to engage students in discussions on such critical topics as race, equality, and justice. He is committed to teaching in an urban district.

Dr. Janis Currence, Ed.D.
Stephen Decatur Middle School
Berlin, Maryland

Dr. Janis Currence holds an undergraduate certification in special education and elementary education from the State University of New York at Geneseo, a master’s degree in education from Salisbury State with a concentration in supervision and administration, and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of Maryland’s School of Education at College Park.

Dr. Currence has over 30 years of teaching experience in a variety of settings, including primary and secondary special education, a program for socially and emotionally challenged secondary students, and regular English classes at the fourth, sixth, and eighth grade levels. She also has extensive experience working with teaching professionals. She has been a writing resource teacher for teachers of eighth and ninth grade English in Worcester County, Maryland, and has provided in-service programs for teachers in Worcester, Wicomico, and Dorchester Counties. In 1998, as an adjunct professor at Salisbury State University, she taught a course entitled “Reading and Writing in the Content Areas for Secondary Teachers.” She has served as both professional education consultant and teacher/consultant for the Eastern Shore Writing Project, and co-directed two writing project Summer Institutes at Salisbury State University.

Dr. Currence presently teaches seventh grade Integrated language arts at Stephen Decatur Middle School in Berlin, Maryland. Teaching on the classroom level — or as she says, “in the trenches” — is her true professional calling.

Dorothy Franklin
DeWitt Clinton Elementary School
Chicago, Illinois

Dorothy Franklin began her teaching career 16 years ago as a coordinating teacher for four-year-olds at a suburban Chicago daycare center. After two years, she accepted a position as a teacher’s aide in the reading center of the Evanston Township High School. During her ten years there, she received her elementary teaching certificate with an endorsement in language arts and embarked on a master’s degree in reading. She also developed and implemented a pull-out program for students living below the poverty line who scored below the 35th percentile on standardized tests in reading and math.

For the past six years, she has taught sixth, seventh, and eighth grade English language arts at DeWitt Clinton Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois. Her hope is to inspire students who did not receive adequate literacy experience in the critical primary years. In the past, she sponsored a student newspaper that received critical acclaim from Mayor Richard Daly, and she now runs a drama club where she helps students write and produce several shows each school year. Franklin has also taken a leadership role in establishing a school-wide reading team at Clinton, coordinating quarterly meetings, sharing standards with school staff, and providing one-to-one support for new teachers.

In 1999, Ms. Franklin won the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Golden Apple Foundation in Chicago, Illinois. She then joined the foundation’s newly formed Reading Interest Group to draft a Reading Bill of Rights, which has since been ratified by the foundation and accepted by Mayor Daly. The committee, in concert with Chicago Public School administrators, is spearheading a campaign to assist all schools in identifying or hiring reading specialists.

In 2000, Ms. Franklin participated in the Chicago Area Writing Project Summer Institute and now acts as teacher/consultant, offering demonstrations for other educators. She has delivered presentations at Clinton and Northeastern Illinois University on literature-based instruction. She has published an article, “Thinking about Thinking: A New Look at Comprehension,” in the Illinois Reading Council Journal, and most recently co-wrote a proposal to open a new charter school in Chicago.

Ana Hernandez
Howard Doolin Middle School
Miami, Florida

Ana Hernandez earned her bachelor’s degree in English education from Florida International University in April 1997. While at the university, she substitute taught in the Dade County Public Schools and was a lead teacher for SummerLink ’95 and ’96, a six-week program for inner-city minority children. She has served as both vice president and president of the university’s Future Educators of America and was selected to the Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society. She was also founder and student editor of EduTrends, a monthly newsletter for the Future Educators of America Organization.

In 1998, Ms. Hernandez was honored as the Sallie Mae Outstanding First-Year Teacher for her work in the Campbell Drive Middle School in Homestead, Florida. A member of the Phi Delta Kappa National Education Honor Society, she has also served as vice president and president of this organization.

