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Voices from the Middle, Vol. 20, No. 1, September 2012

Table of Contents

Issue Theme: Background Knowledge and Vocabulary

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  • Building Background Knowledge within Literature Circles

    Diane Barone and Rebecca Barone

    Abstract: The authors examined the strength of literature circles in developing background knowledge—an acknowledged sticking point in the development of understanding for middle graders—with a special focus on the literature circle role of “investigator,” where it is student initiative and not teacher direction that guides comprehension. Observing students who were reading Maniac Magee with a teacher who supported reading in literature circles, the authors concluded that being an investigator allowed students to personally learn about topics, words, and people that were important to understanding the novel, and that by treating the novel as a puzzle to solve, they developed an appreciation for the author’s research and skill, broadened their own background knowledge, routinely listened and responded to others in their circle, and developed as critical readers. An added bonus was the development of a home–school dialogue.

  • Using Literature to Teach Inference across the Curriculum [FREE ACCESS]

    William P. Bintz, Petra Pienkosky Moran, Rochelle Berndt, Elizabeth Ritz, Julie A. Skilton, and Lisa S. Bircher

    Abstract: Today, increasing numbers of teachers at all grade levels are recognizing that inference is a powerful way of thinking and an important 21st century skill for all students to use and develop across the curriculum. Increasing numbers of teachers are also recognizing that developing and implementing integrative curriculum is important at all grade levels, especially in middle grades education. This article shares high-quality literature and instructional strategies to teach inference across the curriculum in middle grades education. It provides background on inference and then shares literature and strategies to teach inference in science, social studies, mathematics, and language arts. It ends with some thoughts about the teaching and learning of inference.

  • Mentor Texts and Funds of Knowledge: Situating Writing within Our Students' Worlds

    Beatrice Mendez Newman

    Abstract: The funds of knowledge concept serves as scaffolding for encouraging students to draw on background experiences and home language to generate authentic writing. This article describes and illustrates several classroom strategies, including 1) using culturally relevant mentor texts; 2) applying Nancie Atwell's writing territories concept; 3) adapting Harry Noden's Image Grammar; and 4) introducing cubing as a discovery strategy.

    Keywords: Cubing, Culturally Relevant Teaching, Funds of Knowledge, Mentor Texts, Teaching Writing to Middle Schoolers, Writing Territories

  • A Comprehensive Approach to Vocabulary Instruction

    Robert J. Marzano

    Abstract: Marzano offers a brief review of research in vocabulary instruction, focusing on the concept of “tiers” to describe words used with different contexts and purposes. He then suggests teaching tools that may work to help specific student populations learn and retain those words across the K–12 curriculum.

  • Language and Learning under the Microscope

    Sarah Davis

    Abstract: In any content area, teachers have opportunities to help their students develop more robust vocabularies; however, many content area teachers “know relatively little about effective instructional practices for vocabulary development” (Fisher & Frey, 2008). This article offers content area teachers three examples of rich opportunities for word work: prime the descriptive pump, go beyond the words in bold, and make connections with connectors. The article describes how content area teachers can use these opportunities to further their content teaching, and also how they can use research-based strategies to support word acquisition in each case.

  • “Why Are There So Many Words in Math?”: Planning for Content-Area Vocabulary Instruction [FREE ACCESS]

    Antony T. Smith and Robin L. Angotti

    Abstract: Vocabulary presents a challenge to students in content area classes, making it difficult to understand new concepts and make connections to background knowledge. This article describes the 5 Cs, a tool developed to help content area teachers consider vocabulary as part of lesson planning. By selecting a set of key words for instruction, teachers can help students focus on conceptual understanding and connect new ideas to existing knowledge.

    Keywords: Vocabulary, Background Knowledge, Content-Area Reading, Mathematics

  • Background Knowledge and the Magazine Reading Students Choose

    Rachael Gabriel, Richard Allington, and Monica Billen

    Abstract: Can students read difficult but self-selected texts—and if so, how? In this article we describe what we learned about middle school students’ use of background knowledge and specific vocabulary from interviews and surveys in our longitudinal study of magazine reading habits’. Then we discuss the implications of these findings for structuring independent reading opportunities and facilitating connections between students’ in- and out-of-school literacies.

  • Developing a Community of Critically Literate Consumers . . . One Close Label-Reading at a Time

    Rose Cherie Reissman

    Abstract: This article focuses on middle school students analyzing product labels.  The labels were analyzed in terms of which facts they purported to impart and to what extent these so-called facts tallied with actual data and scientific/health analyses of the products.  Students then reworded the labels to include only documented facts.  They also shared the results of their research with the companies producing the products.  The strategy shared is a replicable student-centered vocabulary and consumer strategy that integrates health, nutrition, and language analysis in an authentic fashion.

  • Young Adult Literature—Making the Common Core Text Exemplars Accessible to Middle Graders [FREE ACCESS]

    Barbara Moss, editor

    Abstract: The Common Core State Standards are driving the profession toward more cross-disciplinary teaching. The standards themselves address the what of curriculum rather than the how, but they do offer text exemplars for different grade levels. While some find the exemplars too difficult, others see them as worthwhile texts that, with a teacher’s guidance, push students to higher levels of reading, background knowledge, and lifelong literacy skills. This article mentions multiple texts and discusses their specific value in the classroom.

  • Student to Student—Going One Step beyond with Books

    Wendy Ranck-Buhr, editor

    Abstract: Authors often appeal to our sense of the familiar—relationships, common experiences—to pull us into a story before they launch our imaginations into a world of adventure and wonder—a world beyond our own. Students review 5 titles that sent them soaring from the pages of a book into a new and exciting journey.

  • Coda: Proactivity vs Reactivity: Preparing Students for Success with CCSS

    Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, editor

    Abstract: Wilhelm has studied the Common Core State Standards and come away with a generally positive opinion. His concern is that now that the Standards are written, we let professional teachers mold them into the best possible practices for teaching their students. With specific advice for working with students—developing background knowledge, making room for practice, frontloading lessons—Wilhelm gives us perspective on how to incorporate the standards into what we know about our students, urging us to be proactive in taking on that challenge.

  • News and Notes from the Middle Level Section: Building a Community of Readers

    Sara Kajder

    Abstract: Kajder describes the journey she took with her students to build a community of readers, sometimes using technology that was new to her as much as it was to some of her students. Through listening to her students, keeping up with professional literature and meetings, and analyzing what it was that made reading fun to begin with, Kajder and her students rediscovered the fun, the excitement, and the learning that all kinds of texts can incite.

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