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Voices from the Middle, Vol. 20, No. 2, December 2012

Table of Contents

Issue Theme: Grouping in Middle School

  • Calls for Manuscripts

  • Editors' Message: Identifying Why Groups Work Well, Then Giving Grouping Another Try [FREE ACCESS]

    Diane Lapp, Doug Fisher, and Nancy Frey

  • Grouping Lessons We Learned from Co-Teaching in a Summer Writing Institute

    Kelly Chandler-Olcott, Jodi Burnash, Danielle Donahue, Maureen DeChick, Michele Gendron, James Smith, Mary Taylor, and John Zeleznik

    Abstract: This article describes lessons learned about grouping by teachers and teacher educators who worked collaboratively to design and deliver a summer writing institute for a heterogeneous population of students about to begin ninth grade at an urban high school. Institute staff used co-teaching (Cook & Friend, 1995) extensively to provide support for student learners as well as to encourage professional learning about teaching writing. Such co-teaching allowed teachers to model expectations for academic tasks and behavior explicitly, create student groups that drew on multiple perspectives, approach teacher-student writing conferences deliberately, and provide extra scaffolding to youth in need of it. The article concludes with suggestions for applying the author team’s insights about grouping and co-teaching to more traditionally organized literacy instruction during the academic year.

  • Improving Groups Using the Lens of the Overachiever

    Trudi J. Nelson

    Abstract: The potential benefits of collaboration often become overwhelmed with complaints of “freeloaders”— students who do not do their share of the work in the group but get the same grade. However, a survey of gifted students shows that they are likely to take on the bulk of the group’s work, a situation that may not encourage group members to get involved. Guided by the surveys and teacher interviews, classroom teachers organizing group work are encouraged to consider: 1) the size and structure of the assignment given, 2) the assessment of the group members in content, product, and process, and 3) the training of students to work well together.

  • Weighing Anchor in the “Ragged Times” [FREE ACCESS]

    Tonya B. Perry

    Abstract: In today’s middle school classroom, grouping is an essential learning tool that enhances students’ ability to collaborate with others and deepen their own thinking. Implementing group work effectively, though, can be a challenge, especially since groups tend to end their work at “ragged” or staggered times. Creating “anchor activities”—respectful work students can do to increase their understanding—can further the class’s learning experiences during group work. Designing anchor activities to focus students’ inquisitive and creative energy increases their knowledge even during the ragged times and maintains their focus on respectful work.

    Keywords: Anchor Activity, Ragged Time, Staggered Learning

  • The “Us” in Discuss: Grouping in Literature Circles

    Katherine Batchelor

    Abstract: This article describes one middle school teacher’s use of literature circles using heterogeneous grouping. It begins with a brief rationale for using literature circles in the language arts classroom. Next, it describes techniques to form literature circles. Then, it shares how to build and establish a supportive environment within each group. It ends with ways teachers can monitor groups and offers suggestions to formally and informally assess group and individual learning. Its goal is to help middle school teachers implement group work in order to build a classroom community of lifelong readers.

  • Too Big to Fail: Rethinking Group Work in a Restructured Middle School [FREE ACCESS]

    Brian R. Horn

    Abstract: Utilizing critical and sociocultural approaches to teaching and learning, this article presents data from seven middle grade students at a Title I school regarding their experiences in a student-constructed learning group. Findings reveal students’ desires and abilities to constructively participate in work with others that runs contrary to common “best practices” in student grouping. Dialogic examples of student voice illuminate possible alternatives in grouping that empower students and create student communities of practice (Wenger, 1998). While much professional conversation around grouping students would suggest that the group of seven was too big to succeed, the author’s contention is that they were too big to fail.