Ms. Hernandez is currently working toward a Master of Science degree in education at the University of Miami, focusing on reading and learning disabilities. She teaches sixth and seventh grade language arts to gifted students at the Howard A. Doolin Middle School in Miami.

Barry Hoonan
The Odyssey School
Bainbridge Island, Washington

Barry Hoonan, a two-time participant in the Fullbright Teacher Exchange to Great Britain, has 19 years of experience in public school classrooms. He currently teaches the 5/6 cluster at Odyssey, an alternative school for grades 1-8 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, which features multi-age classes and a high level of parent involvement. Although Hoonan teaches all subjects in his cluster, his true passions are literature and writing.

Mr. Hoonan has a master’s degree in teaching from Lesley College in Massachusetts. Winner of the 1990 Christa MacAuliffe Award for teaching excellence in Washington State, he has recently seen his work published in Beyond Reading and Writing by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and Literature Circles and Response(Christopher-Gordon Publishers, 1995). He is also a member of NCTE’s Reading Commission, and he serves as a consultant for school districts conducting workshops on integrating reading, writing, poetry, and the arts into instruction. Mr. Hoonan’s teaching style has been influenced by such notables as Judith Langer, Linda Rief, Nancie Atwell, Donald Graves, and Jerome Harste.

Linda Rief
Oyster River Middle School
Durham, New Hampshire

Linda Rief is a full-time eighth-grade language arts teacher at Oyster River Middle School in Durham, New Hampshire. She is also an instructor in the University of New Hampshire’s Summer Reading and Writing Program and has taught graduate courses for Northeastern University and Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. She is the author of Seeking Diversity: Language Arts with Adolescents (1992) and Vision and Voice: Extending the Literacy Spectrum (1999) — a book and companion CD — both published by Heinemann. Several book chapters and articles have appeared in Portfolio Portraits (ed. Donald Graves and Bonnie Sunstein), The Portfolio Standard, Language Arts, Learning, Educational Leadership, Instructor K-8, and other professional journals. She is co-editor with Maureen Barbieri of All That Matters: What Is It We Value in School and Beyond?(Heinemann, 1995) and Workshop 6: The Teacher as Writer(Heinemann, 1994). With Barbieri, she co-founded and co-edited, for five years, Voices from the Middle, a journal for middle school teachers, published by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). She has also designed and hosted two television series for the Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In 2000, Ms. Rief was the recipient of NCTE’s Edwin A. Hoey Award for excellence in English Language Arts teaching, a finalist for New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, and the recipient of the New Hampshire English/Language Arts Teacher of the Year. In 1999, she received the Richard W. Halle Award presented by the middle school assembly of NCTE, and in 1988, she was the recipient of one of two Kennedy Center Fellowships for Teachers of the Arts.

Although Ms. Rief continues to conduct numerous workshops throughout the U.S., sharing what her students know and are able to do as readers, writers, and learners, her full-time commitment remains with her students.

Tanya Schnabl
Sherburne-Earlville Middle School
Sherburne, New York

Tanya Schnabl, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Sherburne-Earlville Middle School in Sherburne, New York, has made a career of helping students connect literature to their own lives. She began teaching 14 years ago at a high school in Guilderland, New York. Within a year, she moved to Farnsworth Middle School, also in Guilderland, and found her calling. Hired as a language arts and social studies teacher, she came to realize that integrated, thematic units helped students make connections across the curriculum. Schnabl worked closely with other teachers to plan these kinds of experiences.

In 1993, Ms. Schnabl wrote a chapter in the book Children Exploring Their World: Theme Teaching in Elementary Schools. Soon after, her classroom was highlighted in Instructor magazine for a theme on architecture. In 1995, she was chosen to be an assessor for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. While in Guilderland, she also created a summer “Boost” program for struggling readers.

