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Voices from the Middle, Vol. 22, No. 1, September 2014

Table of Contents

Issue Theme: Speaking and Listening

  • Calls for Manuscripts [FREE ACCESS]

  • Editors' Message: I didn’t know what I thought about it until I heard what I said about it. [FREE ACCESS]

    Diane Lapp, Douglas Fisher, and Nancy Frey

  • Conversing to Fortify Literacy, Language, and Learning

    Jeff Zwiers, Susan O’Hara, and Robert Pritchard

    Abstract: This article begins by outlining the importance of teaching students how to converse about academic topics. It then describes three conditions needed for effective development of conversation skills across disciplines: valuing talk, focusing less on short answers and more on whole ideas, and focusing less on “talking to” and more on “talking with.” Excerpts of student conversations and descriptions of teaching activities give readers a taste of the what and how of this vital and challenging work. 

    Keywords: Discourse, Middle School, Talk

  • Teaching the Talk, Not the Text [FREE ACCESS]

    Marc Nachowitz and Nancy Brumer

    Abstract: This article reports a research investigation into using digital tools to teach students to talk well and to build a talking community. Dialogic approaches to literacy instruction, where reading, writing, and speaking are used to build students' literary thinking and understanding, have a strong effect on improving students' understanding of literature. A knowledge-building framework—a theory of learning gaining momentum in studies of learning in science and mathematics classrooms, but largely untested on language arts teaching and learning— emphasizes progressive discourse and was used in a sixth-grade classroom as they created literary interpretations entirely through student-generated talk—digitally and through classroom discussion. Emphasizing debriefings of digital discussions, students were scaffolded into literate talk as they created literary interpretations. A computer-supported learning environment, Knowledge Forum, scaffolded students into progressive discourse where they learned how to create, extend, build on, and challenge other students as they created an overarching, literary interpretation. Student discussions are presented, giving evidence of students’ ability to engage in deep reading without teacher intervention. Examples of digital discourse and classroom discussions demonstrate student mastery of literary discourse. Suggestions for practitioners provided.

    Keywords: Discourse, 21st-century literacies, Discussion, Literature, Reading, Technology

  • Using Formative Assessment to Improve Presentation Skills

    Pooja Patel

    Abstract: The art of presenting is a critical skill that must be taught to middle school students. How can teachers make the skills used to give an oral presentation explicit? How can teachers teach students to systematically track progress and strengthen presentation skills? This article describes how one English and humanities teacher used the formative assessment framework to teach students to develop their oral presentation skills. Research on the effectiveness of formative assessment and the importance of teaching presentation skills is highlighted along with a discussion on the instructional process and student growth seen in this unit.

    Keywords: Common Core State Standards, Formative Assessment, oral speaking, presentation

  • Speaking and Listening in a New Key: Discursive Performances in Light of Common Core

    Cristian Aquino-Sterling

    Abstract: This article addresses ways in which middle schools teachers can facilitate their students' acquisition of oral language production beyond sentence-level structures. The author provides a definition of discourse and strategies on how to develop discourse practices in middle school classrooms.

    Keywords: Common Core State Standards, comprehension instruction, differentiation, literacy processes, speaking and listening

  • The Power of Conversation: Linking Discussion of Social Justice to Literacy Standards

    Mary Ellen Miller

    Abstract: As a way to privilege speaking and listening alongside writing and reading, the article describes an action research project that directly linked students' oral literacy skills to the writing process. Fifth- and sixth-grade students participated in reading, discussion, writing, and publishing sessions that focused on their ideas related to a text about Rosa Parks and issues of social justice. Students composed narrative essays using transcripts of conversations where they orally developed story dialogue and description. Leveraging students' perspectives across modes is a way for teachers to help students meet the demands of Common Core State Standards and ambitions for personal activism.