    Keywords: Communities of Practice, Critical Inquiry, Empowerment

  • Digital Storytelling: Reinventing Literature Circles

    Maryann Tatum Tobin

    Abstract: New literacies in reading research demand the study of comprehension skills using multiple modalities through a more complex, multi-platform view of reading. Taking into account the robust roll of technology in our daily lives, this article presents an update to the traditional literature circle lesson to include digital storytelling and multimedia. Digital Storytelling Circles (DSCs) support the idea of creating a “community of learners” who participate in purpose-driven engagement with text to create meaning. Digital storytelling as an activity is not new to English language arts classes, but this article discusses the versatility of digital storytelling and how DSCs provide a framework for social interaction where students create video adaptations of the texts they have read to showcase their comprehension, ultimately producing book trailers, documentaries, or personal narratives, depending on the demands of the text.

  • Writing for a Built-in Audience: Writing Groups in the Middle School Classroom

    Gretchen Hovan

    Abstract: In this era of high-stakes testing and densely packed state standards, it is too easy for writing to become a meaningless process, useful only for school. Many strategies can help to get all students writing, but this author set out to find a strategy to help students see the power of writing and to know that their voices matter. Writing groups are what finally made writing a meaningful experience for all students in this classroom. Through research and experimentation, the author learned structures to make this special kind of group work effective and saw how writing groups transformed students’ ideas of writing and the writing process. Writing groups gave students access to an authentic and meaningful audience for their writing. Reflecting on how to give helpful comments promoted a deeper understanding of the role and power of revision.

  • Young Adult Literature: Great Books for Collaborative Conversations about Literature [FREE ACCESS]

    Barbara Moss, editor

    Abstract: This column focuses on young adult literature suitable for promoting rich discussions about books. Considerations for selecting titles for discussion are provided. Several titles are reviewed, including Wonder and the Newbery winner, Dead End in Norvelt; suggested discussion questions are also included. Text sets focused on new versions of old tales—like A Tale Dark and Grimm, Breadcrumbs, and Cloaked—are suggested for small-group discussion focused on literary analysis of traditional literature. Informational titles suitable for discussions about contemporary culture, like Friend Me! 600 Years of Social Networking in America, are discussed, along with books useful for science and social studies inquiry groups. For example, titles providing different perspectives on evolution are presented, as are social studies trade books on genocide. Book titles recommended for discussions that engage struggling readers include My Life as a Book and Chopsticks: A Novel.

  • Student to Student: Motivating Readers through Voice and Choice

    Wendy Ranck-Buhr, editor

    Abstract: As both a teacher and a parent, Ranck-Buhr knows a little something about working with students and keeping them engaged in the reading and writing processes . . . even recalling a son who was a reluctant book-report writer until he was offered some choice of reading material. She suggests practical ways to implement two vital elements in the language arts classroom: capitalize on their interests and motivation to use technology to communicate, and capitalize on their desire to socialize and connect with other adolescents. And don’t forget to submit their reviews to Student to Student!

  • CODA: Cultures of Collaboration: Leveraging Classroom Potential

    Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, editor

    Abstract: A primary task of teachers is to promote the culture of collaboration in classrooms. That's because we are smarter together than we are alone.  But for teachers to leverage the unique social capacity of classrooms, they need to understand how to create situations requiring and rewarding collaboration (like that of inquiry), how to structure groups, and how to assist collaborative practices

  • News and Notes: Get Involved with NCTE! [FREE ACCESS]

    Lori Goodson

    Abstract: Early memories of attending NCTE conventions and making an effort to get involved inspire Goodson’s column and, she hopes, inspire other members to take that leap. Learning, contributing, and interacting with other professionals is rewarding and important work. But how, you may wonder, do I get started? Goodson recommends: nominate someone for the Halle or Hoey Award; submit an article to VM; submit a proposal for a session at the next convention; nominate someone—maybe yourself—for a leadership role; get involved with the middle-level events at convention. We’ll be watching for you!

* Journal articles are provided in PDF format and can be opened using the free Adobe® Reader® program or a comparable viewer. Click here to download and install the most recent version of Adobe Reader.

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