Ms. Schnabl works with teachers throughout the area, with an emphasis on implementing alternative teaching methods to help students be more successful learners. She encourages teachers to communicate with each other and find ways to integrate subject areas in order to make learning more meaningful to students.

Flora Tyler
Picacho Middle School
Las Cruces, New Mexico

Flora Tyler graduated from New Mexico State University in 1980 with a degree in elementary education and an endorsement in K-12 special education. For 12 years, she worked as a special education classroom teacher of students in kindergarten through ninth grade, incorporating Nancie Atwell’s vision of readers and writers workshops into her own special education setting. More recently, she has shifted to a regular classroom in the hope of reaching a larger population of students. She currently teaches sixth-grade language arts at Picacho Middle School in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Beginning in the 2001-2002 school year, she will teach seventh-grade language arts at Sierra Middle School.

In addition to challenging her students to take risks and stretch their expectations, Ms. Tyler has also worked as mentor to teachers who want to expand their own repertoire of classroom skills and strategies. In this capacity, she has reached beyond the walls of her own school to present at various conferences at the district level.

Ms. Tyler credits the work of Yetta Goodman, Donald Graves, Nancie Atwell, Lucy Calkins, Regie Routman, Linda Rief, David Lazear, Thomas Armstrong, and Howard Gardner as influential to her understanding of how people learn, as well as the approach she takes to assessment in the classroom.

Advisors and Content Experts

Judith A. Langer, Ph.D.

Judith A. Langer is Professor of Education at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She specializes in studies of language, literacy, and learning. Her research focuses on how people become highly literate, on how they use reading and writing to learn, and on what this means for instruction.

Her major works examine the nature of literate thought-the knowledge students use when they “make sense” and the ways in which their learning is affected by activities and interactions in the classroom. She has studied reading and writing development, the ways in which understandings (envisionments) grow over time, how particular literacy contexts affect language and thought, and the contribution of literature to literate thought.

She is presently studying the professional and classroom features that accompany English programs where students are “beating the odds” in literacy. Her work on envisionment building has had a major impact on literature instruction and assessment. She serves on many advisory boards and national reform groups involved in reconceptualizing literacy education.

Dr. Langer has published in a wide variety of journals and collections. Her books include Reader Meets Author/Bridging the Gap; Understanding Reading and Writing Research; Children Reading and Writing: Structures and Strategies; Language, Literacy, and Culture: Issues of Society and Schooling; How Writing Shapes Thinking: Studies of Teaching and Learning; Literature Instruction: A Focus on Student Response; Literature Instruction: Practice and Policy; and Envisioning Literature: Literary Understanding and Literature Instruction. Effective English Instruction will soon be published.

Dr. Langer is Director of the National Research Center on English Learning & Achievement (CELA) funded by the United States Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement. She is also chair of the Department of Educational Theory and Practice.

Dr. Langer serves as the chief content advisor for all the projects in the Envisioning Literature workshops and libraries, including Conversations in Literature and Making Meaning: A Video Library, Grades 6-8.

Dale Allender

Dale Allender currently serves as the Associate Executive Director of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). A former teacher in the Iowa City Community School District, Mr. Allender has also lectured at Grinnell and Coe Colleges. He has also served the language arts community as an Editorial Board Member of The New Advocate, as representative-at-large for the Alliance for Curriculum Reform, and in his current position as the NCTE Liaison to the Iowa Council Teachers of English and Language Arts Executive Board.

A recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for Native American Literature fellowship and numerous other awards, Mr. Allender has also served as a consultant and curriculum developer for a number of media projects, including Songmasters: The American Road, a music recording of traditional socially conscious songs performed by contemporary popular music artists; Tutu and Franklin: A Journey Towards Peace, a dialogue between Desmond Tutu and John Hope Franklin and 21 international, multicultural high school students; and Regret to Inform, an award-winning documentary on widows from the Vietnam War, featured on PBS.