    Keywords: classroom practices, discussion-based literacy activities, Diversity, English Language Learners, Social Justice, Writing Instruction

  • Speaking and Listening during Small-Group Reading Instruction

    Sophie Degener and Jennifer Berne

    Abstract: This article describes a structure for small-group reading instruction in middle grade classrooms that privileges the conversations engendered from a student's out-loud reading of a challenging text. During individual student–teacher interactions, a teacher and student can delve deeply into literacy processes, using skills in speaking and listening to work through the reading struggles. Student reading can be the subject of rich discussions between students and their teachers. In doing so, teacher and student attend to standards for reading, listening, and speaking, an efficiency needed as time seems to shrink and demands expand.

    Keywords: Common Core State Standards, comprehension instruction, differentiation, literacy processes, speaking and listening

  • Debate: Where Speaking and Listening Come First

    Dee Burek and Carol Losos

    Abstract: Debate is a 21st-century literacy, addressing over 50 Common Core State Standards, and should be taught in middle school. It prepares students for high school, college, and careers, builds literacy (oral, aural, reading, writing, and language), fosters critical thinking and expanded perspectives, teaches public speaking, increases confidence, and strengthens civil engagement. Debate is a natural fit for talkative young adolescents and the middle school curriculum, as it: teaches speaking and listening; improves reading and writing skills through close reading of texts, development of research skills, and the parallel development of persuasive and argumentative essays; and promotes deeper content knowledge across the curriculum, most notably in history/social studies and science.

    Keywords: critical thinking, debate, Middle School, oral communications, oral literacy, public speaking, speaking and listening

  • Strengthening Argumentative Writing with Speaking and Listening (Socratic) Circles [FREE ACCESS]

    Mary E. Styslinger and Jessica F. Overstreet

    Abstract: This article shares the results of a classroom inquiry into Socratic Circles and their impact on written argument. Two questions were asked: 1) What is the nature of student talking and listening during Socratic Circles? 2) What are the effects of talking and listening circles on argumentative writing? The article describes the implementation, language, and effects of circles on writing argument. Engaging in Socratic Circles had little effect on students' ability to provide evidence to support claims. However, the exchange of different viewpoints led students to reconsider initial perspectives, consider counter-arguments, and formulate written rebuttals. In these ways, Socratic circles strengthened argumentative writing.

    Keywords: argument;, Socratic circles

  • Multimedia Character Analysis: How Digital Production Fosters Twenty-first Century Literacy

    Theresa Redmond and Mark Maya

    Abstract: Literacy in the twenty-first century is multifaceted, including skills in reading, writing, and communicating across media, and educators have an important role to play in extending literacy skills through critical inquiry and creative production projects. This article illustrates how the inclusion of audiovisual character analyses—where students produce and record original scripts and remix imagery in response to focused reading—may be used to augment literary awareness and prepare students for the digital world. Through the inclusion of media and technology in our classrooms, we can address students' media experiences outside of school while also meeting Common Core State Standards.

    Keywords: Common Core State Standards, educational technology, English Language Arts, Media Literacy, media production, oral communication, twenty-first century skills

  • Teaching the Common Core: The Forgotten Language Arts: Addressing Listening & Speaking

    Erik Palmer

    Abstract: The speaking and listening standards of the CCSS are often overlooked or reduced to a level of minimal importance in many schools. However, the ability to work well with others, to evaluate diverse messages, to create an engaging presentation, and to speak well in a variety of situations is critical as our students move on to additional schooling and/or careers. Palmer helps identify and define these essential Standards and advocates for teaching them specifically so that students can develop skills that will help them approach future educational and professional situations more critically.

  • CODA: Classroom Conversation: Inquiry, Dialogism, and Deep Understanding

    Jeffrey D. Wilhelm

    Abstract: Wilhelm credits his continued love of teaching to the “joy that I experience” when students—middle schoolers or practicing teachers—“deeply and creatively immerse themselves” in challenging conversation. Wilhelm helps define the facets of “internally persuasive” discourse of honest inquiry, as opposed to authoritative discourse, and confirms his belief that inquiry is the way to teach. He believes that trusting our students’ capacity to make meaning and our own capacity to teach kids how to make meaning are part and parcel of expert teaching and deep learning.

* 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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