Some of Mr. Allender’s recent publications include “Deep Reading: Building a Schematic Bridge Across World Mythology and Multicultural Literature” which appeared in Multicultural Review, “The Myth Ritual Theory and the Teaching of Multicultural Literature,” “Standing on the Border: Issues of Identity and Border Crossing in Young Adult Literature,” and “African and African American Voices and Experiences” which is included in Adventuring with Books.

Arthur N. Applebee, Ph.D.

Arthur N. Applebee is Professor in the School of Education, University at Albany, State University of New York, and (with Judith Langer) is Director of the federally sponsored National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement. The Center has an active research and development agenda in elementary and secondary instruction, effective uses of technology, and teacher education.

During his varied career, Dr. Applebee has worked in institutional settings with children with severe learning problems, in public schools, as a staff member of the National Council of Teachers of English, and in research and professional education. He joined the faculty at the University at Albany from Stanford University in 1987, as part of a SUNY-wide Graduate Research Initiative designed to place the University at Albany at the forefront of literacy research in the United States.

With degrees from Yale, Harvard, and the University of London, Dr. Applebee’s work focuses on how children and adults learn the many specialized forms of language required for success in school subjects, life, and work. His numerous books and articles focus in particular on issues in curriculum and instruction in reading, writing, and the English Language Arts. Since the early 1970s, he has also worked with the National Assessment of Educational Progress, helping to design, implement, interpret, and report a continuing series of evaluations of the educational attainment of U.S. students.

An internationally recognized expert, Applebee consults at the national, state, and district level on effective approaches to curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Dr. Applebee is a former editor of Research in the Teaching of English, a past president of the National Conference on Research in Language and Literacy, and a recipient of the David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in the Teaching of English, from the National Council of Teachers of English.

Ana Hernandez

See above

Frank Horstman, Ph.D.

As the K-12 Specialist in English Language Arts for the Maryland State Department of Education, Frank Horstman works with a variety of issues related to language development: curricular design, instructional implementation, assessment, and school improvement. Specific projects have ranged from kindergarten — MMSR training, to primary — managing the Reading Excellence Act Grant, to middle — range finding for MWT and MSPAP, through high school — collaborating on the development of the English High School Assessment. While he received his formal training in applying theories in cognitive psychology, linguistics, and classical rhetoric to improving writing instruction, Dr. Horstman credits the training he received from his English, journalism, and foreign language students with helping him develop a very practical perspective on English Language Arts. He also believes that serving as both a staff development facilitator and an administrator has helped him to see the learning process from still other perspectives. Dr. Horstman welcomes the opportunity to support educators across Maryland in their goal to improve student achievement in English language arts.

Mara Johnson

Mara Johnson, a native of the District of Columbia, holds a bachelor of science in elementary education from D.C. Teachers College with a minor in speech, a master’s degree in reading from University of the District of Columbia, and certification in middle school foundations from National-Louis University.

Ms. Johnson has devoted her career to teaching in Washington’s inner city schools, beginning at Meyer Elementary School where she taught grades three through six for 18 years. For the past 11 years, she has been a reading instructor at Garnett-Patterson Middle School (grades six through eight). At various points, she has served as building resource teacher, standards specialist, mentor teacher, the multicultural chairperson, member of the personnel selection and textbook selection committees, spelling bee coordinator, and sponsor of the ski club. She has also won two Teacher-to-Teacher Awards for her work on instructional materials designed to help children develop vocabulary, reading, writing, and speaking skills. During the summer of 2000, she worked as the assistant program manager for the Summer Arts and Smarts Program offered by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.

Elizabeth Penfield

Elizabeth Penfield is Professor Emerita of English at the University of New Orleans. She is the author of four books and numerous articles published in state, regional, and national journals, including Arizona English Bulletin, English Language Arts Bulletin, and the ADE Bulletin. Her book Short Takes, published by Harper Collins, is currently in its seventh printing. She is a contributor to the Longman Bibliography of Composition and Rhetoric, and her article “Freshman English/Advanced Writing: How Do We Distinguish the Two?” was published in On Teaching Advanced Writing. Together with Charles Moran of the University of Massachusetts, she edited the NCTE publication Conversations: Contemporary Theory and the Teaching of Literature. Penfield has also presented papers to many state, regional, and national groups, including the Conference on College Composition and Communication and the National Council of Teachers of English.

Ms. Penfield’s principle areas of interest are composition and rhetoric, and contemporary literature. She has consulted on writing with schools throughout Louisiana and for the Wyoming Conference on Freshman and Sophomore English. She has also chaired the New Orleans Writing Project. At the University of New Orleans, she has directed the freshman program, chaired the English Department, and served as Associate Dean of Liberal Arts.

Linda Rief

See above

Individual Workshop Descriptions

Workshop 1. Introducing our Literary Community

In this workshop, you will meet the eight teachers who will guide your experience, and take a look at their communities, schools, and students. In conversation, the teachers share the principles that guide their work with literature and students. Their thoughts are woven into a framework offered by Dr. Judith Langer, who talks about the ways effective readers interact with text and the ways teachers can support these learners.

Workshop 2. Encouraging Discussion

Introduced by Dr. Langer, this workshop concentrates on discussion and its importance in helping engaged readers go further in the text. The featured teachers converse about ways to encourage whole class and small group discussion, the importance of asking the right question to provoke thoughtful discussion, and ways of making the discussion inclusive, folding in both talkative and reticent students. Their discussion is punctuated by visits to a variety of classrooms where discussion flourishes.

Some of the texts that are featured in these discussions include Langston Hughes’ short story “Passing,” The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, Fig Pudding by Robert Fletcher, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Letters From a Slave Girl: The Story of Harriet Jacobs by Mary E. Lyons, Holes by Louis Sachar, the nonfiction text To Be A Slave by Julius Lester, and the picture book The Lady With a Ship on Her Head by Deborah Nourse Lattimore.

Workshop 3. Going Further in Discussion

Since discussion is so central to the growth and development of a literary community, the third workshop in this series also concentrates on this activity. Here the teachers talk about ways to recognize good discussion, adding personal anecdotes about ways in which they participate in or step out at various points in the discussion to help students go further in their understandings of the text. The group also looks at different stimuli they use to provoke and maintain good discussions in their classrooms. These principles are illustrated by classroom footage showing rich and involved student discussion, and expanded by commentary from Dr. Langer.

Classroom discussion focuses on several novels, including On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963by Christopher Paul Curtis, Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper, Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Necessary Roughness by Marie G. Lee, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and Dangerous Skies by Suzanne Fisher Staples. Short stories are also featured, including “Passing” by Langston Hughes and “Guests in the Promised Land” by Kristin Hunter.

Workshop 4. Diversity in Texts

In this workshop, Dr. Langer and the participating teachers talk about the importance of choosing rich texts for their students as a group or as individuals, enumerating various criteria they have developed for this initial classroom decision. Supported by commentary from Dr. Langer, the group looks at the part student interests play in selecting the right text, building thematic study units using a variety of texts, and helping students select texts that meet their needs or help them go further in their experiences with literature.

The group examines a number of texts for consideration, and classroom visits show activities related to many of them. These texts include contemporary novels such as Year of the Impossible Goodbyesby Sook Nyul Choi, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper, The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake, Fig Pudding by Robert Fletcher, Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, Gaucho by Gloria Gonzalez, Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt, the Redwall Series by Brian Jacques, Heaven by Angela Johnson, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Slam by Walter D. Myers, Somewhere in the Darkness by Walter D. Myers, Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, the Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling, Crash by Jerry Spinelli, and Dangerous Skies by Suzanne Fisher Staples.

Classic novels the group talks about include To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Menby John Steinbeck, and Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth by William Shakespeare.

Short stories that get the group’s attention include The Day it Snowed Tortillas: Tales from Spanish New Mexico by Joe Hayes, “Guests in the Promised Land” by Kristin Hunter, and Couple of Kooks and Other Stories by Cynthia Rylant.

Poems by Langston Hughes and Gary Soto are also considered.

Workshop 5. Student Diversity

The varied viewpoints necessary for valuable class discussions are celebrated in this workshop. The group talks about the diverse ways in which their students are unique and how their interactions with literature are shaped in part by their life experiences, distinctive thoughts, and previous reading experiences. They examine the value of using the lens of multiple perspectives to examine a work of literature, and offer suggestions of ways to encourage each student to contribute to the ongoing classroom conversation. Dr. Langer validates their comments, offering her thoughts on involving students’ diverse voices in a way that honors all of their contributions.

Some of the texts that the group talks about include House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Tatum, Taking Sides by Gary Soto, Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, Holes by Louis Sachar, and The Day it Snowed Tortillas: Tales from Spanish New Mexico by Joe Hayes.

Workshop 6. Literature, Art, and Other Disciplines

In this workshop session, the featured teachers explore various ways in which students can use the fine arts to express their impressions of a text, and why this kind of activity should be encouraged to make sure that every voice in the classroom can be heard. The group also looks at ways to expand meaning by interweaving literature with other disciplines, including social studies.

Dr. Langer offers her thoughts on this integration, explaining how learners grow cognitively and expand their impressions of the text by using other means of looking that the fine arts and other disciplines offer.

Several classroom projects demonstrate how learners expand their growing interactions with texts as they work in the fine arts. Their projects are centered on texts such as Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Smoky Night by Eve Bunting, Thunder Cave by Roland Smith, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Lyddie by Katherine Paterson, and The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Workshop 7. Assessment

In a classroom where students are actively engaged in literature, there is a need to find authentic assessment vehicles that measure their progress as readers and thinkers. In this workshop, the featured teachers identify useful criteria-including portfolios and literature logs-that they have used in both formal and informal assessments that measure this process. The group stresses the importance of ongoing assessment, and the worth of looking at several measures to construct a holistic picture of a student’s progress. Dr. Langer augments their comments by stressing the importance of measuring how students are thinking and how they are growing as effective readers. The group also talks about integrating their evaluation strategies in the milieu of traditional and high-stakes assessments, while maintaining an emphasis on the individual growth of the readers in their classrooms. Dr. Langer explains that encouraging readers to become more actively engaged in the text also gives them firm grounding as thinkers and achievers on tests such as these.

Classroom visits that enhance this workshop specify these principles, featuring teacher-student conferences, student projects, and peer assessment.

Workshop 8. Planning and Professional Development

In order to grow in their careers, teachers need a great deal of sustenance. In this workshop, the participating teachers talk about the ways in which they fulfill this need as they develop individually and as members of a professional community. The group invites us into their classrooms to look at the way they have grown professionally, stimulated by their peers, their membership in professional organizations, and their willingness to seek out new thinking on literature and teaching literature. Dr. Langer also describes the personal and professional benefits of an active professional life.

Cameras follow the featured teachers to professional development meetings where they interact with their peers, noted educators, and authors as they find many ways to grow as professionals.

Workshop 9. Starting in September…

The concluding workshop in this series takes a close look at the first steps teachers take in getting ready to help their students become successful and engaged readers. With classroom visits during the first few days of classes as their backdrop, the teachers in this session talk about everything-from classroom arrangement to long-term goals-that enters their minds as they start another year and plan for success. Dr. Langer underscores their remarks with advice for teachers who want to recreate the kinds of classrooms they have seen featured in this series.

During this workshop, featured teachers invite the audience into their classrooms as they begin to set the tone for the year through an assortment of activities focused on literature. Some of the texts they turn to in these first days include Holes by Louis Sachar, Gaucho by Gloria Gonzalez, Little Things are Big by Jesus Colon, and Smoky Nightby Eve Bunting.


Making Meaning in Literature: A Workshop for Teachers, Grades 6-8

Executive Producer
Carol Jackson

Content Development
Ann Chatterton Klimas

Senior Producer
Marilyn M. Phillips

See Spots Run
Chris Nusbaum

Carol Dana
Lee Cohen Hare
Diane Harrison
Ann Chatterton Klimas
Christine Nusbaum

Velocity Pictures
Michael Fevang

Joshua Seftel Film and Video Production
Joshua Seftel

Associate Producers
William Beustring
Tiffany Judkins

Assistant Producer
Ben Graff

Katie Klimas

Additional Editing
Daryl Martin

Elisabeth Noone

Program Participants
Joe Bernhart
Houston, Texas

Jan Currence, Ph.D.
Berlin, Maryland

Dorothy Franklin
Chicago, Illinois

Ana Hernandez
Miami, Florida

Barry Hoonan
Bainbridge Island, Washington

Linda Rief
Durham, New Hampshire

Tanya Schnabl
Sherburne, New York

Flora Tyler
Las Cruces, New Mexico

Original Music
Eric Goldberg

Opening Titles
Vizual Solutions

Teacher Conversation Production
TV Crews – USA
Bob Peterson, Dir. Of Photography/Camera
Jim Peterson, Sound Technician
Greg Larsen, Camera
Rob Peterson, Camera/Sound
Mike Godin, Grip

Field Videographers
For Maryland Public Television
Frank Leung
Tim Pugh
Marlene Rodman
Michael Goldsmith

Field Production Crews
Julye Newlin Productions, Inc.
Julye Newlin, Videographer
Jaroslav Vodehnal, Videographer
Linden Hudson, Audio
Linda Brown, Grip
Seattle Video Bureau
David Oglevie, Videographer
Zack Ragsdale, Videographer
Debbie Brown, Videographer
Mark Hollensteiner, Audio
Eric Reeves, Audio/Grip

Field Sound
Nebula Television Productions
Steve Giordani
Phil Vaughn
Open Studios
Peter Bombar
Orbis Broadcast Group
Michael Swanson
Erin Salomone
Paradigm Sound
Jonathan Cohen
Word of Mouth Productions
Orazio Stagnardi
Paris Rich

Post Production Sound
John Davidson
David Wainwright

Closed Captioning
Judi Mann
Robin Gautney

Bellanova Skin Care Salon
Debbie Green

Gramercy Mansion
Baltimore, MD

National Advisory Panel
Judith A. Langer, Ph.D
Dale Allender
Arthur Applebee, Ph.D
Ana Hernandez
Frank Horstman, Ph.D
Mara Johnson
Elizabeth Penfield
Linda Rief

Online/Print Supporting Materials
Online Design
Bean Creative
Technical Support
David J. Tauriello, Online Producer, MPT
Chris Klimas, Associate Online Producer, MPT
Content Development
Ann Chatterton Klimas
Sarah Blattner
Kathleen Dudden Rowlands
Sarah Blattner
Content Review
Ben Graff

For Maryland Public Television
Vice President of Education
Christie Timms
Director of Business Affairs
Joan Foley

For Annenberg Media
Project Officer
Deborah Batiste
Content Advisors
Elizabeth Close
Arthur Applebee, Ph.D.
Chief Content Advisor

Judith A. Langer, Ph.D

Executive in Charge of Production
Gail Porter Long

© Annenberg Media 2002

A Response-Based Approach to Reading Literature by Judith
Langer, from Language Arts, copyright 1994 by the National
Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

Improving Literary Understanding Through Classroom
Conversation and Effective Literature Instruction Develops
Thinking Skill, by Judith A. Langer and Elizabeth Close,
are supplied here as PDFs with the permission of The
National Center on English Learning and Achievement,
University at Albany, State University of New York.

Langer and Applebee: Elena Siebert